20 bands whose second album is the best thing they ever did

The covers of Rainbow’s Rising, Lou Reed’s Transformer, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell and Foo Fighters’ The Colour And The Shape

They say you have a lifetime to make your first album and six months to make the second. And while that’s true, it doesn’t mean the follow-up to a classic debut has to sit in the shadow of its predecessor.

Many bands haven’t just bettered their debut album at the second time of asking – they’ve delivered a record that stands as their finest work.

Here are 20 bands whose second album is greater than anything else they made.

Metal Hammer line break

Rainbow - Rising (1976)

Just nine months after his new band’s debut album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, the former Deep Purple guitarist delivered a masterpiece with this follow-up. Rainbow’s Rising had a power and grandiose quality perfectly illustrated by its cover art. Blackmore had retained only Ronnie James Dio in a new line-up featuring heavy-hitting drummer Cozy Powell. 

On an album loaded with mighty tracks – Tarot Woman, Starstruck, A Light In The Black – the crowning glory was Stargazer. With Dio’s voice flying high over Blackmore’s earth-shaking riff, the sound swelled by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, this was Rainbow’s Kashmir. PE

Alice In Chains - Dirt (1992)

Alice In Chains' debut album, Facelift, helped to catapult a nascent Seattle scene into the mainstream. By 1991, and the releases of Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten and Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger, the whole world had been introduced to this brand new genre – grunge – and it had taken on a life of its own.

But everything was just about to get darker – a whole lot darker – with AIC's sophomore record, Dirt. Heavy, bleak and brutally self-lacerating, Dirt was their epic junkie confessional. Sadly, it would prove all too prophetic for Layne Staley. CR

Meat Loaf – Bat Out Of Hell (1977)

No, it wasn’t Meat Loaf’s first album - that was 1971’s soul-rock curio Stoney And Meatloaf, recorded with fellow Hair cast member Shaun “Stoney” Murphy. And this follow-up isn’t one of the greatest second albums ever, it’s one of the greatest albums full stop.

The combination of whacked-out songwriter Jim Steinman’s horny pocket symphonies and Meat’s leather-lunged operatic howl was unstoppable and untoppable. The hits will continue to resonate for the next thousand years. Your children’s children’s children will know all the words to Paradise By The Dashboard Light and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

A perfect melange of 1950s teenage death ballads, Broadway pomp and head-caving hard rock, Bat was created in a long-gone world where rock’n’roll gods stomped the earth and no one stomped heavier than Meat Loaf. The term ‘classic rock’ was practically invented for this record. KM

Heart - Little Queen (1977)

Heart’s greatest album kicked off with the heaviest song they ever recorded, Barracuda. And the fury in that song spoke volumes about the mood in the band. The success of debut album, Dreamboat Annie, had prompted their former label Mushroom to release an unofficial Heart. Little Queen was their riposte – a record that restored their credibility and then some.

Ann Wilson’s lyrics in Barracuda were a riposte to Mushroom’s sexist marketing of Heart’s debut Dreamboat Annie, and the riff was equally venomous. But the album isn’t all piss and vinegar. Among a handful of gentler songs is Love Alive, a homage to Led Zeppelin. PE

Saxon - Wheels OF Steel

Saxon’s second album is simply one of the greatest heavy metal records of all time. In headbanging anthems such as Motorcycle Man, the hit single 747 (Strangers In The Night) and the gargantuan title track, Wheels Of Steel captured the essence of the band and the spirit of the NWOBHM.

It was also the making of the band. After their self-titled debut had flopped, Wheels Of Steel blasted into the UK Top 5, a victory made all the sweeter by the uncompromising nature of the music. As Byford said: “It’s a really fucking heavy album.” And at the time, it blew the mind of a 16-year-old kid named Lars Ulrich. PE

The Black Crowes - The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (1992)

The Black Crowes’ debut, Shake Your Money Maker, introduced these swaggering retro-rockers to the world, but this follow-up remains the Robinson brothers’ finest work.

With a brilliant new guitarist, Marc Ford, replacing the errant Jeff Cease, the band were on a roll, cutting the whole album in just eight days. Its heavy, funky, soulful rock‘n’roll – best illustrated by the snaking Remedy and the stoned jam Thorn In My Pride – carried echoes of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Sly & The Family Stone. In essence this album is the Crowes’ Sticky Fingers. PE

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)

Bleach was a fine enough debut, but hardly one which signalled that the band who made it would go on to become the defining band of their era. But this follow up changed the game entirely – for Nirvana and everyone else.

With Nevermind, Kurt Cobain assembled a remarkable set of songs that appealed to headbangers, punks and pop fans alike. Chief among these is Smells Like Teen Spirit the song that single-handedly turned grunge from underground movement into cultural phenomenon. But elsewhere on it the hits just keep coming: Come As You Are, Lithium, In Bloom. Truly, there has never been a second album like it. GP

Lou Reed - Transformer (1972)

Lou Reed’s self-titled solo debut included various leftovers from his previous band The Velvet Underground and, most bizarrely, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman of Yes. Unsurprisingly it sold no better than the Velvets’ albums. His second, released just six months later, made him a superstar.

Produced by David Bowie and his guitarist Mick Rosson, Transformer caught the mood of the glam-rock era with Mick Rock’s cover of an androgynous Reed, and some classic pop songs – notably Satellite Of Love and Perfect Day – that echoed Bowie’s early-70s material. The album even gave Reed a Top 10 hit Walk On The Wild Side, despite blasé references to drugs and oral sex. PE

Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape (1997)

In many respects this was the first proper Foo Fighters album, the self-titled ’95 debut having been more of a Dave Grohl solo record.

It’s more disciplined and focused, not to mention demanding; drummer William Goldsmith even quit during the recording, while Grohl went through a divorce. But the pain was worth it. Sounding like it was built with arenas in mind, it ushered in the post-grunge age with their drummer-turned-singer now a fully formed songwriter, and the heavily melodic groove of songs like Everlong and My Hero sat comfortably alongside the furious Monkey Wrench and the brooding Walking After You.

There’s an energy and commitment about this album that came from a band who were all on the same wavelength. CR

Dream Theater - Images And Words

Dream Theater had to overcome a number of hurdles in order to create their second album, and their masterpiece. Recovering from the embarrassing failure of their debut album, When Dream And Day Unite, for the follow-up they brought in new singer James LaBrie and butted heads with their producer, David Prater, who drummer Mike Portnoy later called “one of my least favourite human beings on the planet”.

Despite all that, it’s difficult to fault Images And Words, which did far more than just enable Dream Theater to let in a vital chink of daylight. In fact its start-to-finish excellence served to open up a skylight to the cosmos. DL

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