Ten unexpectedly good third albums – from bands/artists whose careers seemed to be going nowhere

matthew-sweet-1991-girlfriend1

Not long after the release of his band’s first hit single Damon Albarn told journalists that Blur’s third album would be the record that defined the 90s. Of course no one, not even the band’s biggest champions, took him very seriously. Blur’s southern take on Madchester already seemed passe – blown away by an awful racket coming out of the US’s north west.

Nevertheless, in spite of everything, in 1994 Blur issued Parklife the album that more or less patented Brit Pop and if it wasn’t the decade’s best pop album it may well have been its most influential.

Of course third albums are notoriously tricky. You know the story. The band put all the best tunes from their early days on the first album and stick the odds and sods on the second. But the third – that’s when the band needs to show some serious song writing ability or get off the bus. And history is littered with groups whose third albums exposed their weaknesses and saw them implode.

But not always. There are many great third albums from bands who, in the face of overwhelming odds, managed to reinvent themselves and create something that delivered on their initial promise. Like The Jam, who responded to the lukewarm reception afforded Modern World with mini mod masterpiece, All Mod Cons.

So I asked Facebook pals to come up with totally unexpected third albums from bands who pretty much looked as if their career was heading for the ‘where are they now?’ file. Here are ten of them.

1 Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend. If you listen to his first two electro pop-ish records there is absolutely no inkling as to the Neil Young/Big Star influenced monster power pop album Girlfriend that Sweet would issue in 1991. An early contender for album of the decade if you like a bit of jangly guitar and harmonies.

2 The Boo Radleys – Giant Steps – Two albums of fairly uninspired landfill shoegaze and then csme the aptly titled Giant Steps. Like The Beatles’ White Album, if the Fabs had heard a few Leery Perry records that is. Still IMO their finest work.

3 Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque – Save for a good single or two the Fannies had very little track record when Bandwagonesque, with its lethal cocktail of Big Star dynamics and Status Quo riffs came flying out of the blocks in 1991. Neither A Catholic Education nor The King are worth playing more than once, but the Fannies third is still probably their finest forty minutes.

4 The 13th Floor Elevators – Bull of the Woods With the resident genius, Roky Erickson, going off the rails and jug playing supremo Tommy Hall off doing other things it looked as though Texas’ finest psych combo would be all washed up. But Stacey Sutherland stepped bravely forward to complement Roky Erickson’s stellar tunes with a few crackers of his own. Bull Of the Woods might lack the other worldliness of the band’s first two albums but still has many fine, if slightly odd songs including my outside bet for their career high – Dear Dr Doom. It remains hugely influential, as anyone who has heard the new Woods album can attest.

5 Squeeze – Argy Bargy – A couple of albums in and it looked as if Squeeze were running out of ideas. Yet on Argy Bargy they not only delivered their most realised version of south east London geezer pop (with a sensitive side) but in Pulling Mussels, quite possibly their best ever tune.

6 Morrissey – Your Arsenal – I know it is a slightly revisionist view but I always thought that bar a couple of quality singles by 1992 Morrissey’s solo career hadn’t amounted to very much. That was until his third Mick Ronson produced glam monster Your Arsenal. Five, count ’em, corking singles, National front Disco, some genius ballads and a whole lot more re-energised Moz and paved the way for the career highlight, Vauxhall and I, which would follow two years later.

7 The National – Alligator – They might have issued a solid debut and a reasonable follow up but come on, absolutely no one predicted quite how good Alligator was going to be did they?

8 Love – Forever Changes – There are hints of the brilliance of the band’s genre-bending classic Forever Changes album on their 2nd opus, Da Capo, but really only hints. Forever Changes raised the bar so high that they were never anywhere near that good again.

9 The Lilac Time – So two albums of quirky, but pretty throw away electro pop and what does Stephen Duffy do? Pops off to the countryside and channels Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel on a marvellous slice of folk pop. The most genius musical reinvention since the Spinals went progressive jazz.

10 The Len Price -Pictures – Sure the Medway trio’s first two albums contained many great garagegy beat pop tunes, but I don’t think even their most hard-core fans could have predicted quite how superb Pictures was going to be. Possibly the best garage punk album of the decade so far.

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3 thoughts on “Ten unexpectedly good third albums – from bands/artists whose careers seemed to be going nowhere

  1. Some great stuff here — Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Love (“Alone Again Or” is one of the greatest songs ever put to wax) and The Len Price Three, in particular.

  2. Re: The Len Price *3* (emphasis mine) – at least get their frigging name right. And for a band that is decidedly anti-major label, I’d say their career was going exactly where they wanted it to go, which wasn’t exactly “nowhere”..

    1. You are totally right Brian. Just put them in to emphasise how great Pictures is. A lot of the other bands on the list had made two great albums. It is just that they hit an unexpected peak with their third. Which is why I added the Lp3

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