This Week's Top 10: One-Album Wonders
Fifteen years ago this week, Zwan released their debut album Mary Star of the Sea. The band, led by then-former Smashing Pumpkins cohorts Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin and fleshed out by a bunch of indie and post-grunge all-stars (Paz Lenchantin from A Perfect Circle, Dave Pajo from Slint, Matt Sweeney from Chavez), maintained the infectious melodies of the best Pumpkins tunes and pushed the production into a much glammier and prog-inflected direction. It felt like the first step of a promising second act for Corgan, but it ended up being the band's only release because Corgan remains an exceptionally difficult person with whom to work.
Zwan's Mary Star of the Sea remains a great album, and it joins the pantheon of great one-album wonders—artists who made one exceptional album and one album only. Here are the 10 best of those.
10. Mother Love Bone, Apple
A fascinating bridge between the Sunset Strip arena bloat that came before it and the rugged grunge that formed in its wake, Seattle's Mother Love Bone infused classic rock poses with just the right amount of indie sneer. Frontman Andrew Wood was a dynamo whose passing kicked off a long line of Pacific Northwest rock and roll deaths in the '90s, and his untimely exit led to the dissolution of Mother Love Bone. It wasn't the end of the line for everybody in the band, though—guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament went on to form a band called Pearl Jam.
9. The UN, U In or U Out?
Signed to Carson Daly's short-lived record label, the UN was something of a New York underground hip-hop supergroup led by hard-talking lyrical hero Roc Marciano. It's a remarkably grimy album that represented one of the last vestiges of NYC roughneckery—it plays like a bunch of guys trying to counterpunch Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan with little more than guts and conviction (and a whole heap of minimalistic boom-bap production).
8. The Seahorses, Do It Yourself
When John Squire walked away from the Stone Roses, he sought to ride the wave of commercially gargantuan '90s Britpop that he helped usher into existence. He formed the Seahorses, drafted Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti to produce, and co-wrote a tune with Liam Gallagher. The result is a pitch-perfect slab of glistening, bluesy Britishisms that should have been the first strike in an eventual takeover. But when the Seahorses went to make their second record, Squire decided he didn't like what he was hearing and pulled the plug on the whole affair.
7. Zwan, Mary Star of the Sea
Still the best thing Billy Corgan ever made that wasn't called Gish, Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
6. Germs, GI
Alongside X's Los Angeles, the Germs only album is the most important entry in the L.A. punk pantheon. Frontman Darby Crash was a legend even before he died young, and his moves and attitude inspired several generations worth of SoCal scumbags looking to rattle some cages.
5. Jeff Buckley, Grace
It has been covered so often on singing shows that Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is weirdly universal at this point, but before wannabes started immortalizing Buckley or even before he accidentally drowned following the release of Grace, "Hallelujah" was always the weakest part of Grace. On an album that is all about restraint and delayed gratification, it's the only song that veers into parody. The real Buckley is in sneaky mood pieces like "Mojo Pin," "So Real" and "Lover, You Should've Come Over."
4. The Postal Service, Give Up
Perhaps the only entry on this list undone by the success of a member's primary project, the Postal Service began as a fun thing for Ben Gibbard to do while he wasn't worrying about Death Cab for Cutie's bottom line. But while Give Up ended up becoming one of Sub Pop's most successful releases of all time (largely on the back of MySpace-endorsed singles like "Such Great Heights"), the rise of DCFC's The OC-approved Transatlanticism sent that band to a major label deal and left the Postal Service behind in one-album wonderland.
3. Modern Lovers, Modern Lovers
Even if you didn't love the revival of the post-punk revolution on the indie scene in the mid-aughts, you have to admit that at some point all of those bands ripped off Modern Lovers (and most of them did it quite poorly). "Roadrunner" remains a banger.
2. Radicals, Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too
New Radicals' debut seemed too good to be true: Here was a collection of glistening pop-rock tunes that melded meaty hooks and swoon-worthy melodies with the genuine lyrical weirdness of mastermind Gregg Alexander. Brainwashed is a series of bonkers stories told so masterfully and with acutely sugary accompaniment that you rarely notice how subversively weird the whole scenario is. It's like if Barack Obama, in master orator mode, decided to recite a series of rejected scripts written by Tim & Eric. Clearly too surreal for the straightness of the pop world, Alexander never revisited the New Radicals moniker.
1. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
The fact that this was Hill's only true solo outing only adds to the legend of Miseducation, which should never be understated: It's a perfect collection, simultaneously tapping into the very immediate concerns of a black woman in 1998 while also crafting something that still sounds universal and vital 20 years later. She has attempted to make music since Miseducation collected all those Grammys (several one-off singles, a disastrous MTV Unplugged album, a brief and quickly-aborted Fugees reunion), but Miseducation is an all-time great album by an artist who all but vanished after her debut made its mark.
Blind Faith and the Sex Pistols are absent because both of those bands are butt.