In an industry built almost entirely out of lies, illusion and fabrication, the Difficult Second Album is perhaps not the greatest lie of all, but probably the least questioned. A band will appear from nowhere with some sharp threads and a couple of great tunes, and find a nation of rabid fans ready to lap them up. Their first album arrives, to considerable acclaim, and they tour, tour, tour. A couple of years down the line, though, things don’t seem to be going quite so well for them. There’s arguments in the studio, nothing seems to be going right, and when they release their next album, it sells a quarter of the copies of the first and is peppered with two-star reviews. A few months later, the band get quietly dropped from their label and resign themselves to lives writing advertising jingles. The Difficult Second Album strikes again. It’s quite sad, if you’re in the habit of feeling sorry for idiots.
What’s the cause of the Difficult Second Album? It seems to be a phenomenon restricted exclusively to popular music: actors don’t talk about their Difficult Second Film; writers tend to go from strength to strength their entire lives. Here’s a crazy idea: maybe your favourite band’s Difficult Second Album wasn’t actually a Difficult Second album at all. Maybe they were just never very good in the first place. Maybe their Inspiring First Album was just one of those horrible flukes that happens when enough people try the same thing again and again and again. Just imagine a million monkeys jumping up and down on a million typewriters and writing Stars Of CCTV. Think about it: you’ve almost certainly been in the position of being in a terrible band at some point. You had a couple of bands that you liked, and you took their sound, took their chords, rearranged them a bit, and came up with something uniquely awful. You laugh about it now; you look back and think “what the fuck was I thinking? I didn’t have the first clue how to make music.” And you weren’t making music. You were regurgitating it. You took your favourite bits of your favourite bands, threw them up in the air and saw how they landed.
Here’s the best bit. What separates you from Hard-Fi? Nothing. You tried to make music, your friends tried to make music, pretty much every young, alternative-leaning person in Britain tries to make music. It’s inevitable that a few get lucky; for Hard-Fi, the pieces fell and a few catchy tunes were made. But to do the same trick twice? The odds are astronomical. You roll the dice again, and create uninspired drivel. Congratulations. You just made a Difficult Second Album. To make music—to really make music—requires sensitivity, an obsessive nature and a constant drive to push towards something new: not qualities that I’m particularly willing to ascribe to Richard Archer.
So this is how it’s going to work from now on. We’re all going to listen to what we want. But we’re all going to have a bit more fucking perspective about it. Pete Doherty is not a genius. Amy Winehouse isn’t either, and don’t get me started on 50 Cent. You can have influences, but you’re never going to make something great by doing what they did, because they did it first, and better. And you should shave off that little hipster moustache you’ve got going. You look like an idiot.