Some of the Best *THIRD* Albums in Modern Music (Part One)

A much less coveted (yet still important) list than greatest debut albums, these third albums dropped at pivotal moments in these band’s careers.

No one ever talks about the third album with so much hype usually surrounding a band’s debut work. Even the second release in a band’s catalogue is notable because the pitfalls of writing a new record while generally touring relentlessly split up more groups then anything.

But researching this list I realized that many of these entires were the mainstream’s first look at these groups. A kind of ten-year-overnight-success story. Many third albums dropped at huge crossroads in artist’s careers, a masterpiece before a massive hiatus, like Refused’s Shape of Punk to Come or a gigantic comeback record like Jane’s Addiction’s, Strays the magic number three always seems to have some sort of backstory to it either launching its group into superstardom or acting as the final nail in the coffin.

Here are a hundred and fifteen or so fantastic third albums that I hope you like. Maybe even some will fill you with nostalgia. Again, I am not a musical expert or journalist by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve used a list randomizer as to assure no biased or ranking has been applied to these records. I will be releasing ten at a time periodically- so sit back, have a drink and enjoy.

Alien Ant Farm- truANT

Release: August 19th 2003

Label: DreamWorks


Awards: N/A

Singles: “These Days” “Glow”

Why it rocked: After rocketing to success behind their cover of Michael Jackson’s, “Smooth Criminal” Alien Ant Farm had a massive undertaking ahead of them in trying to replicate their former album’s fire. The finished product may have fell victim to Nu-Metal’s dying appeal but the instrumentation, productions and performances would be the best of their careers.

Afterwards: With the dwindling sales of Nu-Metal acts many record labels were closing up shop including AAF’s, DreamWorks. Soon after the label dissolved the band was assigned to Geffen Records who would shelf their third album and deny them any rights to release it anywhere else. This bootleg unofficial album is known as, “3rd Draft”. By 2007, Geffen finally relented and let them the band release their fourth album, Up in the Attic, which is also superb but did poorly in sales.

TLC – FanMail

Released: February 23rd 1999

Label: LaFace / Arista

US Billboard 200: #1

Awards: Eight Grammy noms – three wins:

~ Best R&B Performance by a duo or group with vocal

~ Best R&B Song

~ Best R&B Album

Singles: “No Scrubs” “Unpretty” “Dear Lie”

Why it rocked: Named in honor of all of the fan mail the trio had received through their tumultuous career together, FanMail felt like a reunion of sorts for the group. Also it quickly dispelled any notion of any contemporary “girl group” usurping the queens of R&B. With a futuristic theme and bankruptcy, arson charges, managerial embezzlement and a renegotiated record deal behind them it looked and sounded as if T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye were all moving into the future together.

Afterwards: Tragedy would strikes less than three years later as Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in a car accident in Honduras. FanMail would be the last album released during her lifetime. TLC took time to grieve the loss of their friend and eventually released their fourth album, 3D which already had Left Eye’s parts recorded. They would initially decide to retire after the release of the record.

Barenaked Ladies – Born on a Pirate Ship

Released: March 19th 1996

Label: Reprise

US Billboard 200: #111 (#12 in Canada)

Awards: N/A

Singles: “Shoe Box” “Old Apartment”

Why it rocked: By 1996 The Ladies were already becoming household names in their native, Canada. Touring relentlessly with their infectious and goofy college rock by their third full length release songwriters, Steven Page and Ed Robertson were really beginning to hit their stride and it would pay off, as they scored their first hit in America with, “Old Apartment”.

Afterwards: Superstardom. Not kidding. Their next full length would be the pop-rock masterpiece, Stunt. The album super powered by lead single, “One Week” would propel the band to unimaginable heights. (like Barenaked Ladies on MTV’s Total Request Live with Eminem heights).

Sum 41 – Does This Look Infected?

Released: November 26 2002

Label: Aquarius / Mercury / Island

US BILLBOARD 200: #32 (#8 in Canada)

Awards: N/A

Singles: “Still Waiting” “The Hell Song” “Over My Head (Better off Dead)”

Why it rocked: Undoubtedly one of the finest pop punk albums of its era, Infected showcased one of Canada’s strongest acts in the primes of their career. Grown up and filled out of their bratty phase, Infected takes on AIDS, War and Teenage Suicide.

Afterwards: The band would move on to even more politically motivated material with their next album, Chuck. Named after a volunteer UN Peacekeeper that helped the band safely evacuate their hotel after battle broke out around them while recording a documentary in the Republic of Congo. The group would win a Juno award for Rock Album of the Year. Chuck would also be Dave “Brown Sound” Baksh last album with the group.

The Tea Party – the edges of twilight

Released: March 21, 1995

Label: EMI Canada

Billboard 200: N/A (#11 in Canada)

Awards: N/A

Singles: “Fire in the Head” “The Bazaar” “Shadows on the Mountainside” “Sister Awake”

Why it rocked: Named after a chapter in a book by American author, Tom Cowan, with their third effort The Tea Party expanded on the worldly, Zeppelin-sequel sound they have previously been cultivating. Sharp, brooding and exotic the album twists and turns like a belly dancer in an opium den.

Afterwards: The Tea Party would sign to a major record label (Atlantic) and release one (fantastic) album aimed at taking over the States. They had a minor hit with the single, “Temptation” but wouldn’t be as successful breaking through the US market like they had been the rest of the world.

Van Halen- Women and Children First

Released: March 6th 1980

Label: Warner Bros.

Billboard 200: #6

Awards: N/A

Singles: “And the Cradle Will Rock”

Why it rocked: The boys in Van Halen had already been blazing through the late seventies and with Women and Children First they would kick down the door to the 80’s. The instrumentation fearless, the spandex tight and the body of work darker and more focused than ever.

Afterwards: Van Halen would continue to rip through the 80’s like a tornado through a trailer park. Their next album, Fair Warning, although initially not auite as commercially successful would continue where Women left off with a darker, nastier approach.

Coheed and Cambria – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness

Released: September 20th 2005

Label: Colombia

Billboard 200: #7

Awards: N/A

Singles: “Welcome Home” “The Suffering” “Ten Speed (of God’s Blood & Burial)”

Why it rocked: Coheed fans seem to be divided into two camps; Those who think that their sophomore release, In Keeping Secrets is their greatest work or those that believe that Good Apollo is chief songwriter, Claudio Sanchez’s Magnum Opus. Whichever camp you lay your cot in it is universally agreed that Coheed fans were gifted two really fucking good albums.

Afterwards: Following the release of Good Apollo, bassist Michael Todd and drummer, Josh Eppard would leave the band citing personal reasons. However, Todd would return and Eppard would be replaced by Dillinger Escape Plan phenom, Chris Pennie. Coheed would go on to release six more full length albums (as of November 2022) but none would be as commercially successful as Good Apollo.

Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

Released: December 2nd 2016

Label: Glassnote Records

Billboard 200: #5

Awards: 5 Grammy nominations / 1 win

~ Best Traditional R&B Performance (“Redbone”)

Singles: “Me and Your Mama” “Redbone” “Terrified”

Why it rocked: Considered Childish Gambino’s crowning achievement Awaken, My Love! is a Pyschadelic Funk masterpiece. A pop record unafraid to let the instruments breathe throughout. A true shout from the rooftops during the age of mumble rap in the streets below.

Afterwards: Donald Glover AKA Childish Gambino announced in 2017 that his next album would be his last but then in 2018 he dropped the iconic single, This is America. Since then he has released one more full length with no signs leaning either way if he is moving on from music or not. I hope he doesn’t.

Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile

Released: September 21 1999

Label: Interscope

US Billboard 200: #1

Awards: N/A

Singles: “The Day The World Went Away “We’re in This Together” “Into the Void”

Why it rocked: Nine Inch Nail’s sophomore release, The Downward Spiral was a gigantic, artistic display of the humanity of it’s narrator being stripped away one track at a time until their was nothing left but a broken husk of what once was a man. Somehow, The Fragile is something even more dreadful. A sprawling double album that exists somewhere in between the bleak grind of day to day depression and the dull roar of crushing loneliness.

Afterwards: The self destruction would finally catch up to lead singer and creative force behind NIN, Trent Reznor. Following a heart to heart with musical collaborator David Bowie, Trent would finally face his demons and check into rehab. He would make a career defining comeback with his 2005 release, With Teeth.

The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Released: October 24 1995

Label: Virgin Records

US Billboards 200: #1

Awards: Seven Grammy nominations : One win

~ Best Hard Rock Performance with Vocal (“Bullet with Butterfly Wings”)

Singles: “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” “1979” “Tonight, Tonight” “Zero” “Thirty-Three”

Why it rocked: It’s Rock music’s greatest double album since The Wall. Songsmith Billy Corgan perfectly sums up the pain and wonder of adolescence across twenty eight gigantic tracks that feel as endless as a Senior year summer night.

Afterwards: Mellon Collie… was universally acclaimed and picked up seven Grammy Nominations in its wake. Afterwards tragedy would strike when touring Keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain overdosed in a hotel room in New York City. Melvoin would pass away and Chamberlain would be charged with drug possession and fired from the group. In support of their follow up record, Adore the band began a seventeen-date, fifteen-city charity North American tour. At each stop on the tour, the band donated 100 percent of tickets sales to a local charity organization. The tour’s expenses were entirely funded out of the band’s own pockets. All told, the band donated over $2.8 million to charity as a result of the tour.

For more music:

100 Greatest Sophomore Albums

Best debut album openers

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