The Second Album

In 2010, I discovered a new singer named Caro Emerald. Her album, Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor, is a serious candidate for the best album I've ever heard. The lyrics were poignant, music fascinating, performance superb. It was rich, powerful, intense. I can't praise it enough.

2014 arrived and brought with it a reminder of the saddest thing about music, the second  album.

Long ago, I found another album by an artist named Lizzie West. It was also, imho, a tour de force. She's a folk singer and song after song, the poetry was powerful, her performance touching. There are songs that made me verklempt every time I listened to them.

Her second album came along and there was none of the magic. Everything about it was competent. None of it thrilling.

SInce then, I've concluded that many artists spent their entire young life, sequestered in their teenage bedroom, writing stuff, thinking stuff, experiencing the frustrations of growing up and recording their perceptions of the world around them in their art. Their first record, to a substantial extent, took ten years to write.

When, finally, the music is produced, it has richness representing the extensive, layered thought behind it.

The second album is done over the course of a year or two and, it's a busy one. Based on an excellent album, they are much busier than before. The amount of thought and inspiration that contribute to the album is microscopic by comparison to the first.

And it shows.

Caro's second album is completely good. I have played it several times and like it. She had medical trouble with her voice before making this record and the damage shows but, she's a spirited singer with a lot of style and a good voice.

What she has in common with Lizzie and other second album writers is that she is aware of what was awesome about her previous record and that influences her work in a profoundly negative way. Again in the context of a fine record, it lacks new ideas. The things that were amazing and charming about the first record return here in a way that reminds me that her pinnacle was on the last record.

I could see this Johnny Depp's performance as Jack Sparrow in his second movie. You could easily imagine him sitting in his trailor watching clips of his brilliant, inventive performance in the first movie, practicing the fey gestures, etc. When he got to the camera, what was magical before was now practiced and artificial. For Caro Emerald, it's nowhere near as bad as that performance became, but it is diminished.

It breaks my heart. In my sixties, I am aware of the passing of youth and the loss of capabilities. It is weird and sad to realize this whole new class of ephemera. Unless she runs into some huge inspiration or bit of luck, this woman has passed her musical prime and she's not yet thirty.

Of course, she might have other opportunities for excellence. New capabilities that come to the fore in her thirties and ones after that in her forties. Etc. I feel that's happened to me in some ways.

Or she might have a change of heart and turn into Madonna. People whined about her constant reinvention but one thing you never, ever heard was the echo of the previous album's good bits on the next one. Consequently, she was consistently inventive, usually excellent and changed the face of music for twenty years.

In any case, it supports my current intention never to stick with something because I'm good at it. That is, I think, the real lesson of the second album.