Sequels can be challenging.
I wrote a while back how much I enjoyed the Wolfmother CD. It was so good and I listened to it so much, I asked the Doc to send me a copy of their second album (Cosmic Egg)…even though I had heard from multiple people that it “wasn’t as good as the first album.” In fact, some of the things I heard about album #2 were even less complimentary. Apparently, the band only contains one of the musicians from the original line-up and the sound has changed substantially.
However, I was willing to give it a shot…after all, their first album was so good, I couldn’t imagine the 2nd would be TOTAL crap. I mean, there had to be some nuggets of goodness, right?
Well, once I started listening to it, I started to see what the disappointment was all about. The first song on the album was a total “eh.” The second song was likewise “blah.” The third song…same story for the most part. Whereas the band’s self-titled first album had four kick-ass songs right up front, right from the get go. And THAT’s the way to start an album…put something awesome up front, top it (White Unicorn is my favorite track on the record), and then top it AGAIN (Woman won a Grammy for Best Rock song of 2005). Start an album great and a lot of later stuff can be forgiven by the ear.
After the third disappointment on Cosmic Egg, I nearly set aside the album…but I didn’t. I kept the faith…helped a bit by a semi-inspired ending to the 3rd track. And my faith was rewarded: the FOURTH track of Cosmic Egg is where the real album starts as far as I’m concerned. #4 is great. #5 is derivative but good. By #6 I can see what the new direction is all about. Overall, the album may not be as consistently as good as their first record, but it’s nothing to sniff at…provided you start listening with Track 4. And track 15 is on the album is probably my favorite song of Wolfmother’s on either album. Now that I’ve got the “key” to the record, I’ve been listening to nothing else for the last few days.
There’s no accounting for taste in aesthetics…I know my buddy likes song #3 the best, and that’s his “key” into the album (and others, like my friend Craig, don’t like it at all, though perhaps he never made it past those first three tracks). The same holds true for RPGs, of course…an aesthetic of a different flavor, but still an aesthetic.
Take my B/X Companion, for example. Five different artists contributed their work to my book. I know which ones are MY favorite (and, no, I’m not going to say who), and I figured my qualitative taste would be…well, universal or something. Such is not the case. My brother prefers one of the interior artists to all the others, going so far as to say he wishes the cover had been done by this particular individual (and my brother is an artist with a critical Virgo eye himself). On the other hand, my friend Steve thinks the cover is the best thing about the book and wishes all the interior art had been done in a similar style. Likewise, my wife has HER favorite artist/image in the book, and it is not the one preferred by myself, my brother, nor Steve-O.
The mix of art and aesthetics by different artists is a GOOD thing. Changing up one’s style or approach between projects can be good as well…provided you manage to retain the quality and some of the sensibilities that made people like it in the first place. It accomplishes two things: the possibility of widening your target audience, and the broadening of the audience’s own mind with regard to “what is cool/neat.”
But just the challenge of trying to follow up a project can be a daunting task; knowing where to start, knowing what to do; knowing how to please your target audience while still being true to yourself and expanding your own horizons…that can be tough.
I say this as I simultaneously begin work on three different projects as a follow-up to the B/X Companion. Hoo-boy!