By Ehis Ohunyon
The ‘Sophomore Album Slump’ was something I heard a lot about growing up- especially as I began to take a keen interest in music, the artistes and their careers. Some regard it as a myth but it is widely believed that critics are quicker to find fault in a sophomore release whereas they are largely kind to, and praise a debut effort due to the unknown quality of the artiste, even if the album has its deficiencies. Real or myth, the sophomore slump has found a way to play itself in the minds of artistes over the years following every successful debut effort.
A sophomore slump basically refers to an instance in which a second or sophomore effort fails to live up to the standards or success of the preceding project. It could refer to matching the success of the debut in terms of sales, quality or critical acclaim. The second album is usually regarded as the ‘consolidation album‘ when the artiste gets the chance to prove their full potential and send a message to the industry that they are indeed here to stay.
A lot of times, an artiste releases a successful debut effort with hit singles and ‘blows’ into a mainstream act and then his/her struggles and experiences are no longer what they were, leading their lifestyle to take a new dimension which in turn helps them evolve to a point where they’re now switching and experimenting with trending sounds; breaking the formula that won the adulation of their fans, even working with a new set of producers and team to progress their ‘sound’.
For fans and critics, the success of the debut effort breeds heightened expectations. The bar has been raised and many are curious to see how the standard set will be at least met, if not surpassed.
On the flip side: for many artistes, the success leads to arrogance, false assumptions and complacency; with many unable to contain the immense pressure of the expectations.
In the case of Adekunle Gold, his debut effort under YBNL-Gold, enjoyed both mainstream and critical success, right from the first single Sade. It was widely accepted that a new star had been born. Whilst his sound was not entirely unique, it was a breath of fresh air in comparison with the pop sound that had saturated the airwaves. The sound infuses high-life with traditional African melodies rendered in a mixture of Yoruba and English Languages. The singles released prior to the full body of work were instant hits and built up perfectly into what is critically regarded as one of the best albums of 2016, parading hits like Orente, Pickup, Work and Ariwo Ko. Most of these songs didn’t even require a video before becoming an anthem on the streets.
Since then, his brand has grown in leaps and bounds and his star shining beyond our shores. He several awards and endorsement deals in the bag. At the expiration of his contract with the label YBNL, he floated his own eight member band called ‘The 79th Element’, named after the number of Gold on the periodic table of element. Together they embarked on a tour of the United Kingdom, performing at the first edition of the ‘One Night Stand with Adekunle Gold’ concert. It was a move which was quite unexpected and raised a few eyebrows as to the new direction of his music at this early stage in his career.
But as he prepares for his sophomore album which will be titled About 30, the talented singer has released two singles, Only Girl which features Moelogo and Call on Me with accompanying videos. Both songs on their own are well written pieces, showing a more matured side of the artiste without varying much from his regular sound; yet unlike the instant impact the likes of Sade and Orente made even without visuals, these songs have failed to hit the ground running. At best they could be described as ‘mini hits’.
A Lagos based radio host who chose to speak off record says ‘I don’t think his last two singles have been anywhere near hit records as his previous ones. I do request shows and they don’t get requested by callers on air as much as Sade and Orente did. I think maybe that’s because there is an over saturation of his sound. Basically it’s a lot of the same thing, not enough variety in my view. Perhaps he needs to switch it up a bit because there are a lot of new names in that alternative sound space now and he is no longer the sole flavour of the month.’
It is still early days though and the album may yet pack surprises. But some fans also believe that without the YBNL team behind him, taking away the distractions of running a label to allow him focus solely on the music, his releases lack a bit of co-ordination, and he seems not to be on ground to push the music as he is largely outside the country.
Topping a commercially and critically acclaimed debut effort is tough, but there are acts who have been able to do so: 2face with his Grass to Grace album, Olamide’s YBNL, Omawunmi’s Lasso of Truth to mention a few, About30 is due for release next year and it will be interesting to see if Adekunle Gold can work his magic yet again when the album drops.
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