Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Your Own

So, the other day I picked up tickets to see Chris Cornell doing a solo acoustic tour here in October.  I'm looking forward to it - as well as Soundgarden and solo material, there have been a few other gems turning up in his shows too, such as Temple of the Dog's Hunger Strike.  Admittedly though, what I'm really hoping for is Soundgarden to announce shows down under early next year, either as part of Big Day Out or (preferably) Soundwave Festival.

Notwithstanding his incredible talent, Cornell's solo output has been a little hit or miss.  As in, it has been either quite good - such as Euphoria Morning - or quite dreadful (in what world is it EVER a good idea for rockers to do hip-hop albums with Timbaland?!).  Scream was so bad that Trent Reznor even parodied it (hilariously) for an April Fools Joke a few years ago.

This got me thinking about a few other individuals who, having been part of some pretty kick-ass bands, have subsequently ventured into solo territory.  Often the results are disappointing, but not always.  And - as usual, I'll try to focus on the good and not waste time on the bad.

In fact, Jerry Cantrell is an example of someone who produced some sensational - albeit somewhat overlooked - solo material as Alice in Chains began to wane in the mid-90's when Layne Staley's drug issues got out of control.  His first record, Boggy Depot, showed some promise - some hard AIC moments, and some nice quieter moments - but in my view his second album Degradation Trip is the standout.  According to the man:

"In '98, I locked myself in my house, went out of my mind and wrote 25 songs. I rarely bathed during that period of writing; I sent out for food, I didn't really venture out of my house in three or four months. It was a hell of an experience. The album is an overview of birth to now."
After departing Columbia, Cantrell was label-less and ultimately Roadrunner released the album, Degradation Trip, in mid-2002 as a single-disc.  It was later re-issued in November that year (this time as Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2) with the full 25 tracks spanning two discs.  And man it is a beast - incredibly consistent whilst covering an enormous amount of musical territory.  There are sludgy, doomy moments like opener Psychotic Break and Feel the Void.  There are aggressive rockers like Owned, She Was My Girl and Anger Rising.  There are catchy, well-crafted upbeat tracks like Angel Eyes and Give It A Name.  There are genuine, simple, acoustic moments like Gone and 31/32.  And although it's excellent throughout, there's a stunning triple-header of crunching metal epics midway through the first disc which really ups the ante - Hellbound, Spiderbite and Pro False Idol.  One thing I enjoy about it is that although there are some nods to Alice in Chains there, Cantrell - despite being one of AIC's main songwriters - tries a lot of different things on this album and does a great job of all of them.  And in general he doesn't sound like an angry, unwashed recluse.

(it's also worth mentioning that the band line-up assembled for recording Degradation Trip is a veritable supergroup - Cantrell, Robert Trujillo on bass and Mike Bordin on drums)

Also worth a look is the track Leave Me Alone that he contributed to an otherwise forgettable soundtrack for a forgettable movie - The Cable Guy.

Moving on to Mr. Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan, who released a solo album TheFutureEmbrace in 2005 after Zwan disbanded.  Of course you could argue that most Pumpkins records were mostly Billy anyway and you wouldn't be too far from the truth, but this album has his - and only his - name on it.  To be honest, it's not great.  The first half is solid - and there's an intriguing, melancholy take on the Bee Gees' To Love Somebody - but it drops off pretty quick in the second half.  To me it's always felt like Adore II, and I never really liked Adore I.

We have Axl Rose to thank for not one but three separate solo careers after he lawyered the classic Guns N Roses line-up into oblivion.  The first being the current Guns N Roses line-up - Axl with a revolving cast of guests - and inevitably Chinese Democracy wasn't terrible or amazing.  The second being Slash, whose equally-average studio output (both as Slash and with Slash's Snakepit) doesn't, in my opinion, do justice to his excellent live shows.  And the third being Duff McKagan, who has realised a couple of thoroughly worthwhile records with Duff McKagan's Loaded in the last couple of years.

The first, Sick, is fairly straight-up, direct, punk-influenced rock.  Whilst Duff played bass for GnR, he's now on guitar and vocal duties.  He's certainly not the world's strongest singer, but there's a certain world-weary-rock-star tone to his voice that adds a helluva lot of texture to the songs, most notably the broody, acoustic number Mothers Day.

(credit where it's due - Duff looks AND sounds like a rock star)

The recently-released The Taking is more of a hard rock album - and a good one too.  There's some catchy, almost-pop moments in the likes of We Win and Cocaine, but some great rock-out numbers too, particularly Lords of Abaddon and Your Name.

I won't dwell on Rob Zombie too long - he is arguably better known as a solo artist these days than as White Zombie's singer/songwriter.  But it's worth mentioning the fact that I love White Zombie's Astro Creep 2000 and I also love his solo material.  Well, some of it.  His albums can be a bit patchy but I'll forgive him that when he can produce tracks like Superbeast, Dragula, and an unexpected (and great) cover of the Commodores' Brick House.  He even performed it live with Lionel Richie.  In a very 'odd couple' kind of way.  Much as I enjoy Rob, if him and Lionel Richie were The Other Guys, then Lionel would be the Mark Wahlberg telling Rob's Will Ferrell to stop being weird.

Tony Iommi, mostly of Black Sabbath, has also experimented with decent results, notably on 2000's Iommi which sees him teaming with an all-star line-up of collaborators across the course of an album including Henry Rollins, Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Idol, the late Peter Steele (Type O Negative), Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down), Ian Astbury (the Cult) and Billy Corgan.  My personal favourite track here is Goodbye Lament with Dave Grohl and Brian May.

And, since Dave Grohl is awesome, I'll round this post off with a brief head-nod to the 2003 Probot album, which was basically Dave collaborating with a slew of awesome metal dudes.  The album is well worth a look - obviously more metal than your standard Foos fare.  My personal favourites are Red War (with Max Cavalera), and Shake Your Blood (which I think, despite Lemmy and Dave being good buddies, might be the only recorded pairing of the two).

And a special mention to the album's excellent hidden track, which I still rate as probably the Greatest Hidden Track Ever (future blog topic, methinks), I Am The Warlock featuring Jack Black.

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