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6 Biggest Drops in Quality Between Albums: Bob Dylan, Prince and More

 

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Following up a great album is always a daunting task for a musician, and though plenty of artists managed to do this successfully, (Radiohead's Kid A, Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet), many others have fallen completely short. Here are six of the biggest drops in quality between albums.

1. Bob Dylan - Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait (1969/1970)

Bob Dylan had always incorporated elements of country blues into his music throughout the '60s, but with 1969's Nashville Skyline, Dylan went full-on country and western with surprisingly excellent results; it's one of his breeziest and most straightforward albums. However, with his very next album, Self Portrait, Dylan took his new country sound in the completely wrong direction, recording a double album made up mostly of overproduced cover songs. I don't know about you, but when I listen to Dylan, I want to hear him sing his own songs, not covers.


2. The Velvet Underground - Loaded and Squeeze (1970/1973)

When Lou Reed quit the Velvet Underground in 1970 following the band's fourth album, Loaded, he left behind one of rock's most groundbreaking, consistent, and impenetrable discographies, and by all accounts, the story of the Velvet Underground should have ended right there. However, manager Steve Sesnick kept the band going for a few more years with bassist Doug Yule, who wrote and recorded another Velvet Underground album, Squeeze, almost entirely by himself in 1973. The pop sensibilities and transgressive qualities of Lou Reed's songwriting are sorely missed on Squeeze, which many don't even consider to be a legitimate Velvet Underground album.


3. Yes - Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans (1972/1973)

The difference between Yes's Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans is pretty much the difference between great prog-rock and boring, cartoonishly bloated prog-rock. Though the songs on Close to the Edge are lengthy, the whole thing comes in at a compact 38 minutes, and is filled with gorgeous passages and brilliant hooks that progressive bands too often neglect. The 83-minute Tales from Topographic Oceans, on the other hand, pretty much dispenses with the hooks, and sounds like a band trying to stretch one good piece into four side-long suites.


4. Prince - Purple Rain and Around the World in a Day (1984/1985)

Prince's Purple Rain is simply the greatest pop album of the '80s (yes, better than Thriller), a masterful combination of rock, funk, dance, new wave, and psychedelia, in which every song could be a hit single. Prince would follow this up with the more blatantly psychedelic Around the World in a Day, and though it contains my personal favorite Prince song, ("Raspberry Beret"), the rest of the album is far more self-indulgent and not nearly as captivating, especially when compared to the airtight genius of Purple Rain.  


5. R.E.M. - Automatic for the People and Monster (1992/1994)

In the early '90s, R.E.M. briefly took a step back from their traditional rock band set-up in pursuit of a folkier, more organic sound, resulting in their mega-selling Out of Time and their gothic Americana masterpiece, Automatic for the People, the latter of which is easily one of the best of the '90s. Following Automatic, R.E.M. decided to plug back in, though the resulting album, Monster, is by far one of the band's weakest efforts, a monotonous haze of distortion with perhaps the most egregious overuse of a tremolo pedal in rock history.


6. Weezer - Maladroit and Make Believe (2002/2005)

The most commonly accepted Weezer narrative is that they released two masterpieces during the '90s, and then followed them up with a series of increasingly sub-par albums, but that's not entirely true. Weezer's fourth album, Maladroit, is their third and final masterpiece, a criminally underrated collection of riffy guitar pop gems that is as exhilarating as "The Green Album" was sterile and calculated. Weezer's fifth album, Make Believe, on the other hand, is where their sharp decline truly began, and when they began catering to a more mainstream pop audience.


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