Today I'm thinking about sophomore efforts by artists, particularly for those whose first effort gained a fair amount good criticism. You've made fans based on a certain mode or style, and you have to choose to either continue with something similar or to verge off into other areas.
What prompted this was the new Interpol album, Antics, that I just bought yesterday. The first album floored me; the Cure-like textured guitars alongside the bouncing bass and droning vocals remenescent of Joy Division but with just enough indie-stylings to make it relevant was an easy sell to someone with my musical tastes. It made me feel like I was 20 again, and brought back a love for rock music that I thought I lost a few years ago. The new album is good, but is more of the same. There is a little more focus on rhythm, the bass is a little more upfront in the mix, but it's essentially a direct extension from their first album.
Is this a bad thing? A good thing? I'm not sure.
Given a choice, and I'm speaking in generalities of course, I'd rather see an artist evolve and strive towards different things. Even if that means a little failure. David Bowie comes to mind in music, Jonathan Lethem and Joyce Carol Oates in writing. To continually re-define your artistic self takes enormous energy, time and determination, and I have great respect for it.
To place this pressure on young kids like Interpol (I think they're all in their early 20's) is probably unfair. Particularly when you throw in the pressure they probably got from their record label to put something else out as soon as possible. Given time (assuming they stay together) they will probably progress onto other things as they gain more experience and exposure to other influences. But pulling it away from Interpol, I have to wonder what I will do. If my first novel is accepted and does even passingly well, will I write something similar for the second one, or make a break onto something different?
I don't know.