The Fine Art Of The Sequel Album

In a lot of ways, a good album is like a movie: it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. It should take you on a journey. You should learn something about the main character that you didn’t know before you started. The main character should learn something about themselves too. And it should leave you wanting more. And much like in the film world, occasionally a successful album will prompt a sequel. Sometimes this is a very, very good idea – such as when Star Wars was followed up with The Empire Strikes Back. Other times, well …you end up up with that unpleasant business that happened to The Matrix series. Here are a few sequel albums worth checking out.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime II

Okay, this one could well be seen as a controversial inclusion, especially amid claims that most of the band wasn’t terribly involved in the final product. But whatever internal turmoil was going on within Queensryche at the time they made this, the sequel to their multiplatinum 1988 album Operation: Mindcrime, you’ve gotta admit that a few of these songs stand up pretty well when held up against the Queensryche catalog. Most of the great tracks are skewed to the first half of the album – the fast metal of “I’m American,” the proggish “Hostage,” the driving “The Hands” – but this album also contains a great guest appearance by the late great Ronnie James Dio on the song “The Chase,” playing the role of Dr. X, the mysterious antagonist of the series. And if you happened to catch the band performing it live together with the original album, it worked pretty well.

Neil Young – Harvest Moon

Neil Young’s Harvest was a landmark album, topping the Billboard charts for two weeks and racking up the honour of being the highest-selling album of 1972. Twenty years later Young reunited with many of the same musicians (such as Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor) to record Harvest Moon, not technically acknowledged as a sequel but c’mon!!! Harvest Moon came about because Young was recovering from a bout of tinnitus after spending a lot of time playing really, really loud recording and touring the Ragged Glory album. Harvest Moon was critically acclaimed, scoring a Juno Award for Album of the Year.

The Smashing Pumpkins – Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music

The Smashing Pumpkins released Machina/The Machines of God to stores in 2000, but the band always planned for Machina to be a double album. Virgin Records weren’t into that idea, so Billy Corgan released a second Machina album on his own label, Constantinople Records, in an extremely limited edition of 25 copies in the form of a double LP plus three EPs featuring B-sides and alternate takes. Some of those 25 copies were given to friends of the band, but a handful were given to fans from the band’s online community with an invitation to get the music out there free of charge. So Machina II became one of the first examples of an artist fully exploiting the viral nature of online music, back in the days when Napster was still a thing. A remastered version of the album is planned for release later this year alongside a remaster of Machina/The Machines of God, making Machina II commercially available for the first time ever.

KISS – Alive II

Yeah, we have to include this (and to a lesser extent subsequent sequels, but definitely Alive II). The original Alive was a landmark, star-making effort for KISS, and this sequel benefited from three whole studio albums’ worth of intervening material (Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over and Love Gun). Sure, some tracks were recorded at sound checks and the last five cuts are studio tracks, but Alive II was still huge, thanks in no small part to Ace Frehley’s incendiary (literally, wink) showcase “Shock Me.” 

Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare

Alice Cooper’s 1975 album Welcome To My Nightmare is a classic of the shock rock genre, but Alice eventually moved away from that sound as the years progressed, often incorporating strains of whichever heavy music forms were dominant at the time, such as the glam rock of Trash in 1989, or the dark Brutal Planet in 2000. 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare reflected an intentional effort to recapture big chunks of Cooper’s mid-70s sound, and to that end he reunited with Bob Ezrin – the producer of the original album – as well as previous members of the Alice Cooper band, including Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Michael Bruce, Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter. The album is also full of guest musicians like Vince Gill, Rob Zombie, Chuck Garric, Kip Winger, Damon Johnson, John 5 and even Ke$ha, who performs guest vocals on “What Baby Wants.” What some folks forget, though, is that Cooper’s 1976 album Alice Cooper Goes To Hell was also a sequel to Welcome To My Nightmare, continuing the story of Steven, that album’s main character. I guess Welcome 3 My Nightmare wouldn’t have really worked for the 2011 album.

Steve Vai – The Story Of Light

Steve Vai conceived his Real Illusions: Reflections album as the first of a trilogy of records. It’s kind of a bummer that it took seven years for its follow-up, The Story Of Light, but Vai came through with the goods in characteristically unpredictable fashion. Who could have imagined Vai finally really laying into some angry blues (“John The Revelator”) or orchestrating a vocal chorus right out of Broadway (“Book Of The Seven Seals”), or composing a 7-string epic based on the placement of flowers blooming on a fence outside his studio window (“Weeping China Doll”), or duet with Aimee Mann (“No More Amsterdam”)? Or that he would break with his own convention by recording one of his most straightforward instrumental guitar songs ever (“Racing The World”)? Well, Vai fans, I guess! 

Sequel Albums That Aren’t Sequel Albums

Of course there’s a whole category of albums that look like sequels if you glance at their titles, but aren’t really, at least not in a particularly thematic or over way. Albums such as Van Halen, Van Halen II and Van Halen III (the last of which sort of works because it represents the third line-up of Van Halen to release an album); Led Zeppelin I, II, III and IV (the last one not technically having a name); and many, many more. 

What are your favorite sequel albums?