Second album syndrome that seems to have fallen out of fashion in the last twenty years. It seems that record labels have become wise to the phenomenon and ensure that new acts have at least enough material to fill two albums these days. Now second album syndrome doesn’t usually strike until the third album, and by that time an act is usually at least five years old, so if they are going to make any kind of commercial impact they would have done by that point. Third album bombs, record label washes their hands of the next sorry mess and looks to the next set of doe-eyed youngsters to screw over.
Originally released in mid-2005, I really, really, liked Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self titled debut, so much so that I balked at picking up their second album when it was released in 2007. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah seemed to nail down their unique sound on their debut, and I really couldn’t imagine how they would improve on it, or release anything that I would enjoy more than their first album.
Now, a full decade after it’s original release, I’m finally hearing Some Loud Thunder, and although my heart sinks at saying this, after the energetic rush of their debut album, Some Loud Thunder comes across as an oddly ponderous release for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by comparison. It’s as if Alec Ounsworth had decided that the second album was where his band of misfits were going to suddenly mature, stop sounding like they were just interested in having fun, and were now prepared to take their career as professional musicians much more seriously. Hell, they even got Cosmic Americana producer par-excellence, Dave Fridmann, to twiddle the knobs in the studio – a sure sign that a texturally interesting American act want to both catapult themselves into the big league and announce their that their days of striving for something just out of reach are behind them. However, even at this stage of his career, for every success like Deserter’s Songs or The Soft Bulletin, Fridmann has also helmed a fair few snorefests, so his involvement was no longer a guarantee of success.
For all my misgivings, there are still three genuinely great songs within the run time of Some Loud Thunder. “Satan Said Dance” is the highlight of the whole album and an obvious nod to the band’s sound on their debut album, as is the oddly unappreciated “Yankee Go Home”. Penultimate track “Underwater (You and Me)” should have been the natural choice to close the album, and is perhaps the best realised of the songs that are constructed around Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s updated sound, as it bounces along merrily and you temporarily forget that the majority of the rest of the album didn’t quite fulfil the band’s obvious potential. However, you are once again dragged back down to reality by “Five Easy Pieces”, a near seven minute reminder of the fact that seven of the previous songs on this album are pretty good but not great.
Perhaps with Some Loud Thunder Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were dragging second album syndrome back where it belongs, rather than allowing their career path to be mapped out to a schedule by an unscrupulous record label, and while Some Loud Thunder is not the album I wish it was, I still have to admire the band’s work ethic.