10 debut albums by great artists that aren't their best

22 February 2021, 17:36 | Updated: 22 February 2021, 17:43

Thom Yorke in 1994 and Radiohead's debut album Pablo Honey
Thom Yorke in 1994 and Radiohead's debut album Pablo Honey. Picture: David Tonge/Getty Images

Sometimes your debut doesn't always demonstrate your potential. Here are the artists who underachieved the first time out.

Some debut albums don’t always showcase the artist that created them. Some debuts are a bit lacklustre and don’t give any hint at how the act will blossom and develop over time. Some debut LPs are just rubbish. Should these albums be on this list?

  1. Radiohead - Pablo Honey (1993)

    Radiohead - Pablo Honey
    Radiohead - Pablo Honey. Picture: Press

    Yes, it may have Creep on it, but this first outing from Thom Yorke and co is a far cry from the accomplishment of The Bends, light years away from the masterpiece that is OK Computer and in another universe to Kid A. There are some highlights in the classic Anyone Can Play Guitar and the acoustic Thinking About You, but it’s all a bit underwhelming. The NME at the time called it "flawed but satisfying" but hinted that the best was yet to come.

  2. Primal Scream - Sonic Flower Groove (1987)

    Primal Scream - Sonic Flower Groove
    Primal Scream - Sonic Flower Groove. Picture: Press

    Three years before the perfect melding of indie rock and dance that was Screamadelica, Bobby Gillespie had just finished laying drums for the feedback-loving Jesus And Mary Chain, so this debut LP is all jangling 12-string guitar like The Byrds, leather pants and pointy shoes. Classic 1987 indie, in fact… but just like dozens of other bands, leaving weekly music paper Melody Maker to grouch that the album had "no songs, just a dusty pile of dull leftovers".

  3. Blur - Leisure (1991)

    Blur - Leisure
    Blur - Leisure. Picture: Press

    Damon Albarn later claimed that the band’s debut album was “awful”, but is it really that bad? Well, it doesn’t signpost the direction that Blur would take in their peculiarly British take on indie, it’s more of a hangover from the baggy indie boom of the late 80s and early 90s with its shuffling rhythms, particularly on There’s No Other Way. First single She’s So High is very Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but the great lost track is the dreamy Sing, which is a hint of things to come.

  4. The Cure - Three Imaginary Boys (1979)

    The Cure - Three Imaginary Boys
    The Cure - Three Imaginary Boys. Picture: Press

    Before the hair, before the gloom, before the epic soundscapes, The Cure were another suburban British band trying to make sense of punk. Robert Smith later disowned this record, as the band were plowing through their live set of random songs written over a couple of years and the wacky post-modern artwork and the hollow-sounding production had nothing to do with them. It doesn’t even include Boys Don’t Cry for heaven’s sake and the NME's Paul Morley described the record as "empty as a yawn". The follow-up, Seventeen Seconds, is where The Cure's story really starts.

  5. David Bowie - David Bowie (1967)

    David Bowie - David Bowie
    David Bowie - David Bowie. Picture: Press

    Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke were yet to be conjured up when Davy Jones made this album for Deram, which came out on the same day as Sgt Pepper. And it couldn’t be more different: it’s full of character sketches, Mod anthems, children’s folk songs, whimsy and childish psychedelia, as Bowie tries to forge his own identity. It’d be another two years until Space Oddity made him a star and a full five until he became the most important man in British rock.

  6. The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones (1964)

    The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones
    The Rolling Stones - The Rolling Stones. Picture: Press

    The Stones’ first LP was a product of plying their trade in clubs, bars and dancehalls around Britain, so contains just one Jagger-Richards composition, two group songs and the rest is covers. Unless you’re super keen on 1960s American R&B, there’s not much to dig your teeth in to today. They got better.

  7. Pulp - It (1983)

    Pulp - It
    Pulp - It. Picture: Press

    We all know that Jarvis Cocker had been plugging away at being a pop star for years, but it’s often a surprise to hear that Pulp’s first LP was released as far back as 1983. This mini-album was a very limited edition on the obscure Red Rhino label in York. It’s inevitably lo-fi, low key and super 80s-indie like a Yorkshire Smiths, but you can hear the spark of genius that would make Jarvis a Britpop superstar.

  8. New Order - Movement

    It may have experienced something of a critical reappraisal in recent years (mainly thanks to the nice box set that came out in 2019), but the first outing from the Manchester band doesn't really demonstrate the greatness that was to follow. Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Steve Morris were struggling with the death of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis the year before and reconvening under a new name with Gillian Gilbert, they set about writing fresh material. Inevitably, it seen as a watered-down version of their old band, while producer Martin Hannett (who was himself deeply affected by the loss of Curtis) makes the record sound empty and uninspired. The next album, Power Corruption And Lies, would see New Order produce themselves and find their own sound.

  9. Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984)

    Red Hot Chili Peppers - Red Hot Chili Peppers
    Red Hot Chili Peppers - Red Hot Chili Peppers. Picture: Press

    It starts with a slap-bass solo and gets seriously funky very quickly, but the Chilis’ first outing has paper-thin 80s production, Anthony Kiedis sounds like a redneck Iggy Pop and there are no hits. It was produced by Andy Gill of post-punk legends Gang Of Four, so it sounds a lot like them. Kiedis recalls in his autobiography: “One day I got a glimpse of Gill’s notebook, and next to the song Police Helicopter, he’d written 'Shit’.” Ouch.

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