The third album syndrome term refers to the dreaded pattern numerous bands have fallen into upon the release of their third studio effort. The group kicks things off well with a solid, sometimes even chart-topping effort, follows it up with a natural musical progression on the sophomore release and then reaches somewhat of a creative crossroad.
A few years have passed, the guys have matured a bit and want to take things further, but are they up for the task? They went through thick and thin together and picked up a wide array of influences along the way, but can they implement them in their music properly and is that who they really are? Things start cooking up, the album drops and flops and the band had just suffered from their very own third album syndrome.
But it's always a flop of course, it can be a success as well ("London Calling," "Master of Puppets," etc.), as long as it's executed properly. In fact, it doesn't exactly have to be a third album either, it's the changes we'll be mostly focusing on. Whether it's the uncharted waters or the safe side the band has opted for, both approaches come with their own set of pros and cons.
When You're Through Changing, You're Through
Changes come as a natural life progression, so of course they're bound to occur in music as well. Musicians are the kind that is expected to find new ways of expressing themselves through their work, so it's not really a matter of whether they'll change, but whether they'll express such change in their music.
Change for the Better or for Worse
Pantera often pops up first as the most clear example of a band changing for better because their case is simply not debatable. They went from decent, some say mediocre or even plain bad glam rock/metal to essentially the inventors of groove metal. Granted, the glam phase did have a few catchy tracks, like "All Over Tonight," but in no way can it compare to some of the monster tracks Texas four-piece unleashed in the '90s.
Not all experiments can be a success, of course, so it's expected that a certain portion of them fails miserably. It's music we're talking about, so matters are highly subjective, but some of the changes embraced by the likes of Korn, Morbid Angel or Queensryche were deemed atrocious by the fans. "The Path of Totality," "Illud Divinum Insanus," "Dedicated to Chaos," just to name a few.
The Debatable Ones: Change to Success
No matter how much you're familiar with the subject, Metallica will likely always be the first band that comes to your mind first when it comes to sound changes. The commercial success is clearly out there, but the artistic value and overall music quality of their later work is a subject to hundreds, if not thousands of debates. Similar could be told for Pink Floyd and their road to superstadom kicking off in the early psychedelic days.
Linkin Park is yet another band that had its fair share of controversy due to the changes they embraced, but still remained one of today's most popular rock acts. If we were to go back to the early days, there's Fleetwood Mac and a portion of their fans who still yearn for the early Peter Green blues days despite the band becoming one of the most successful acts of all time after his departure.
We should also mention the prog domain, a genre where constant changes and experimentation are essentially a must. Take King Crimson as an example - comparing the band's early stage with the Adrian Belew-fronted era of the '80s is like comparing two bands from different genres, proving the fact that the diversity of the prog world is basically a subject of its own.
Sticking to Your Guns
Sticking to the same style and expression in music is a funny thing, especially among more "hard core" fans of a certain sound. People have this interesting tendency to bash bands who change their style, even if they still produce high-quality music, just take a look at Opeth and some of the fans' reactions to "Heritage." Similar goes for Megadeth's "Risk" or Metallica's "Load"/"ReLoad" era.
It's not a rare case that you see fans basically forcing themselves to praise a bland release just because the group is supposedly staying true to their sound and label other albums as garbage because the band "sold out," when in fact they still have very solid and tasteful efforts at their hands. Accusing bands of making music only for the sake of money when in fact it comes directly from the artist's heart is another thing and just goes to show how hard can accepting changes be. But let's stick to the subject, shall we?
Nurturing the same sound for decades can also come with its set of pros, just look at the likes of AC/DC, Motorhead or even Slayer. Constantly revolving the band's sound around the same formula with just a pinch of that magic added once in a while can also result with success. Granted, it can also result in a band releasing a series of indistinct albums year after year, with the notable ones popping up only once or twice a decade. But it will definitely help in making the group's message clear, and if such message was a simple one in the first place, then all the better.
Your musical preferences and fondness of either of the two approaches can actually tell a thing or two about your character, so we'd like to know which of the two groups is the dominant one in your music collection. We've just scratched the surface here, so feel free to get more specific about the subject in the comments section.