At the risk of seriously dating myself, I think Guns N’ Roses was one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time, and their first full-length album, Appetite for Destruction, is true a masterpiece.
I was fortunate enough to see GN' R live in their original incarnation several times, and it was a helluva experience, each and every time.
However, as much as I admire Appetite, their follow-up magnum opus, Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, can be a little tougher to love.
Whereas Appetite was raw and fresh and in many ways, nakedly honest, Use Your Illusion was bloated – it had more of, well, everything, including keyboards, synths, and back-up singers that never would have made the first album. It was as if the band (or more likely, Axl Rose), took the opportunity afforded by Appetite’s success to get out every song, every idea, every musical notion they’d ever had. It was also as if they were trying to “super charge” those elements of Appetite’s runaway popularity and then repeat them again…and again…and again.
This second album syndrome is pretty common in music – it’s easy for a band to lose its way. No longer having to sleep on a couch or in the back of a van, no longer having to hustle for a handful of listeners in a club, coupled with more access to studio time and support than ever before, sometimes results in all the desperate energy and effort and hours that went into crafting those first, amazing songs getting lost. Some bands overcome the curse and go on to create music as strong as their debut album, while others struggle, forever trying to recapture the sound (without slavishly repeating it) that made them famous in the first place.
Now that my first book is behind me (revisions are done and it's off to copy editing), and I’m several thousand words into the sequel, I think a lot about those “second album” pitfalls. Having BAD LAND get picked up by Putnam was an amazing surprise, but since I don’t have critique partners or Beta readers, I’m still not sure what works in that book, or why. I just know that I wrote what I liked, what felt important to me, and I never looked back. It was my equivalent of sleeping on a couch or in a van. Now, I find myself fighting the urge to look over my shoulder every now then, to second-guess what I’m doing and try and catch lightning in a bottle again. Before, there were just hopes, now there are actual expectations.
Trust me, there are worse problems to have, and if nothing else, I hope those backward glances will force me to work only harder and better.
At least there won’t be a ton of back-up singers on this thing…