Five Rock Debut Albums That Were Never Bettered
Debut albums. Most bands make one, and many of them repeat the experience for at least a second attempt. A lot of the time, the debut is the taste of what’s to come, a suggestion of potential, the unfinished, unpolished take on what could be a phenomenon.
The list of applicable outfits is long: Nirvana, Muse, Metallica, Deftones, Biffy Clyro, Bring Me The Horizon, Brand New, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins… Suffice to say, we could be here for a week, and more, easily.
But sometimes, a band bursts into life with an album that remains the greatest encapsulation of their essence, the most vital recording they’ll ever lay down, whatever their future of the time held in store. Here are five of those – five that come from the perspective, the taste and experience, of just one listener, one writer. Five that you may agree or disagree with – that’s part of the fun.
Five that will, hopefully, have you thinking about your own favourite debut albums. Of eternally rewarding, uncommonly influential sets that have never, in your opinion, been bettered by the band in question.
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Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction
The soap opera that so soon became Guns N’ Roses’ daily trudge through the tabloid gutter was nowhere to be heard, to be felt, on the swaggering, cocky-as-all-hell Appetite For Destruction. Granted, if you grew up in the grunge years, this was Public Enemy Number One for a lot of plaid-clad, lank-haired Alice In Chains fans (guilty as charged) – a corporate-appeasing, hairspray-stinking, slickly produced slice of chart-beating, chest-beating, dick-swinging cock-rock. It all seemed so, I guess, unauthentic.
But then you get older. You listen with more experienced ears. And then everything clicks. The melodies here, the hooks, the rasp on Axl’s lips, the soar-away solos – Guns N’ Roses would never writer sharper material, and would never sound so hungry, either. Yes, that studio sheen does wipe away some of the dirt, drugs and booze that fed into the album’s (sometimes very questionable – It’s So Easy hasn’t aged well, at all) lyrical themes; but these are songs that came quick to musicians swimming in inspiration, writing taking hours rather than weeks and months, and that zest, that bounce, can be heard right across the album.
It’s in your face from the first seconds of opener Welcome To The Jungle, a song so thrusting, so sure of itself that you can almost smell Rose’s sweaty crotch. Even when things take a turn for the Properly Anthemic, on Paradise City, there remains a rawness to the riffs, contrasting moreishly against a sing-along chorus that couldn’t be more instant-hit pop if it came with a Cathy Dennis co-credit.
The band’s label, Geffen, was seriously considering dropping Guns N’ Roses, after Appetite’s release – but its runaway sales, 30 million and counting, soon put pay to that idea.
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Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine
Where Guns N’ Roses had fire in their bellies born of so many liquid lunches (and breakfasts, and dinners), another set of Los Angeles rockers, Rage Against The Machine, were driven by rather different forces. And with their sizzling debut, RATM laid down their politically-charged blueprint – this four-piece wasn’t part of a system of squalor and self-abuse for rock ‘n’ roll brownie points; it wanted to change the fucking world, one riff, one song, one enormous moshpit at a time.
What band, today, comes out the blocks with a song so electric, so acerbic, as Killing In The Name; a song that so masterfully rides on the coattails of funk, straddles the low-slung deep-end vibrations of so much grunge and punk, while also heralding a new wave of nu-prefixed rockers of the near future? It’s okay. I’ll wait.
Catchy lyrics set to barbed-wire guitars and percussion that just pounds, and pounds, and pounds, until you pay attention to the message that Zack De La Rocha is trying to get across, his delivery pure vitriol with an aftertaste of conscience. You can’t spend a late evening and early morning at any rock club, in any country in the world, without hearing a song from this LP – be it Killing, or the fizzing and furious Bombtrack, or the how-is-he-doing-that-with-his-guitar screech and skronk of Bullet In The Head, or the passionate agit-prose of Freedom. Few albums that are so wholly illustrative of an era in rock have proven so evergreen.
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Rival Schools – United By Fate
With precedent, comes great responsibility. The debut album from a new (ish) band comprised of former members of Quicksand, Gorilla Biscuits, CIV, Die 116, Youth Of Today and more was always going to turn hardcore-loving heads – but United By Fate is much more than the sum of its parts. This was post-hardcore blessed by the most immediate pop sensibilities, the natural progression of Quicksand, in a way – angular, itchy, innovative interplay allowed a wider spectrum of appreciation via the incorporation of supremely radio-friendly singles.
Case in point: Used For Glue. I don’t think there were many more songs, of the ilk and the era of the early 00s, that so expertly merged the post-hardcore sound, all that scratchiness and volume and urgency, with sugar-sweet refrains that never failed to light up a gig or club. It’s a song that manages to be both mournful, melancholic and reflective, and completely celebratory at the same time – like, in just three and a half minutes, it thrashes you to the cigarette-strewn floor before lifting you up, on its shoulders, to the lighting rig. Brilliant. Perfect.
Good Things has a pop and spring to it that lends it a slightly lightweight feel beside more raucous, high-energy works like High Acetate and Holding Sand – but its easy-going flow made it an easy pick for a second single. That there’s so much noise elsewhere on the record, so much accomplished variety, guarantees its longevity – frontman Walter Schreifels’ vocals proves the constant across arrangements that veer from hectic and haywire to cool and collected, frost-bitten and sun-kissed. Commercial emo-rock’s high watermark? Maybe.
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Glassjaw – Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence
They might only have the two studio albums to their name, but Long Island’s Glassjaw have plenty of other releases out there, bearing their brand, their singularly erratic hardcore mark. Nothing too recent, sure; but there are EPs out there, and of course the band continues to play live, hitting the road with The Used in November.
But it’s this debut that so spectacularly combines the heat, the horror, the poise and the passion of the group, subject to something of a revolving-door membership as it’s always been. Sometimes, a set of people clicks, and you can’t recapture that – and that’s what Everything… really delivers, a moment in time where five musicians just had at it, giving everything, leaving nothing in the tank. There’s sharp intelligence and untempered intensity, butting heads, both refusing to back down.
Producer Ross Robinson was somehow able to harness the tumult that raged within Glassjaw at the time, that is never more than seconds from exploding across these 12 tracks proper (there’s a secret bit at the end, too). Lyricist Daryl Palumbo is still finding himself in terms of how he expresses himself, and the vocabulary he uses (sometimes as icky as Axl’s), but damn, that delivery – it’s jacked into the mains the whole way, a guttural roar that races up and just splashes, blood-red, all over the place. It’s often ugly, but you simply cannot look, or listen, away.
Glassjaw would, at times, refine their formula on second album, Worship And Tribute – but while that set retained some of the anger and energy of its predecessor, it got rather bogged down in makeweight filler, leaving the best moments adrift. Everything…, on the other hand, is one long, pained high – a screaming, kicking, bruised and broken high, but right up there, nonetheless.
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Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
Standing by this one. Yes, I’ll concede that Foo Fighters, when they became a band proper rather than primarily a solo outlet for Dave Grohl, penned some awesome singles. But there’s such consistency to this debut album, written and recorded as it pretty much exclusively was by the former Nirvana drummer, that keeps it right up there for me, in the band’s (soon to be) nine-LP catalogue.
Age, and place, is a factor. I remember recording This Is A Call off the radio, when John Peel played it. I was, like many, still a little raw over Kurt Cobain’s death; and these songs, these pop-savvy numbers penned by the dude who used to sit behind the late frontman, came at the right time. They pointed to the future, and drew a line between what was, and what came to such a tragic end; and what could be, once a few extra hands were on deck.
The Colour And The Shape was a great record, I’m not about to deny that. But Foo Fighters needed to happen first. Grohl needed to write these songs, to get his system functioning again, those clichéd creative juices surging once more. What’s remarkable, still, is that what is little more (at times) than a bunch of demos functions so fantastically as a listen-to-the-lot long-player – there’s such uncommon fluidity for a debut, the album proving, if evidence was needed, that Grohl was an exceptional songwriter in his own right.
Listening again now, I’m right back there, in that old bedroom, finger on the boombox, ready to go. I don’t know. It mattered, much more than what came after it; and what’s more, the music’s just that bit purer, unfiltered, made because a guy wanted to do it, rather than he maybe felt he had to.
And it’s got Big Me on it. And For All The Cows. And I’ll Stick Around. And y’know, they’re all just a lil’ bit wonderful.
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These are Mike’s takes, at least – and you can argue/agree accordingly on Twitter.