The follow up isn’t the easiest way to please your fans. People want to hear a sound similar to the first album. The bar can be set high with an album such as the debut by Sleigh Bells. The second album didn’t grab me quite as much. It’s pretty amazing Vampire Weekend has been so consistent for three albums. Modern Vampires of the City isn’t quite up to the level of the first two albums, but it’s close. And they came up with a new sound compared to the first two albums.
It doesn’t sound like they’re dabbling in reggae anymore the way they did on “Diplomat’s Son,” my favorite cut from Contra. The band’s latest didn’t blow me away the first couple of listens. Then the songs started to draw me in, and it’s the second best album I’ve heard this year, behind only The Savages’ Silence Yourself.
The Savages have put out a remarkable debut, and they’ve set the bar high. Now it’s up to the band with its relentless garage band sound to come up with another winner. As you’re looking over song catalogs it’s tempting to give points to the bands who’ve been around for decades and can still put out a good album. The Flaming Lips are a good example. Embryonic was a solid album and compared well to the music the Rolling Stones or Beach Boys were putting out for a quarter of a century.
Still longevity isn’t everything. I’ve yet to come across a Lips album as solid as the ones I’ve heard from Vampire Weekend. And of course bands can stay together a long time and function mainly as an oldies act. It’s good a band can try different things. This is preferable from putting out albums, which sound too much alike. But you don’t want to stray too far from the path. Some of the styles the Beatles tried on their later tracks would have been better off unexplored.
There are no easy answers for an artist to have a good road map. Hats off to Wayne Shorter putting out a good live album just before he turns 80. Not everyone is going to get to legend status. But those of us with diverse tastes can enjoy tracking the ambition curve and just listening.