The cliche is that a band or performer that had a huge hit with their first album will crash and burn with their second. This thread is for exceptions to that. I’ll mention two.
The Beastie Boys. Their first album was a huge hit. They followed it up with Paul’s Boutique which was not as radio friendly but was in my opinion their best album.
Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their first album had Free Bird and many of their radio favorites. Their second album had their biggest hit (Sweet Home Alabama) and a bunch of their best songs. I like it better than their first.
Your choices can be for a second album that is either bigger in popularity or just better in your opinion.
Their first album has to have been a monster hit.
They had to have been pretty much unknown before their first album.
Most bands who have a hit with their first album will have a dud with their second, true. But then, it’s also true that most bands who have a dud with their first album will also have a dud with their second (if they even have a second). This is called “reversion to the mean”: Whenever you have something extraordinary (in any way), the next one is likely to be less extraordinary. Which sounds a lot less mysterious when you phrase it the other way around: Something extraordinary is probably more extraordinary than whatever comes after.
How about Oasis? Their first album, Definitely Maybe, sold over two million copies in the UK and over one million in the US. But the second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, sold over four million copies in the UK and sold more worldwide than the first album.
According to Wikipedia, Adele’s first album, 19, sold 7 million copies worldwide, including 2.3 million in her native UK and 2.7 million in the US. It went to #1 in the UK and #4 in the US.
Three years later her second album, 21, sold 31 million copies worldwide (4.9 million in the UK, 11.7 million in the US), and went to #1 in the UK, US, and at least eight other countries. It’s one of the best-selling albums of all time, ahead of Abbey Road and Born in the USA, and looks to be by FAR the biggest selling album released after the year 2000.
Last year Adele’s third album 25 also went to #1 in 10 countries including the UK and US, and although it hasn’t sold as well as 21 it’s still been a huge hit (20 million copies worldwide) and outsold her first album by a large margin.
X had four good albums to start their run and didn’t start to fail until 1985’s Ain’t Love Grand. Looks like some of us are considering from the first major label release, and X still makes the cut. That would be More Fun in the New World, their second album for Electra.
Soundgarden had a minor label release, then cut Louder Than Love on A&M, which isn’t as good as the first. They didn’t get wide airplay until their third album, Badmotorfinger (Rusty Cage, Outshined). So depending on how you’re counting, they either had the sophomore slump or found success with their second (major label) album.
Matt Pike’s post-Sleep band, High on Fire, followed up their debut, The Art of Self Defence, with Surrounded by Thieves, a critic’s and fan favorite. Personally, I like Death is This Communion most.
Electric Wizard’s first three albums were more than solid, although their peak was their third, Dopethrone.
Radiohead had a hit with Creep off Pablo Honey, but most fans would pick their second album, The Bends, as better than their first.
Speaking of fan favorites, Weezer’s Pinkerton gave them something to fixate on. Personally, I still prefer the debut. Record company executives probably did too.
But also, what can happen is that a band “uses up” all its best material on its debut album (especially if they’ve been around awhile before recording and releasing that debut), and then the followup is relatively hastily thrown together.