5 Underrated Albums That Deserve a Second Look

Even the greatest band has its underwhelming albums. This isn’t always because the albums are bad—later breakouts overshadow some, while others are unappreciated in their time. Some albums represent a time of change for the musician, whether they’re developing a new stage persona or trying their hand at a new musical genre.

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Whatever the reason, many of these recordings later grow a fanbase who recognize the actual quality of the musicianship. These five rock albums weren’t necessarily successful at the time of their release, but they are worth returning to in order to recognize their true potential.

1. Diamond Dogs, David Bowie (1974)

After his breakout success in the 1960s and early 1970s, Bowie struggled to find his footing throughout the rest of the decade. He had retired his Ziggy Stardust persona and released an underwhelming covers album, Pin Ups, to appease his producers in 1973. When Diamond Dogs came out the following year, critics didn’t quite know how to categorize it.

While standout tracks such as “Rebel Rebel” and “1984” made it a commercial success, Diamond Dogs often gets lost among Bowie’s louder, more defined albums. His next album, Young Americans, saw him turning his interest to R&B music. But rather than being lost between the early and late 1970s triumphs, Diamond Dogs is a triumphant swan song as the singer looks back on his glam rock era.

[RELATED: 12 of David Bowie’s Favorite David Bowie Songs]

2. Give ‘Em Enough Rope, The Clash (1978)

In the case of The Clash’s second album, it wasn’t the fault of the album itself. Give ‘Em Enough Rope has sometimes been overlooked because it was overshadowed by the albums that came before and after it: namely the band’s breakout album The Clash and their legendary third release, London Calling. Give ‘Em Enough Rope is an excellent selection on its own, though—an experiment in sound without being rough.

The album bridged the punk rock sound of the Clash’s early years and the New Wave genre they settled into. They drew inspiration from American rock and jazz groups, all of which would lay the groundwork for London Calling. Give ‘Em Enough Rope stands out because it showed the band exploring their identity without sacrificing the topical lyrics and musical excellence for which they became known.

3. Aoxomoxoa, The Grateful Dead (1969)

The Grateful Dead released their third album, Aoxomoxoa, in 1969. It comes across as experimental, with the band trying to find their footing and identity. And it was released mere months before the band’s Live/Dead album, which is widely considered their major breakout and often one of the best rock albums of all time. In retrospect, Aoxomoxoa gets overshadowed by the Dead having triumphantly found their footing.

But in many ways, the album is itself a masterpiece. Despite its experimental qualities, it shows the Grateful Dead in their earliest forays into the kind of tape manipulation they would later master. It is also notable for introducing later staples of their setlist, including “China Cat Sunflower” and “St. Stephen.”

4. Muswell Hillbillies, The Kinks (1971)

If you ask a Kinks fan for their favorite album, it’s unlikely they’ll say Muswell Hillbillies. Released in 1971 after switching to a new label, the album—coming out just after their enjoying a smash hit in “Lola”—was a commercial disappointment. It went almost unnoticed, barely entering the Top 100 in the U.S. and missing the charts entirely in the Kinks’ native UK.

It wasn’t until years later that Muswell Hillbillies received public praise for its true lyrical genius. The track list reflects on themes of working-class struggles, paired with contemporary social issues, in a complex and insightful way. Though Muswell Hillbillies was a flop at first, it has since garnered a solid appreciation from both fans and critics over the decades.

5. Regatta De Blanc, The Police (1979)

Bands often flounder after a hugely successful release, but that’s not exactly what happened to The Police. Their 1979 album, Regatta De Blanc, came out on the tail of their massively successful previous album, Outlandos d’Amour, which included hit singles such as “Roxanne” and “So Lonely.”

Regatta De Blanc was a success, but a slapdash one, recorded in mere days with almost no new music. It’s not as refined as some of their later work, but it is raw and compelling. Spawning hit singles such as “Message In a Bottle” and “Walking on the Moon,” Regatta De Blanc isn’t considered the best album the band ever made, but even lesser albums by The Police are still pretty great.

Photo credit: Peter Noble/Redferns

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