Fellow blogger Aaron Coyner recently referenced the phenomenon of the "sophomore slump" in his recent review of Three Days Grace's new album. It's a good review and I suggest reading it but it got me thinking... I don't think the "sophomore slump" exists.
The "sophomore slump" in music occurs when a band exhibits a significant fall-off of quality between their first album and their second. It's often expected from bands.
But to me, second albums aren't generally any worse than the first album. Some of the most influential albums from the past decade were sophomore efforts: Live's "Throwing Copper," Nirvana's "Nevermind," Radiohead's "The Bends." Solid, generally well-regarded sophomore efforts came from Everclear ("So Much For The Afterglow"), Alice in Chains ("Dirt"), Collective Soul (self-titled) and Rage Against the Machine ("Evil Empire"), among others. Furthermore, three of my personal top-five albums - Vertical Horizon's "Running on Ice," Guster's "Goldfly," and Sister Hazel's "...Somewhere More Familiar" - are second albums. Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Second Helping" is also near the top.
(Yes, including "Running on Ice" is a little bit dishonest since Vertical Horizon didn't really hit it big until their third album, and their fourth album was a bit of a letdown. But there's no such thing as a senior slump. Similarly, "...Somewhere More Familiar" was Sister Hazel's breakthrough album, but in that case the album that followed it, "Fortress," was no less spectacular.)
Music critics often list certain acts as proof of the existence of a "sophomore slump" - however, the critics often don't know what they're talking about. Counting Crows' "Recovering the Satellites" is every bit as good as their debut, "August and Everything After" - it's just very, very different. Similarly with Matchbox-20's "Mad Season." Other times the quality of the second album is simply overshadowed by the sheer awesomeness of the debut: "Versus" was not a bad album, but there's no way Pearl Jam could top "Ten." Similarly, Hootie and the Blowfish released a very good second album in "Fairweather Johnson," but they simply couldn't live up to the inflated expectations generated by "Cracked Rear View" (that, and "Fairweather Johnson" was a significantly different sound that was probably less friendly to rock radio).
So I don't think the sophomore slump exists. Often, it's a figment of a band changing their sound somewhat after their debut, or it's a product of unrealistic expectations generated by a spectacular first effort. A fall-off between first and second albums does occur with some bands (see: Bush, Oasis), but not any more often than later in the album sequence. In fact, I think it's more common that the second album generates more buzz than the first, and the fall-off occurs later down the road (see: Creed, Nickelback).
Any thoughts from my musicophile readership?