Elvis Costello - This Year’s Model (1978)
His second album and first with The Attractions, This Year’s Model is Elvis Costello at his most startling. Understanding by instinct that the door kicked off its hinges by punk would soon be reframed and reinforced – and would thus exclude this peculiar-looking and unsettling artist – here the music makes its point with a precision that is fully forensic.
Airless and watertight, astute and unforgiving (‘You want her broken with her mouth wide open’, he sings on This Year’s Girl) with songs such as Pump It Up, (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea and the National Front-baiting Night Rally, with This Year’s Model Elvis Costello proved that he was anything but a passing fad. IW
Stone Temple Pilots - Purple (1994)
STP’s second album was a defiant middle finger to the critics who had dismissed them as mere Pearl Jam/Alice in Chains copyists. With Purple the Pilots found their own voice, by taking the formula of debut album Core and mixing it with elements of psychedelia, country and blues. They borrowed heavily from the 60s, as did their peers, but managed to put a spin on it that felt uniquely their own.
Released just two months after Kurt Cobain’s death, Purple did little to silence their detractors, but songs such as Meatplow, Vasoline and Interstate Love Song did the talking. The greatest album Scott Weiland has ever been involved in, it should be regarded with the same reverence as Ten, Dirt and Badmotorfinger. RD
Warren Zevon - Warren Zevon (1976)
Warren Zevon’s second album, released seven years after his misfiring debut Watned Dead Or Alive, was the closest the maverick singer-songwriter came to making a stone-cold classic. Roping in a bunch A-list muso buddies (Jackson Browne, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks), he served up one of the great LA records.
His connections with the early-70s Laurel Canyon ‘mellow mafia’ are evident on Hasten Down The Wind and Desperados Under The Eaves, but the outlaw myth-making of Frank And Jesse James and the S&M-themed Poor Poor Pitiful Me had teeth and weren’t afraid to bare them. Best of all is the country ballad Carmelita, one of the finest junkies’ laments ever written. DE
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral (1994)
The point where Trent Reznor went from snotty electro-punk to industrial metal emperor, one man’s fucked-up mind has never sounded so cool.
Recorded at the house where actress Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family, The Downward Spiral paints a chilling portrait of societal, moral and personal collapse. Influenced by David Bowie’s Low, and constructed from heavily processed guitar sounds, glacial electronics and distorted samples, its nightmarish atmospherics are enhanced by Reznor’s man-on-the-edge musings on religion, addiction, degradation and despair.
The result is unremittingly bleak, utterly believable and unquestionably Trent Reznor’s finest hour. AC
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
The previous year’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off had been a halting start, but once they swapped original singer Signe Toly Anderson for former model Grace Slick everything clicked into gear. Recorded mostly live, Surrealistic Pillow struck a pitch-perfect balance between Slick’s extroversion and Marty Balin’s softer folk offerings, such as How Do You Feel and Comin’ Back To Me.
Every scene needs a song to carry its message to the world. The Airplane’s second album provided two. Somebody To Love and White Rabbit, delivered in Slick’s confident wail, were the twin clarion calls for San Francisco rock. Surrealistic Pillow is one of the West Coast sound’s most durable albums. BDM
Cheap Trick - In Color (1977)
Rakish and determined to find a true path, on their second album Cheap Trick found a formula that was to prove irresistible within a couple of years. While their debut might have been too close to The Beatles, or even the Electric Light Orchestra, with In Color, Cheap Trick were definitely a band standing apart from the sum of those influences.
Tom Werman’s polished production set a tone that allowed the band to compete on an international level. And there are enough strong songs on this album to make it a landmark release. From Southern Girls to Clock Strikes Ten, I Want You To Want Me to Hello There, it’s a record that has got the right chops. MD
Pixies - Doolittle (1988)
Pixies’ 1987 debut album Surfer Rosa was a game-changing alt rock album, but in terms of iconic songwriting, it was bettered by the Boston band’s second album, Doolittle.
Released just 13 months after its predecessor, Doolittle retained Surfer Rosa’s weird edge (immortal opening track Debaser’s line about ‘slicing up eyeballs’ was inspired by filmmaker Luis Buñuel and artist Salvador Dalis surreal 1929 collaboration Un Chien Andalou) but wrapped it up in off-kilter pop melodies. Those melodies weren’t far from the surface in other tracks, too: Monkey Gone To Heaven, No 13 Baby, Gouge Away and the simply sublime Hey. Surfer Rosa will always have its champions, but Doolittle remains Pixies’ crowning glory and one of the most influential albums of the 80s. CR
The Moody Blues - Days Of Future Passed (1967)
Keen to showcase the band’s new ‘Deramic Sound’ technique, Decca encouraged the Moody Blues to go big on their second album. The group duly obliged, ditching the R&B of their 1965 debut The Magnificent Moodies for a cohesive, day-in-the-life song suite that fused rock with orchestral elements, largely via the wonder of keyboard player Mike Pinder’s latest toy: the Mellotron.
The London Symphony Orchestra was a fictitious guise for a bunch of trusted session players brought in by arranger Peter Knight, and the music reached a symphonic pinnacle during new boy Justin Hayward’s outstanding Nights In White Satin. A masterful work that helped lay the foundations of prog rock. RH
Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (1991)
Smashing Pumpkins were in a mess when it came to recording their second album. Drummer Jimmy Chamberlain was addicted to heroin, bassist D’Arcy Wretzky and guitarist James Iha had broken up, and Corgan, who was in the grip of a dark, depressive episode, was tasked with delivering an album that would nudge them into the commercial realm of Nirvana’s Nevermind.
After writing Today, Corgan eventually tapped in to a rich seam of creativity. His pursuit of perfection came at a personal cost – he overdubbed most of his bandmates’ parts – and later revealed that his work ethic ruined relationships and his mental health. That said, Siamese Dream is a perfect album. ND
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (1968)
Rock’s grouchiest man launched his post-Them career with 1967’s Blowin’ Your Mind!. Despite featuring the joyous Brown Eyed Girl, Morrison himself wrote it off as it off as a contractual mistake. But there was no error when it came to this follow-up.
Amid the wilting flower children and dead-eyed rock’n’rollers of 1968, Astral Weeks stood apart. Van was a natural-born malcontent with a voice like ripping velvet, and his second solo album bridged earthly beauty and spiritual transcendence. “If I ventured in the slipstreams, between the viaducts of your dream,” he sang on the opening title track of his second album, an East Side mystic embarking on a journey that passed through innumerable musical dimensions: rock, jazz, R&B, blues, folk and other less tangible forms.
At heart, cornerstone tracks Cypress Avenue and Madame George were a road-map to Morrison’s childhood. But really, Astral Weeks contained entire universes in its soul. DE