Friday, 7 May 2010

The 'Difficult' 3rd Album

Ok, new round, no conferring. What is it that links Siouxsie and the Banshees to Kate Bush?

No, not a shock of black hair, nor the fact that their best years were in the mid-1980s. In fact, you couldn’t pick a more diverse duo. The one, a classically trained Home Counties singer-songwriter given to strangely melodic ballads about Victorian heroines and the other, a band forged in the maelstrom of punk who eschewed virtuosity and created metallic anthems of isolation and horror.

But despite their obvious differences their career path was spookily similar, at least over their first 4 albums. Siouxsie and the Banshees initially produced a stunning debut, ‘The Scream’ largely in the punk tradition of pounding drums and sheets of angular guitar and followed it up with undue haste with a second album, ‘Join Hands’ in a similar style but containing inferior material. By the time the third album was in the melting pot, half the band had left and it was left to Siouxsie and Steve Severin to cobble something together on their own. The resultant release, ‘Kaleidoscope’ was a strange mixture of ambient music and pop songs under the guise of new wave experimentation. Having recruited a new guitarist and drummer who were more than competent players (what punk ethic?) their fourth album, ‘JuJu’ was a monster hit which showcased a newly forged Siouxsie style which would become the norm from then on.

Kate Bush’s first four albums followed a similar pattern. Her first, ‘The Kick Inside’ was a stunning debut of simple yet highly inventive songs. Her second, ‘Lionheart’ followed too close on its heels by order of her record label and was disappointing in as much as the material was a bit underdeveloped and the arrangements too conventional. By her third effort, ‘Never Forever’, Kate had won some hard fought control over her own artistic process and had acquired a state of the art Fairlight sampler. The result is a curious mixture of the type of songs she had written for the first two albums, but arranged in a far more interesting way and the type of songs that she would write later in her career but without the adventurous production. This change of direction culminated in her fourth album, the uncompromisingly left field ‘The Dreaming’ and the rest is well documented.

So the real link is the third and notoriously ‘difficult’ third album. Each of them, and for different reasons, produced an unexpectedly different, slightly hit-and-miss album which is clearly a transitional stage that links the boundaries of a vast chasm between what they were and what they were to become. Not many artists have a massive change in style so early in their trajectory and it is fascinating to have such a clear record of where their two styles clash warily.


Perplexio said...

The direction of third albums often hinges largely on the performance of second albums. If the 2nd album comes across as a "misstep" a third will sometimes either "correct" and return to the form of the debut or go in a completely different direction and try something completely different from either of the first 2 albums. If the 2nd album was a success and more successful than the debut... bands do tend to continue in that direction and embrace what worked best on the second album.

Honestly, I'm not familiar enough with either Siouxsie & the Banshees nor with Kate Bush to comment further on either of them.

musicobsessive said...

Yes, I think you are partially right. In these cases the second album came too soon after the first and was too similar/pressured. There then followed a seismic reaction which left the artist in a different and slightly bewildering place. Thus the weird 3rd album which settled into a major fourth on a new tack.

If, as you say, the second had been well received, who knows what might have happened?

Dan said...

I think most songs on a 2nd album were songs that didnt make the 1st album. The 3rd is usually a band taking a breath and creating a new direction. It really does all depend on the reception of the 1st album though. IMHO

musicobsessive said...

Hi Dan - Yes, I can think of several albums where the second is a load of leftovers (Stranglers, 'No More Heroes' take a bow!) and it always disappoints. Like you say, the third is often a crunch time as the the band has to write new material!!

Perplexio said...

Boston was especially guilty of this Don't Look Back was essentially a remake of their debut... then 6 years later with only Tom Scholz and Brad Delp remaining from the band's original line-up they released Third Stage in 1986.