But that doesn't have to be a death knell, at least not all the time. An album's killer first impression can serve as some of the most memorable experiences of music listening, a flashpoint realization that the reason you claw through all the middling vibes is to stumble on sublimity. With that in mind, we've collected a few of our favorite one-two punches, when a record turns its track one track two sequence into a clarion call.
8. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix - "Lisztomania" into "1901"
The music industry is often too complex to make definitive, metaphysical statements, but the meteoric rise of a certain French rock band in the dying embers of the 21st century's first decade can be entirely chalked up to seven minutes, and 15 seconds. "Lisztomania," whimsical in its skybound synths, and then "1901," an accidental movie-trailer anthem that captured sunbeam romance so efficiently it still doesn't feel like cliché. There's audacity in putting the two best songs you've ever written back to back at the front of the album, knowing full well that the rest of Amadeus Phoenix would begin to decay as soon as "1901" careened off into the ether. But I like to think Phoenix saw this as an opportunity to make a first impression that could sustain an entire career. When you know you've struck greatness, modesty only gets in the way.
7. Jay-Z - The Blueprint - "The Ruler's Back" into "The Takeover"
How do you follow a song called "The Ruler's Back?" What more is there to say after you've so clearly won? It isn't Jay-Z's best song, it's not even in the top five, but in terms of introducing an album? In summing up the entire flossy, self-promoting ethos of The Blueprint? Nothing could ever come close. It takes approximately one and a half freewheeling verses to ball up that old can't-tell-me-nothing adage and throw it in the world's face. "The Ruler's Back" bleeds into "The Takeover," perhaps the most flat-out disrespectful songs in the entire catalog of pop music. Jay-Z is a smart man, he keeps the elegance behind the venom, the bongos behind the Jim Morrison snarl, the "don't only talk it, walk like it - from the bricks to the booth," behind the "you little fuck I got money stacks bigger than you." As Jay-Z reclines into his Shawn Carter era, we should be keen to remember that in 2001, his legend walked among us.
6. Justice - Cross - "Genesis" into "Let There Be Light"
I don't know what tipped us off that Justice had a flair for the dramatic. Maybe it was the Daft Punk association, or that giant glow-in-the-dark cross on the album sleeve and live shows. But mostly, it was probably that "Genesis" was the Star Wars imperial march named after a creation myth. Crafting music out of laser fights, space junk, drills, a faint whiff of a keyboard, and just as you think the insanity is going to let up, in struts "Let There Be Light" with potency real enough that the deified namesake actually feels like a legitimate claim. The Christians might call it sacrilege, the public might yawn at its confrontational pomp, but Justice shoved you into their world, where the Gods are only four on the floor away.
5. Pavement - Brighten the Corners - "Stereo" into "Shady Lane"
It's hard to think of a group of people that wanted to be in a band less than Pavement throughout the late '90s, so it is surprising that one of their encompassing statements of vision came with Brighten the Corners, just a couple years before their ugly implosion. Maybe it's the weed, or the fact that Stephen Malkmus took on the brunt of the songwriting, but if you wanted to define Pavement, you'd probably play the first two songs from Brighten the Corners. There's "Stereo," the goofy, Geddy Lee-referencing stomper that packed enough of a feedback punch to bust its way into FM rock radio. Then "Shady Lane" in all its languid introspection, the watery guitars and out-of-range falsetto that Malkmus always made affectionate. Pavement were either saying too much or trying to not say too much, it's what's made the whole generation empathetic.