The Reverse Sophomore Slump

After years of honing that initial batch of songs that lands an artist a record deal and a widespread fanbase, it's time to write and record a second album within the timeframe of only a few months. No wonder many artists have less than stellar followup albums the second time around. Hell, some of 'em disappear after the debut. Here are "5" that exceeded their initial recorded effort, and in certain instances delivered their greatest album.

In alphabetical order by artist:

CAFÉ TACUBA Re [WEA Latina-1994]
After their initial self-titled filler-drenched offering, no one expected much from
Mexico City’s Café Tacuba. That the follow-up was a monumental record both critically and commercially underscored just how far the band had grown between albums. A sprawling tour de force that has been often compared to the Beatles’ White Album in terms of scope and adventurous spirit, Re not only foreshadowed Café Tacuba’s exploratory bent but is also one of the crowning achievements of the Latin American rock and roll movement.

LIVING COLOUR Time’s Up [Epic-1990]
After a strong but definitely textbook debut –-finely tuned live set list with a choice cover tacked on-- Living Colour pulled all the stops and delivered what is to this day their finest record. The Grammy-award winning Time’s Up was a much more challenging but clearly accessible listen. And the deft sequencing of the track order aided and accentuated the natural flow of this diverse and intoxicating disc
("This Is The Life" is arguably one of the greatest closing tracks on any rock album). As engaging and satisfying now as it was upon its release a decade and a half ago, Time’s Up is an underrated hard rock classic. Cameos: Mick Jagger, Little Richard, Queen Latifah, Maceo Parker, and Doug E. Fresh.

NIRVANA Nevermind [DGC-1991]
Despite one or two noteworthy tracks, Bleach was mostly an average grunge record typical of its time and place. What Cobain and co. unleashed upon the world two tears later, would not only leave that debut release in the dirt but in the process change the course of popular music and bring alternative/indie rock out into the limelight. But you already knew that.

RADIOHEAD The Bends [Parlophone-1995]
Radiohead had called it quits after the oh-so ordinary Pablo Honey album, "Creep" would have been its lone claim to fame and the one hit wonder tag forever affixed to their name. Fortunately, this was not the case. What followed was an epic album, arguably the Brit-pop blueprint for the ‘90s. The band further pushed their own musical boundaries with OK Computer and Kid A, but this is the one that Coldplay, Travis and an army of others should gratefully pay royalties to Radiohead for.

ROBI ROSA Vagabundo [Sony Latin-1996]
While best known for writing former Menudo bandmate
Ricky Martin’s biggest hits, Robi Rosa is also a former member of acclaimed ‘90s L.A. funksters Maggie’s Dream and an accomplished, risk-taking artist and performer in his solo work. Unfortunately, his initial solo venture was 1994’s Frio, an uneven affair on which he seemed lost.
It was as if he couldn’t decide whether to kowtow to the cheesy Miami-led Latin music hierarchy or strike out on its own. Two years later, Rosa made good on the promise of his enormous talent.

Vagabundo is Rosa at his finest; rife with meticulous arrangements, crunchy guitars, Beatle-esque orchestrations and solid performances throughout. A fantastic record in any language, it’s one of the finest rock albums ever recorded in Spanish. Definitely worth seeking out.

Suzanne Vega Solitude Standing [A&M-1987]