Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Ten Worst Solo Musicians From Good Bands

 I've spent the last few of my blog posts talking about music I love, or at least reasonably like. So now it's time for the exact opposite.

 You all know the feeling-A band breaks up, or a singer leaves, or maybe someone just wants to try something differently. The possibility of a solo career coming out of one of your favorite bands is always going to be a nail-biting experience. Will it work? Without the rest of the band restraining their creativity (for either good or bad) you never know what could come out. Some artists do things better by themselves, but on the other hand, for every Peter Gabriel there's a Phil Collins. So without further ado, I present to you my Ten Worst Solo Careers Coming Out Of Good (Or At Least Decent) Bands: Smackdown Edition! And speaking of good ol' Phil...
10. Phil Collins

 These days, Phil Collins is most known for entertaining children on ritalin, ruining the snare drum, and magically tracking down people he saw from behind over a long distance away. But he was always bad, wasn't he? Didn't he sing for Genesis, that 80's pop band? Didn't he give me terrible, puppet-related nightmares? How did he get on this list?

 Well, provided that you made it through that video with your sanity intact, I'll tell you. Or maybe you already know. You probably already know, but I'll tell you anyways. See, Genesis wasn't always an 80s pop band. Before Phil Collins, they used to have a singer named Peter Gabriel. (More on him when I do a list of good solo careers, maybe?). They used to be a progressive rock band, in fact, they were one of the defining acts of the genre. And Phil Collins used to stay behind the drums, doing the one thing he was legitimately good at.
 Yeah, it's takes a bit to get going. But it's an 8-minute prog track from the 70s-you should be glad the intro is *only* about a minute. But tracks like this show that Phil Collins was once a pretty cool dude. But once Peter Gabriel left the band, Genesis became essentially a Phil Collins solo project. And once Steve Hackett left the band, no one really stood up to him as Collins went more in a pop direction. For a while he juggled his solo albums as well as Genesis (of course no one could really tell the difference) but as his solo career got more attention, Genesis started to fall to the wayside. And soon, as far as the general public went, Phil Collins was just that guy who sang Sussudio.
And even though that one where He Feels It Coming In The Air Tonight, Oh Lord is okay, songs like this are absolutely unforgivable coming from someone who used to be the drummer in one of the best and most influential prog bands of all time.

9. Edwin
 Do you listen to Canadian Alternative Rock Radio (Tm, probably)? If not, you're probably wondering who this Edwin fellow is and what happened to his last name. Edwin was the original lead singer of the confusingly named Canadian grunge-ish band I Mother Earth.
 Maybe it was the lengthy instrumental jam in the middle of their biggest radio single, but for some reason Edwin left the band after their second album. And like most bored, bandless singers, Edwin eventually decided to record his own music. What resulted was... well...
 It's kind of like I Mother Earth, only with more boring. And Edwin kept going in a more commercial direction, while I Mother Earth, continuing with new vocalist Bryan Byrne, just got more experimental prior to breaking up. And when IME recently reunited, it was Byrne who rejoined as the singer, not Edwin, who nobody has heard from since his last record in 2006. Maybe he should have picked a stage name that was easier to look up on the internet.

8. Gwen Stefani
 It's really sad that these days, more people know Gwen for her solo career than her work with seminal punk/ska/new wave/pop band No Doubt. And No Doubt about it, (har har) her band work is definitely better. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a song is worth a pretty good bunch too, so here is some hard evidence for my claims.
No Doubt - Just A Girl by No Doubt - Just A Girl on Grooveshark         VS.         Hollaback Girl (album version) by Gwen Stefani on Grooveshark

 Yeah... no one really knows what happened there.

7. Roger Waters
 It could be argued that, much like in Genesis, Pink Floyd was a Roger Waters solo project in his later years in the band, but the big difference is that no matter how much control Roger seized, David Gilmour always did his best to at least put something besides Roger into the music, succeeding  at least somewhat until 1983's The Final Cut. And unlike the latter years of Genesis, Gilmour's guitar solos are one of the most popular aspects of Pink Floyd and certainly the reason every 13-year old who's just starting to learn guitar thinks they're awesome (at least until he discovers Dream Theater).
Best. Guitarist. Ever.
 And when Roger Waters left Pink Floyd, his solo material didn't produce any huge hits, and it certainly never overshadowed his work with Pink Floyd. But there is one similarity between Phil Collins and Roger Waters: Their solo music is boring as hell.

 I guess that horrifyingly gated snare drum is another similarity. At least Roger Waters didn't bow to mainstream demand as blatantly as Phil Collins did, but he's definitely taking any risks here, certainly not the kind of risks he took with Pink Floyd, unless you count writing a six minute song with very little variation throughout to be a risk.

6. Marty Friedman

 Marty Friedman was once the lead guitar player of Dave Mustaine's ego, known commercially as Megadeth. And he was known as quite the fine guitar player. Here's an example of his legendary heavy metal soloing:
 In the year 2000, he left Megadeth because he was tired of playing heavy metal music. So what would he do instead? What music could entice him so much that he was tired of heavy metal? Was it jazz? Folk? Hip hop? J-pop?
 J-pop, of course, stands for Japanese Pop, an extremely upbeat and, well, Japanese form of pop music. I can respect and appreciate J-pop for what it is. But an entire album of instrumental j-pop covers? Gets old very quickly.

5. Chris Cornell
 Similar to Edwin and I Mother Earth, legendary singer Chris Cornell was dissatisfied with the heaviness and jamming that was present in Soundgarden, one of the biggest bands of the 90's grunge scene. Predictably enough, the rest of the band wasn't, and eventually they went their separate ways. Cornell's vision for what he wanted to do with music was a little bit less heavy, a bit less rocking, and lot less exciting.

  And things just got worse. We all remember his recent disastrous pop collaboration with Timbaland...

It's definitely for the better that Soungarden got back together.

4. Neal Morse
 I've previously written about modern progressive rock, and it's bizarre similarity to old progressive rock. One of the worst offenders of this lack of progression is Spock's Beard, but despite having a very unoriginal sound, their music is still pretty good.
 And a big part of that sound was vocalist Neal Morse. So when he announced he was leaving the band  to write his own, different music, things weren't too great for Spock's Beard. But things were definitely worse for Neal. I've already gone through the rounds of the "what genre could he possibly have switched to?" game, so I'll be straight up here. Neal Morse found enlightement
with christian rock.

3. Keith Moon
 Keith Moon released one solo album, 1975's Two Sides Of The Moon. Now, with Keith being the drummer of The Who, and one of the most popular drummers of the day, one would expect Two Sides to be a drum-heavy record, right? Well, one would be wrong. This is a pop cover record, with Keith singing lead vocals and only drumming on a few tracks. Well, how bad can his singing be?

2. David Johansen
 I'm not going to spoil this one early-David Johansen's solo material was recorded under a different name. But first, who is David? His name doesn't instantly jump out at you, but Johansen was the singer of one of the earliest punk bands, The New York Dolls. They were known for dressing up like girls before the 80s and playing simplified music before The Ramones, as seen here: 

 Of course, the band broke up as the 70s turned to the 80s, and the members pursued their solo careers. Only one of them became hugely successful, and you know who it is, since his name is at the top of this entry. But as I already stated, he didn't record his 80s pop smash hits under his real name. He took on a new image and a new stage name, with which he annoyed us across generations as Buster Poindexter.

1. Michael Bolton
 Of course it would be no surprise to see Michael Bolton at the top of a worst anything list, but it may be a bit of a surprise that he was once in a band. An actually rock band. Yes, Michael Bolton used to be the singer of an 80's hard rock band called Blackjack. And while they weren't all that great, they certainly weren't anywhere near the level of awful that Bolton became known for.

 I don't need to preface the utter lack of anything even remotely resembling listenability in Michael Bolton's solo output. I'm going to post a video of one of his songs, just for the sake of format, but I strongly urge you not to watch it, if you want to watch your daily cheese intake.

And there you have it, my SUPER DUPER TOP TEN WORST SOLO CAREERS THAT SPAWNED FROM GOOD BANDS ULTRA TURBO EDITION!!!!! See you soon*, same blog time, same blog channel!

*Soon may or may not actually refer to soon.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Metal From The Mines Of Moria: LOTR in Music

 A little while ago, I re-read The Lord Of The Rings series, for the first time since I was very young. A few things jumped out at me this time that kind of passed over my head when I was child; Pippin is extremely useless, nearly everyone is gay, and, in the real world, a ton of metal bands are named after obscure characters and places.
For god's sake, turn on safe search before you google "Frodo and Sam gay".
It seems that heavy metal and light mythril go very well together, as opposed to other genres of music, where they're busy singing about the real world and personal problems and such shallow things. When was the last time you heard anyone belting about Gimli's beard on the Top 40? Even after the movies came out and made the stories "mainstream", LOTR (and fantasy in general, really) seems notably absent from anything radio-friendly. And yet, if your guitars are distorted, your drums are blasting, and your singer sounds like a woman, sooner or later it seems like something is going to pop up about the One Ring To Rule Them All. What is it about heavy metal that attracts the kind of people who'd write songs about epic fantasy trilogies?

Spoiler alert: More on this guy later.

 In some ways it seems obvious. Sure, I could go on about nerd stereotypes and how they apply to escapism into both fantasy and heavy metal, but damn it, Jim, I'm a musician, not a psychologist. Maybe I could talk about how heavy metal is just a much more appropriate medium for epic battles, legendary swords, dragons, and other such fantasy cliches. Or maybe I could just list some of my favorite uses of Lord Of The Rings in heavy metal music and let the examples speak for themselves.

Classic Rock

Ramble On by Led Zeppelin on Grooveshark: It's 1969. You're a rebellious teenager, sticking it to the man by putting on the newest Led Zeppelin record. Robert Plant is speaking to you with his lyrics about needing to keep moving, never staying in one place, and ramblin' on. And then, all of a sudden... 
 'Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum, and The Evil One,  crept up and slipped away with her."
Not only is Robert's rhyming ability seriously put into question, but you have now realized that this man is a nerd! Yes, apparently when he wasn't thinking about how big legged women ain't got no soul, Plant was reading Tolkein. And if that wasn't enough to make him deserve a wedgie according to 1970s teen movies, he was also writing songs about vikings, celtic mythology, and something about a spring clean for the may queen.

"Maybe we can hide the fact that this song makes no sense by making it really easy for annoying people to play in public."
 And if that bout of nerdiness wasn't enough to cast your doubt on the legitimate coolness of your classic heavy metal icons, you're not safe just yet.

The Wizard by Black Sabbath on Grooveshark Before Ozzy was biting the heads off of doves, he was biting the tassels off of bookmarks. Although the song was also allegedly about their drug dealer at the time, it's clear that Black Sabbath's real Wizard is none other than Gandalf himself. If only parents had realized that this entire time, heavy metal music was really encouraging their children to read, and not to commit satanic acts!

I guess it wouldn't have really made a difference...

 Zeppelin and Sabbath are far from the only classic bands to sing about LOTR. But I've still got a few decades left to get to, so maybe I'll bring the rest of this list into slightly more modern times. First, however, there's one more classic rock band left to get to, a band who took their Ring references far past the novels...

The Necromancer by Rush on GroovesharkI'm not going to pretend that Rush aren't blatantly nerdy. After all, it takes a special kind of brain to read Ayn Rand and think "I'm going to turn this into an epic rock opera!". But before 2112, Rush released Caress Of Steel, where Neil Peart wrote The Necromancer, about some of Tolkein's lore that was just barely mentioned in the books. While the third movement of the song deals with Neil's own character, the rest of the song involves the time Sauron spent as a dark power in Mirkwood, while recuperating from the loss of his last battle with Isildur. Yeah, Neil Peart went there. And believe me, as we shall soon see, he's not the only one...

Power Metal

Lord of the Rings by Blind Guardian (Studio) on Grooveshark :I could fill this entire article with Blind Guardian. Not only about the core novels, Blind Guardian have also rocked out to The Hobbit:

And they even wrote a concept album about The Silmarillion, which is, for those who don't know, the extended prequel Tolkein wrote but never published that basically described the building of the Middle-Earth we all know and love:

Yes, if there's one thing Hansi Kursch loves more than multi-tracking his voice, it's J.R.R. Tolkein. But more so than any other genre, power metal is very fitting for songs about Lord Of The Rings, which probably explains why so many power metal bands have written about it.

"You mean to tell me that these people are nerds?"

Band Names

 The phrase that I probably said (or thought) the most while reading Lord Of The Rings this time around was "So that's where that band name is from!" Here's a few of my favorite band names that I discovered, and where in the novels they're from.

 Cirith Ungol and Gorgoroth are both locations in Mordor. Cirith Ungol is the name of the passage where Frodo and Sam encounter Shelob, and Gorgoroth is the plateau that Mt. Doom is located in. 

The Fate of Norns by Amon Amarth on Grooveshark: Amon Amarth is the Elvish name for Mt. Doom. You know you've done your research well when you're naming your band in a fictional language. (Unfortunately, I don't know of any bands named in Klingon, but please, tell me if you do.) And speaking of Tolkein's made up languages...


Det som en gang var by Burzum on Grooveshark: "Infamous" has got to be the internet's favorite word to throw around when describing Varg Vikernes, also known as Count Grishnackh, the mastermind behind Burzum as well as the mastermind behind a multitude of Norwegian church burnings and one murder. So instead I'll use a different word: Geeky. Varg has taken not one, but two names from Lord Of The Rings, and both of them are so obscure they make Gorgoroth look like high school jocks. First of is his original stage name, Grishnackh. Grishnackh was the name of an extremely minor character in The Two Towers; he's one of the orcs in charge of Taking The Hobbits To Isengard.

Everyone has seen it. Multiple times. Let's not be that guy.

 And even more impressive is where the name Burzum comes from. No, it's not a location anywhere in middle earth. No, it's not the name of a character. It's a specific word in the Black Speech of Mordor, one of the words in the inscription on The One Ring. And there you have it. We have reached the point from which there can be nothing nerdier, right? What could be geekier than naming your musical project after a word in Tolkein's made-up language? Well, I've made it obvious that I'm about to link to something much nerdier, so here's the band Summoning.

                                               Mirdautas Vras by Summoning on Grooveshark

 A symphonic black metal band hailing from Austria, Summoning almost exclusively writes about Lord Of The Rings. The specific song I just linked to is written entirely in the Black Speech of Mordor. So one of the two fine gentlemen that make up Summoning took the time to learn a fictional language, and then become proficient enough in it to write a whole song. That might be the nerdiest thing possible. And you know what? It is extremely AWESOME.

 So there we have it. My favorite Lord Of The Rings references in heavy metal. Oh, I'm sure I missed a ton. There's a lot of them. But this is, I believe, enough of a cross-section to show that if you like the sound of dissonant, angry guitars, you probably also like to read.