ALICE COOPER: “WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE” (1975-2001)
ELTON JOHN: “CAPTAIN FANTASTIC” (1975-2006)
EMINEM: “THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP” (2000-2013)
MEAT LOAF: “BAT OUT OF HELL” (1977-2006)
MIKE OLDFIELD: “TUBULAR BELLS” (1973-1999)
SEQUELS, THREEQUELS AND QUADRILOGIES
One tried and tested way to revive a flaccidly ageing rock career is to go back and revisit the era of your biggest popularity. This might involve hooking up for aural ex-sex with your old producer (Bowie/Tony Visconti) or simply having a fling with your original musical style (Madonna’s ‘Confessions on a Dancefloor’ for example).
For Mike Oldfield, largely forgotten by the early nineties, rather than launch a new concept to a largely disinterested public he decided to revive an old one: ‘Tubular Bells’, the 1973 blockbuster whose shadow he had never really escaped from under. ‘Tubular Bells 2’ relied on much of the musical material of the original and reminded everyone where its origins lay by recycling the iconic artwork of the original as well. The album hit number one in the UK and significantly revived his career, but the temptation to keep knocking out sequels proved too strong and by the time of the fourth version in 1999, the public seemed thoroughly bored with the idea (‘Millenium Bells’ failed to chart).
Meat Loaf followed suit the next year with a sequel to 1977’s ‘Bat out of Hell’, reuniting with producer Jim Steinman for the first time since the early 80s. If the Bat series means anything, it is the coming together of the two, although they fell out over Steinman’s lack of involvement as a producer on number three (he was ill for a long period at the time).
Alice Cooper’s 1975 Welcome To My Nightmare certainly does have a story with a protagonist ‘Steven’, one that was continued in ‘Alice Cooper Goes To Hell’ the following year (although you had to wait until 2001 for an officially titled sequel).
Elton John’s 1975 concept album ‘Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy’ dealt with the relationship between himself and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, and the 2006 follow-up ‘The Captain and the Kid’ charted how their lives and working relationship had changed in the thirty years since.
And then more recently there is Eminem, revisiting the site of his biggest glory, ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’. Eminem loves a good sequel concept: his first three albums were named after the different personas he uses in his performance, as if each one were an act in a variety show. Albums four and five capped the show with ‘Encore’ and ‘Curtain Call’. Then, he framed his showbiz comeback from pill-popping purgatory as ‘Relapse’ and ‘Recovery’.
In fact, hip-hop in general is rather fond of an arbitrary sequel: think Jay-Z’s ‘The Blueprint’ series or Little Wayne’s ‘Tha Carter’ with four volumes apiece.
With Alice Cooper’s continuing storyline, Mike Oldfield’s continuation of musical themes or Elton John/Bernie Taupin’s reexamination of their relationship, the logic of providing sequels seems pretty sound. All the others, though, leave themselves wide open to accusations of opportunistic branding of their music, making them the cherry coke of albums if you like. With pop stars increasingly branching out into fragrances and shoewear lines to maximise their earnings though, it’s hardly a surprising trend and one we’re likely to see a lot more of in the future (hello Justin Timberlake).