In 1996, his ninth big league season, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs, more than doubling his total from any other campaign in a fifteen-year career. It was a mid-career spike unlike any other in baseball history, and is widely believed to be attributable to a brief flirtation with performance-enhancing drugs.
While mulling Anderson’s achievement, I began to wonder whether there’s a musical equivalent. Is there an artist who produced a mid-career album far surpassing anything else in his/her/its catalog? Lots of acts have hit their apex with their first album and then flamed out. But how many have come up with a masterpiece out of nowhere?
I have come up with one: Matthew Sweet.
Sweet’s third album, Girlfriend, is a stone-cold classic, a power pop masterwork that followed two records that failed to dent the collective consciousness, and preceded several others of workmanlike competence. Those records have their high points (like “Sick of Myself” from 100% Fun), but none reached the consistently dizzying heights of Girlfriend.
I’ve searched the corners of my mind for other examples, but have come up empty. Who else has recorded a steroid-fueled classic album? I’m taking nominations.