Solo Albums: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Tomorrow night, former Audioslave lead singer and (thankfully) current Soundgarden member Chris Cornell will be at House of Blues for a long-sold-out acoustic show. Recent set lists have included a number of Temple of the Dog songs, some solo work, the usual 'Garden and 'Slave tracks, plus a handful of covers to exercise his famous vocal skawl.
Cornell was one of the first of the huge grunge guys to show us what he could do truly solo back in the late '90s, when most of his peers were either killing themselves or sinking into drugs. He was one of the only ones to actually step out and show us what he could do alone (read: more than scream) with his two solo releases, 1999's Euphoria Morning and 2007's Carry On.
Things got weird on 2009's Scream, with producer Timbaland at the helm. Cornell has one of the best rock voices that will ever be committed to record, no question. The entire Soundgarden catalog, even the Audioslave stuff, has amazing vocal work.
His first two solo albums after Soundgarden still stand as career highs. Euphoria Morning is a beautiful thing, and Carry On had some sweet jams. Scream, though, was an album that was almost to strange to hate, but too grating to enjoy. We will say this: It did let Cornell show off an R&B swagger we may have never heard otherwise.
Some frontmen have stumbled after they walk out from behind their main band. Not everyone is suited to be a lone wolf, and even the best musicians turn in dogs that sound like warmed over C-Sides and tracks that deserved to be burned out back behind the studio.
But one thing is for sure, they have all been great fodder, and in some cases, the best argument for a band to get their shit together and reunite. We're looking at you, Axl.
Freddie Mercury, Mr. Bad Guy: Mr. Bad Guy was a decent solo outing from the Queen front man while away from his band, and sure as hell showed his true colors as a dance-ready artist. The only tragedy is that we never got any other solo albums like this from him due to his death in 1991. We can only imagine the Scissor Sisters and Rufus Wainwright-penned hits that might have been.
Scott Weiland, 12 Bar Blues: We confess that we are fans of Scott Weiland's voice, with or without Stone Temple Pilots. Let's just say we bought two Velvet Revolver albums. The thing about Weiland alone is that he wallows in his personality, and with the solo debut 12 Bar Blues, he drowned in his Scott-ness. "Barbarella" and "Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down" were great '60s throwbacks, but the rest was bad Bowie. Like Tin Machine Bowie.
Brandon Flowers, Flamingo: The Killers front man took a step out alone with Flamingo, with results that were still steeped in his band's indie-glam morass. Flamingo did show promise, especially on the Jenny Lewis-assisted "Hard Enough" and the space-cowboy wash of "Playing With Fire," but not enough to get him out from under the Killers clasp.
Debbie Harry, Rockbird: It's as if they had Harry sing at one speed and then sped the music up in post-production without her knowing. It was basically Blondie gone mall-rock.
Keith Moon, Two Sides of the Moon: We aren't lying when we say this is the only album on this list that we could listen to almost every day, at least once. As the rest of the Who was making semi-serious solo albums, the most lovable and rascally member of the band made a disc of Beatles, John Lennon, and Beach Boys covers, with the help of David Bowie, Ringo Starr, Rick Nelson, Harry Nilsson, and Joe Walsh. That's a lot of party party party on one slab of vinyl.
Yim Yames, A Tribute To: Jim James, front man of My Morning Jacket, jumped from behind the MMJ veil and made a quick solo six-track EP featuring covers of George Harrison songs. It was a beautiful side-track by the singer, and fits well into the rest of his MMJ and Monsters of Folk canon. Now if only he would do a set of Lennon covers.
Dee Dee King (Ramone), Standing In the Spotlight: It was "funky," man. Poor man's Run-DMC beats, sweaty junkie lyrics, the only thing that was missing was black face. It's entertaining in all the wrong ways. Coming from the most dopey and lovable Ramones member, though, it at least kept you on your toes, if only to serve as a testament to the fevered weirdness of white folks.
Methods of Mayhem, Methods of Mayhem: As far as Motley Crue solo outings go, Tommy Lee's Methods Of Mayhem was the most out of character for the tribe. Vince Neil was a dog as a solo rocker, rehashing the same naughty-boy lines, stumbling for credibility. Nikki Sixx's various recording projects, like the current Sixx: A.M., make serviceable, if not blandish, hard rock with an aim at the earnest and autobiographical.
MOM showed that behind all the metal and gore, Tommy Lee was the band's resident hip-hop and techno head, soaking in the rap-rock and turntablism of the late '90s with some of his famous friends. We still just don't know who the audience for MOM was, other than strippers and well, Fred Durst.
Mick Jagger, She's the Boss: Seeing Mick Jagger onstage without the Rolling Stones is like having sex with Tila Tequila without a condom: It's probably a lot better if you're coked up and blinded by mace.
Keith Richards, Talk Is Cheap: But you know what? Keith Richards can do whatever the hell he wants with whoever he wants. Nobody puts Keef in a corner.
John Lennon, Some Time In New York City: It's not so bad if you compare it to most other solo album by lesser gods. At the time it was a bad Lennon misfire, now it could pass a decent MGMT album with Karen O on part-time vocals.
Paul McCartney, Pipes of Peace: Pipes of something, alright, and it ain't good times. "Say Say Say" had Michael Jackson on board as the sole redeemer on this 1983 album, to go with plenty of period production values.
Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S.: Typical Waters lyricism, awful '80s production and too many horns.
Scott Stapp, The Great Divide: There was truly almost no difference in Creed singer Scott Stapp's lone solo outing after his band broke up, the first time, in 2004. More of a mopier Creed than anything, the album was a non-starter in the sales department, but helped to at least keep Stapp from being completely forgotten until the band reunited in 2009.
Gene Simmons, Asshole: How did Simmons ever think that covering Prodigy's "Firestarter" would be the path to solo success? The worst part was the fifth grade detention lyrics, especially on the title "track": "You think that you're so cool/ That you're nobody's fool / But you've got a personality / Just like a bucket full of pee". The real mystery here is how he got Bob Dylan to write a song for Asshole. Who did Dylan kill in the '70s to owe Simmons something like "Waiting for the Morning Light"?
Steve Perry, Street Talk: Do you remember anything other than "Oh Sherrie"? Shoulda been gone!
Billy Corgan, The FutureEmbrace: If you want to get technical and conspiratorial, every Smashing Pumpkins album has been a solo album with featured players. But alas, this was Corgan's first album that featured a solo billing. It's more of an Adore 2 than anything else, with a mass of droning guitars and icy warble on top.
Sting, Brand New Day: You know what's fucked up? We don't turn off "Fields of Gold" or "If I Ever Lose My Faith In You" when they come on the radio, but that harmonica on "Brand New Day" can lick our collective ass.
Julian Casablancas, Phrazes for the Young: When Phrazes came out in late 2009, the future of the Strokes wasn't exactly set in stone. Members were getting married, having babies, lingering in rehab or, like Casablancas, recording Cars tribute albums. As far as solo outings go, Casablancas' wasn't a snoozer in the least, but he looks a lot better flanked by that familiar brood of shaggy do's.
Guns 'N Roses, Chinese Democracy: Oh, come on. No Slash, no Duff, no Steven Adler, no Izzy, means no G'NR. This was a protracted Axl Rose album. If you think of it as such, and try to not to remember the hallowed name on the front cover, it's easier to listen to. Even then, you get to sit through 15 years worth of Rose experimenting with 15 years of genre whims.
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