Here are those amazing 'difficult second albums'

13:40 27th October 2015

27 October: Today marks the anniversary of Amy WInehouse's now historic album, Back To Black. It was the record that would turn her from a jazz obscurity into an overnight icon. Tragically, her second album would also be her last. RIP. 

 he phrase 'difficult second album' gets bandied about a lot, but the truth is that for many artists, this is the time we start to find their true voice. LP No.2 is a time for make or break, so we've chosen to celebrate the artists who've survived the choppy seas of the music industry to emerge triumphant with a glorious second record. 

From Radiohead to Muse, Foo Fighters to The Beatles, LCD Soundsystem to Talking Heads and beyond - these are the 50 best second albums of all time. 

  • The Smiths 'Meat Is Murder': The Queen Is Dead is often hailed as Morrissey and Marr's masterpiece, but this album is the one the purists will refer you to with this wonderful follow-up to The Smiths.

  • The Pixies 'Doolittle': Come On Pilgrim wasn't a full album in its own right, so this counts as the true 2nd for the Pixies. Black Francis and co never sounded more aggressive or more vital than this record. A true classic.

  • Muse 'Origin Of Symmetry': After the alt-indie rock of Showbiz, this album truly announced Muse as stadium filling rock monsters with batshit crazy space-rock insanity. The rest is very recent history, and hopefully the future too. Ranked a favourite among fans, and generally as one of the finest rock albums of this century, it's the perfect blend of paranoia, hard rock and classical genius.

  • Lady Gaga 'Born This Way': The follow-up to Fame showed that there was a lot more to the diminutive pop star than just 'Poker Face' and wacky outfits. A star was well and truly born.

  • Arcade Fire 'Neon Bible': Could the Canadians keep up the momentum after the practically faultless Funeral? Yes was the emphatic answer. Another huge step to them becoming one of the biggest and most essential bands in the world today.

  • Battles 'Gloss Drop': The bonkers US group followed up their mind-expanding debut Mirrored with the brilliantly experimental Gloss Drop. With no two songs sounding the same, Battles truly pushed the boundaries with the thrilling, funky 'Ice Cream' and frenetic 'My Machines' featuring Gary Numan on vocals. Oh, and the album artwork is bloody amazing.

  • D'Angelo 'Voodoo': D'Angelo was propelled into the mainstream with his debut neo-soul masterpiece 'Brown Sugar', whose title track saw him famously butt-naked in the accompanying video, and his follow up LP cemented his trademark sound further. Particular highlights include the Method Man/Redman assisted 'Left and Right' and the stunning closer 'Africa'

  • Justin Timberlake 'FutureSex/LoveSounds': JT's R&B/pop masterpiece Justified was always going to be a hard one to follow up, but FutureSex/LoveSounds lived up to expectations. Tight production from Timbaland on top form, coupled with JT at his smoothest made for an album packed with singles that still sound fresh today.

  • A Tribe Called Quest 'The Low End Theory': Q Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed had proved themselves to be one of the most influential groups in hip hop even by their second album: a fusion of experimental hip hop gilded with jazz, full of thought-provoking, socially conscious lyricism. Featuring tracks such as 'Buggin' Out', 'Scenario' and 'Jazz (We've Got)', the album is widely considered one of the best hip hop records of all time.

  • Nirvana 'Nevermind': Not much to say about this one really. Is doesn't get much better than this does it? One of the best albums of the 90s, or any decade for that matter.

  • The Beastie Boys 'Paul's Boutique': Saw the band transform from snotty nosed rap punks to true hip-hop contenders. They never looked back.

  • LCD Soundsystem 'Sound Of Silver': James Murphy made everyone realise that electro albums could be genuine classics with this wonderful record packed full of intelligence, credibility and flawlessly beautiful and provocative dance songs. Oh how we could use LCD Soundsystem in music today.

  • Hot Chip 'The Warning': Another electro-pop album that won fans from all genres. The band have never really matched it, but then not many other modern bands have either.

  • M.I.A 'Kala': After spending years lounging on the sofa of Justine Frischmann from Elastica, M.I.A finally got her act together and started making albums in her late twenties. We're very glad she did, and she's never sounded better than on Kala. 'Paper Planes' alone is worth a whole album of almost any other artist.

  • Ryan Adams 'Gold': Every moment feels essential the daddy of alt-folk struts a fine line between beautiful ballads and balls-out Americana rock n' roll. It's as close to a modern classic as you can get. Sheer perfection.

  • Elvis Costello And The Attractions 'This Year's Model': The first of many classic albums from Elvis Costello. Armed Forces is more famous, but this is true new wave punk in its purest form.

  • James Blake 'Overgrown': Blake hit his stride and found his niche with his second, Mercury Music Prize winning album, following the eclectic sounds of his tricky debut. A serene and uplifting listen, Blake evolved into a true artist on Overgrown, severing any ties with dubstep and bringing a distinct sound to mainstream.

  • Justice 'Audio Video Disco': Justice's debut album, Cross, was considered something of a dance classic. Their follow-up, Audio Video Disco, was sadly not. The French duo were ahead of the game when they returned in 2011 with this cohesive collection of guitar heavy, seventies and eighties glam-rock themed club tracks. Everyone's at it now.

  • Daft Punk 'Discovery': Arguably the finest moment of Daft Punk's career, an epic and ambitious album, so good it was turned into an anime movie. Impossible to fault from the opening blast of 'One More Time' to the ten-minute finale 'Too Long', a sequel to this classic was what fans had in mind when they released Random Access Memories. A space epic.

  • Arctic Monkeys 'Favourite Worst Nightmare': After the furore surrounding the band's first album, it seemed inconceivable that the Sheffield band could rise any higher. Well rise they did with this slab of fast and furious indie rock genius.

  • Linkin Park 'Meteora': Linkin Park may have already made waves with their debut album Hybrid Theory, but Metora really took pride of place at the forefront of alternative rap metal when it hit the ears of music lovers. 'Numb', 'Somewhere I Belong', 'Faint' and 'Lying From You' are some of the biggest and most insane hits by the band. The album as a whole has an incredible sound and got them noticed by hop hop legend Jay Z who collaborated on a number of their tracks to make an entirely new album Collision Course.

  • Paramore 'Riot!': This album really saw the vibrant fiery-haired fronted pop-punk band really come into their own. It has some of their best hits with the incredibly memorable 'Misery Business', 'Cruchcrushcrush' and 'That's What You Get' which all came along with great music videos. The whole album has great bite and energy and really brought Paramore into the limelight.

  • The Blackout 'The Best In Town': Many great bands have come from Wales, but The Blackout's boyish post-hardcore rock really stands out as some of the strongest talent. This album offered razor-sharp hooks and relentless energy with tracks like 'The Fire' and 'STFUppercut'

  • Skindred 'Roots Riot Rock': Skindred really came out of their shell on this album, giving a true taste of reggae infused metal. From the harder and heavier tracks like 'Ratrace' to the lighter catchier tracks 'State of Emergency', the Skindred lads really came across a new genre of music and made it their own.

  • Sigur Ros 'Agaetis Byrjun': Sigur Ros' debut album Von was a noisy mess. Their follow up, near perfect. From their second release, Sigur Ros had their sound sussed, and some of their most iconic tracks ('Staralfur', 'Svefn-g-Englar') appeared on Agaetis Byrjun.

  • Sia 'Colour The Small One': There's more to Sia than knocking out hit singles for David Guetta and Rihanna. She has risen to fame as a songwriter in recent years, but her second solo album is an absolutely incredible listen. Packed full of heart-wrenching ballads and THAT voice, it includes 'Breathe Me', the flop single that later brought the Aussie star to international attention.

  • Twin Peaks 'Fire Walk With Me': Now, it's not strictly an album as such, but the second collection of Twin Peaks music by Angelo Badalamenti more than deserves its place here. The soundtrack to the follow-up movie to the unforgettable TV series, this was arguably better that the original soundtrack, with the series' resident singer, Julee Cruise, bettering her iconic track 'Falling' with 'Questions In A World Of Blue'. Like an audio equivalent of cheese dreams.

  • Twin Shadow 'Confess': We named Twin Shadow's Confess album as our top pick of 2012. A year later, it still sounds incredible. No pop artist has come close to bettering this epic collection of atmospheric, sexually-charged r&b in the months since.

  • Ladytron 'Light and Magic': 90s electro heroes and heroines have faded in recent years, but this album saw them burn as brightly as any other band of the era. 'Seventeen' was their only real hit single, but the whole album oozes class.

  • David Bowie 'Space Oddity': His self-titled debut failed to really make much of an impression on the world, but this LP (containing the classic single of the same name) was the sound of Bowie just starting to find his sound - finding his feet and preparing to blast off into a universe of potential. If only he'd worked out sooner that an weird androgynous alien was what the world was crying out for.

  • Interpol 'Antics': The utterly flawless Turn On The Bright Lights was never going to be an easy record to follow-up. But, the best-dressed band in New York pulled off with style and aplomb - adding a new warmth and pop sensibility to produce a monolithic 10-track slab of gloomy brilliance.

  • The Beatles 'With The Beatles': You can still hear the lingering immaturity on this record. It's endearing and doesn't prevent it from being absolutely brilliant. Not the best Beatles album, but let's face it, that's a pretty fiercely fought category.

  • Michael Jackson 'Ben': Split critics on its release in 1972, but now rightly regarded as a classic. The still very youthful Jackson started to put the Jackson 5 behind him with this collection. The title track alone warrants the record's inclusion on this list.

  • Talking Heads 'More Songs About Buildings And Food': An album that does exactly what it says it on the tin - and then some. The genre-defying clash of new wave, post-punk, reggae, funk and the kitchen sink would see that this art-rock classic went on to become much more revered with time. The band's playing is still naive at this point but the songs are top-notch.

  • Joy Division 'Closer: Debate still rages over whether the title is meant as 'more close' or closer as in an ending, an early suicide note from Ian Curtis. What is never debated is the quality of the music. One of the darkest, most brutal and brilliant records you will ever hear.

  • Blur 'Modern Life Is Rubbish':Shaking off the baggy Madchester hangover of their debut, Damon Albarn realised his vision for a quintessentially British revolution in music on Modern Life Is Rubbish. For better or worse, the LP gave birth to Britpop - but you can't deny the sheer class of moments of brilliance in the form of 'For Tomorrow', 'Advert', 'Sunday Morning', 'Oily Water' and so on.

  • Vampire Weekend 'Contra': There were some who thought these preppy new York art-school kids were no more than a flash in a Graceland-shaped pan. They made a mockery of this theory with Contra, an album so assured that they are now filling arenas around the globe for fun.

  • QOTSA 'Rated R': From the rumbling notes of 'Feel Good Hit Of The Summer' into the sassy swagger of 'The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret', Rated R is the sound of a band completely without fear - setting the template for a decade of decadent desert rock and inspiring another generation of bands. Stunning stuff.

  • Elbow 'Cast Of Thousands': Before they became the go-to band to soundtrack every moment of victory, Guy Garvey and co's sound was once packed with a lot more Mancunian misery - and Cast Of Thousands showcases all that's great about the Mercury-winning everyman heroes. From the poetic gloom of 'Fugitive Motel' to the soaring glory of 'Grace Under Pressure', think of this album as the ominous cocoon - about to bloom into beautiful butterfly.

  • Bjork 'Post': Shut up, we know it's technically her third album but we aren't counting the album she released as a 12-year-old. Following the tinny and shy experimentation on Debut, Post was truly the first time that Bjork came into her own - creating her own universe by weaving wonderful sounds, tender poetry and a whole lot of Scandinavian spirit. It's got 'Army Of Me', 'Hyperballad', 'Possibly Maybe' and 'Isobel' all on the same record. BEAT THAT.

  • The National 'Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers': Layer upon layer of rumbling textured guitars below Berninger's baritone laments on love, loss and life crumbling all make for The National being one of the most compelling (if a little morose) bands of their generation - and it all came into fruition on this record, with 'Available', 'Murder Me Rachel' and 'Trophy' providing the launch pad for the flawless run that followed, and continues to this day.

  • White Stripes 'De Stijl': This turned the band from indie cult oddities to true contenders. They went from strength to strength with White Blood Cells and Elephant. This record has the perfect match of the band's original innocence and the kick-ass rock of later albums.

  • Anna Calvi 'One Breath': The cinematic masterpiece has given a dark, brooding edge to the musical landscape of 2013. A brave departure from the eponymous debut, it's cemented Calvi's place as a true musical heroine for out time.

  • Smashing Pumpkins 'Siamese Dream': Billy Corgan and co were well on the way to super-stardom after releasing this stone cold classic. 'Today' and 'Mayonnaise' meant that Corgan's nasal but brilliant drawl wasn't out of anyone's head for a good decade. It's pretty much impeccable, and would inspire generation of generation of rock artists in its wake.

  • The Happy Mondays 'Bummed': The Madchester classic was recently awarded the Classic Album gong at the Q Awards, and with good reason. Credited with taking the scene nationwide, whatever it did it still sounds superb.

  • The Killers 'Sam's Town': The band were named after a group in a New Order video who are supposed to represent the perfect band. With this album they pretty much lived up to that.

  • Iggy And The Stooges 'Fun House': The couldn't really play, he couldn't really sing, but who cares? This absolute firecracker of an album cemented their place as punk royalty, in the filthiest kid of way.

  • Foo Fighters 'The Colour And The Shape': The first eponymous album was fantastic, but this was the moment that the Foos went from being the drummer from Nirvana's new band to one of the biggest rock bands in the world on their own terms.

  • Radiohead 'The Bends': Seems ludicrous now, but some had already written off Radiohead as one hit wonders after 'Creep' was followed by disappointing debut album Pablo Honey. Boy did they prove everyone wrong - it's a towering masterpiece of intelligent alt-rock perfection. Only Radiohead could then go on to better it.

  • Amy Winehouse 'Back To Black': The tragic star went from a rising jazz star to overnight modern day icon with this collection of beautifully wistful songs. Tragically, her second album would also be her last. RIP.

Photo: Press