So you buy it, and you take it home, and it's great! Each track is it's own little symphony, and yet the whole thing flows together seamlessly, with barely a note out of place. What a purchase this was! You make a beeline for The Internet, eager to read the opinions of like-minded people who enjoyed this album as much as you did...
...and nobody on The Internet gives a shit, because you've bought that album. You know, that album; the one that's doomed to forever live in the shadow of the band's other achievements; the one that nobody ever talks about because, well, it's a small fish in a big pond. It could be that it came out during the band's formative years - before they really hit their stride - or it could be a more recent release that didn't live up to expectations.
It's hard not to feel disappointed when the best thing anyone has to say about your new favourite album is that it's 'underrated' or 'just as good as their more popular stuff'. But context makes a big difference; as far as you're concerned, the tracks on your charity shop album are that band's Greatest Hits, but the long-time fans on the interweb are privy to the bigger picture. They were there when the band released this lacklustre imitation of their former glories, and they haven't thought up a kind word to say about it since.
Of course, you're now free to explore the band's back catalogue, and you may well discover that The Internet was right: the album you bought was merely the tip of that sexy iceberg. But even if these new discoveries utterly dwarf the album you came in on, you'll probably still have a place in your heart for that record. After all, it was your gateway to this world of sonic delights. Heck, you might even decide that, having heard everything the artist has to offer, you still like that charity shop one the best.
In short, I think that the first album you hear by a band will more often than not prove to be your favourite of theirs. At the very least, you'll think higher of it for having been your cherry-popper where that particular artist was concerned. Here are some examples from my own crooked path...
My first Suede album: Dog Man Star
Bought it for about 50p at a car boot sale, thought it was a work of genius. A lot of people think that their debut is better - after all, that was the one with Bernard Butler - but I couldn't disagree more. This is their best, followed by Coming Up. The self-titled album is third.
My first Clinic album: Winchester Cathedral
Found this in D'Vinyl Records and snapped it up after seeing Clinic support Arcade Fire in Cardiff. I think it's a damn cool album, but apparently it pales in comparison to their earlier work. Notice how the most positive review of this album on Amazon was written by someone who had never listened to Clinic before.
My first Pavement album: Terror Twilight
This one came from Oxfam, I think. Ignore that ugly-butt cover and there are some seriously sweet tunes inside. The other Pavement album I own is Wowee Zowee, but I much prefer this one. The songs are just...better.
My first Cosmic Rough Riders album: The Stars Look Different From Down Here
Bought from Fopp in Cardiff (remember when that existed?), simply because they were doing an instore gig and signing copies of the new CD. This is another case of 'they lost a member, now they suck' - I've got Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine, and that's really good too, but for entirely different reasons.
My first Tindersticks album: The Hungry Saw
This was the first album that I thought of when I decided to do this blog post. I bought it for a fiver, having read on the web that Tindersticks were really good, and after one listen I completely agreed. But then the web turned around and went, 'Hm? Oh no, not that Tindersticks - the old albums are the ones you want.' Now that I've got those older releases, I can confirm that the web was right, but I still think this is a masterpiece.
My first Lambchop album: I Hope You're Sitting Down
Like The Hungry Saw, I bought this one because I wanted to see what the artist was like and this was the cheapest option. But where THS is considered a disappointment compared to earlier albums, this LP is seen as the tadpole that eventually turned into a band capable of creating Nixon. Again, I like the critically-acclaimed album, but I like this just as much - it's more lo-fi, and the songs are a lot more direct than the roundabout, string-laden stuff on Nixon. Just listen to this one:
There are loads of other examples. My girlfriend Sarah and I can't agree on which of Rufus Wainwright's Want albums is better. I heard Want One first, and that's my favourite, whereas she prefers Want Two, which was the first one she heard. Coincidence? Perhaps, perhaps not.
What do you think? Do albums sound better when you've got no previous experience of that artist? If you'd care to weigh in on this, drop us a comment. And have a good weekend!