Friday, January 25, 2013

Besides the A-Side: 7 Albums with a Better Second Half

We all know those albums that are really good from beginning to finish. Every single song is wonderful and that’s that. Then we have the albums where most of the best tracks are clumped together at the very beginning of an album, making it easier to listen to all of your favorite songs since they’re all strung together. But what about those times when a band puts all of the best songs on the second half? It might not happen as often, but I can assure you that it does. It took some time and consideration, but here are 7 albums in which the second half winds up being a stronger set of songs than what can be heard on the first half.

07. The Horrible Crowes – Elsie
I want to go on record and say that I actually enjoy pretty much the entirety of Elsie. With few exceptions, the entire album is a great example of how to do a side project right: rarely do the songs sound like they were leftover Gaslight Anthem demos, but there’s still enough familiarity in the feel of the album that fans wouldn’t be turned off by it. That said, Elsie’s second half (beginning with “Ladykiller”) is a lot more solid than its first half. Both “Behold the Hurricane” and “Go Tell Everybody” are great, but if there were any tracks on Elsie that sounded like Gaslight Anthem leftovers, it would be these two songs. And then there’s “Cherry Blossoms”, which is just boring (seriously, the two songs it’s sandwiched between are both longer, but it still managed to feel like the longest track on the album because of how slow it is). The second half is what truly makes The Horrible Crowes a worthwhile project. Sure the first half has its experimentation in “Sugar” and “I Witnessed a Crime”, but the six songs that make up back half of Elsie excel in trying out new instrumentation and compositions for Brian Fallon’s familiar rasp to sing over, playing with a range of tempos from the upbeat “Crush” to the aggressive “Mary Ann”, the laid-back “Black Betty and the Moon” and the slow “Blood Loss”. The whole album is gold, but the second half is really where it kicks into gear as far as being a side project. 

06. Bomb the Music Industry! – Scrambles
I love the first three Bomb the Music Industry! releases. There’s something about the chaotic nature of those albums that just got lost when the band recorded Get Warmer with a full band lineup. Scrambles, despite being another “full band” recording, contained more of those chaotic and messy elements that made me love the band in the first place. The first half of Scrambles is promising, combining elements of both the old frantic BTMI! and new piano-driven BTMI!. Then comes the 1-2-3-4-5 punch of “Gang of Four Meets the Stooges (But Boring)”, “9/11 Fever!!!”, “(Shut) Up the Punx!!!”, “Can I Pay My Rent In Fun?” and “Saddr Weirddr” and creates one of the best string of songs on any of the band’s albums. As soon as it begins, I’m on for the ride until “Sort of Like Being Pumped” starts (not that it’s a bad song, but I can survive if I don’t finish that track).

05. Against Me! – Reinventing Axl Rose
Okay, so the first half of this album contains “Pints of Guinness Help Make You Strong” and “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)”, two of Against Me!’s best songs and staples in the band’s live set to this very day. But you know what it doesn’t have? “Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious…”, “Reinventing Axl Rose”, “Baby, I’m an Anarchist”, and “Walking Is Still Honest”. I have a tendency to give Reinventing Axl Rose less credit than the rest of the band’s discography for the fact that its back half is mostly made up of re-recorded songs from Crime As Forgiven By… and The Acoustic EP, but regardless of which versions of the songs you’re listening to, they’re still the cream of the crop from that era. And they’re all (mostly) on the second half of Reinventing Axl Rose.

04. The Replacements – Let It Be
Let It Be, like Elsie, is actually a pretty solid album throughout. But when it comes down to it, I much prefer the second half of the album. As soon as the first notes of “Unsatisfied” begin, Let It Be kicks off into not only some of the best songs that The ‘Mats ever wrote, but also some of the strongest vocal performances that front-man Paul Westerberg ever gave. There’s a real pain and sadness in his voice throughout “Unsatisfied” and “Answering Machine”, and even “Seen Your Video” (which is mostly instrumental) contains Westerberg’s rough shout. “Sixteen Blue” also marks one of the band’s first “ballad”-esque songs which they perfected on their next album, Tim. Now if only the band had swapped “Androgynous” and “Gary’s Got a Boner”, things would be perfect.

03. Weezer – Pinkerton
“Tired of Sex” is one of the best opening songs ever, and “Across the Sea” might be the perfect creepy love/lust song, but everything else that Weezer’s magnum opus has to offer in its first five songs pale in comparison to the next five songs. I don’t think I really have to say much because I don’t think there’s anyone who would disagree with me on that.

02. Descendents – I Don’t Want to Grow Up
Although there were hints of it on Milo Goes to College, the mature songwriting of the Descendents didn’t really blossom fully until their second album. The album starts with some fairly playful and immature songs like “Descendents”, and “I Don’t Want to Grow Up”, but as the album progresses the album begins to sober up and the songs get more serious. It’s not until the final third of the album when the band’s maturity hits its stride, but once it does it churns out five solid songs all in a row. “Silly Girl” and “In Love This Way” are still relatively light-hearted love songs, but it’s hard to believe that they’re on the same album as a track like “Pervert” from the first half. Then comes the heavy-hearted “Christmas Vacation”, “Good Good Things” and “Ace”, which are among some of the saddest songs in the band’s entire discography. For a band that didn’t want to grow up, they sure did with these songs.

01. Screeching Weasel – My Brain Hurts
Ben Weasel is a confusing man that I’m not sure I’ll ever understand, but I do understand that his lyricism on Screeching Weasel’s third album, My Brain Hurts, is some of the best that punk rock had to offer in the early 90’s. Although there are plenty of examples of strong lyrics throughout the album, the truly great songs don’t really start showing up until “Cindy’s on Methadone”, a tragic and sarcastic tale of trading one addiction for another.  Followed by introspective “The Science of Myth” (which was inspired by Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience turning his thesis paper into a song), the bitter “What We Hate”, and the tongue-in-cheek “Teenage Freakshow”, the rest of the album keeps going with great songs until it’s over. Technically, since this streak of songs begins with track 6, that makes this an album with the latter two-thirds being better than the first third, but that’s just a ridiculous idea for a list.  

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