We have waited three years for Arcade Fire's third album, The Suburbs. With a gigging absence of almost the same length, that's sufficient time to push a band clearly out of their fans' consciousness. Fortunately, when it comes to a release by one of the finest and most consistent bands of our time, the time the album takes to arrive is of little matter. But for a less established band, and especially one releasing the follow-up album to their debut, a three-year wait is one year too long.
The second album is a known hurdle for bands aiming for the long haul – and why would a band make it even more difficult for themselves by leaving such a lag after their debut, losing fans along the way? It seems bands risk being forgotten.
Take Klaxons. Having burst on to the scene in 2007, winning the Mercury Prize with their No 2-charting nu-rave debut, Myths of the Near Future, there hasn't been so much as a single release ever since. And with that has slowly withered away much of that initial hype. Now that they are returning, finally, with the follow-up, Surfing the Void, later this month, there seems to be very little fanfare at all.
If we look at some of the most-hyped acts of the past decade, when Franz Ferdinand's self-titled album won them the Mercury in 2004, they returned the following year with You Could Have It So Much Better, which gained them a chart-topping success. The momentum kept them fresh. But are acts leaving the follow-up too long?
Perhaps unfairly, such hype puts more pressure on a band to deliver a follow-up that lives up to the first. Glasvegas were hailed by the Creation record label boss, Alan McGee, as "the most exciting thing I've heard since the Jesus and Mary Chain", splashed on the cover of NME as "the best new band in Britain", and went to No 2 with their self-titled debut album in 2008, and yet have hardly been heard of since. And is anybody else wondering what happened to Adele, or Duffy?
Two and a half years ago, Adele was the leading light of the solo female singer-songwriters, boasting a Mercury nomination as well as the Brits Critics' Choice award and topping the BBC's Sound of 2008 poll. Duffy also featured. Meanwhile, both those singers' positions have since been filled by countless newcomers such as Florence and the Machine, Ellie Goulding and Marina and the Diamonds.
It is a possible feat to release albums in quick succession – after all, the Beatles released their first six albums in three years, while the Smiths' four studio albums arrived in consecutive years from 1984. It suggests that with such pressure, acts are struggling to deliver songs that match the quality of their early hits – but is it the bands' creative output and perfection to blame, or the record labels' fault? Perhaps labels are taking fewer risks with their releases. Klaxons might have released their album sooner had it not been for their label rejecting their first attempt at a second album, deeming their new direction as potential career suicide and packing them off to write new songs with a new producer. Anyone would agree that it is preferable to wait for an album of quality rather than one that is rushed out to capitalise on the success of an act's debut.
The process for a band's second album will be a different story to the first, as on the back of previous good sales the label might be prepared to invest more, and so take longer to develop the music and arrange a decent publicity campaign, leaving longer until the finished product hits the shelf. But the disappearing act will do bands no favours – unless, like Arcade Fire, they have continued to be championed despite the lack of new material, and know their fan-base is still strong. Best to keep it ticking over with an EP of new material, or at least a tour, in the meantime.