The “sophomore slump” is the musical equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle: It’s either a totally mythic construct meant to induce fear, or it’s a genuine destination waiting to swallow up your favorite band. A new study lends credence to the notion that the dreaded slump may be less boogeyman and more legitimate industry trend.
Study organizers began with Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time, published in March 2013. From there, they reviewed the aggregation website Album of the Year, comparing the scores of 80 debut records with their follow-ups. A staggering 66.25% of the time, the grades dropped, offering some concrete proof that the “sophomore slump” is a noticeable issue for bands across genres, cultures, and historical periods.
Of course, not every musician falls prey to this most wicked beast. Many acts saw no change at all from one album to the next, such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, X, The Band, and even Lynyrd Skynyrd. Others including Talking Heads, Drake, Roxy Music, Beastie Boys, and Run-D.M.C. each saw at least a 10-point increase in their respective ratings.
However, 27 artists saw a decrease of 10 or more points. The Who dropped some 15 points, Guns N’ Roses by 25 points, and Jay Z lost 37 points between Reasonable Doubt and In My Lifetime Vol. 1. The hardest hit of all, though, came with The Stone Roses, who went from a 98 with their self-titled debut to a disappointing 60 for Second Coming.
To see just how real the “Sophomore Slump” truly is, check out the interactive visualization below. Organized from worst to best, you can click on any artist’s name to see the ratings disparities between their first two albums.