Prophets of Rage and Music’s Mixed Bag of Supergroups

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Whatever your opinion of Donald Trump – and they certainly vary wildly, depending on who you ask – the man’s contribution to rock music is certainly something worth saluting. After all, Prophets of Rage – a rap-metal supergroup composed of members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Energy and Cypress Hill – formed in part as a protest of Trump’s meteoric rise to the Republican presidential nomination.

Prophets of Rage – made up of former Rage members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk; Public Enemy members Chuck D and DJ Lord; and Cypress Hill front man B Real – promises to “Make America Rage Again” (they even sell merchandise that can safely be described as a takeoff on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” garb). The group played a protest gig during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and things have gone so well, Prophets of Rage decided to make a full-blown tour out of it.

That includes a stop at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on October 8. Thus far, concert reviews have been favorable, which is a relief. Not all supergroups – despite their respective pedigrees – really pan out. These are some of the best (and worst) rock supergroups of the modern era.

Why not start with a former Rage supergroup? Audioslave is unfairly maligned for one simple reason: It wasn’t Rage Against the Machine. The group – composed of Rage’s Morello, Commerford and Wilk, along with Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell – stormed the rock radio charts with its self-titled debut in 2002. The album sold more than three million copies and produced five hit singles, including “Cochise” and “Like a Stone.” The law of diminishing returns quickly took effect thereafter, as each of Audioslave’s next two releases dipped in quality before the group called it quits in 2007. But for a brief run at the turn of the century, Audioslave ranked among the best mainstream rock bands on the planet.

It really should have worked, but it really, really didn’t. Eyes Adrift featured the all-star trio of Curt Kirkwood (Meat Puppets), Bud Gaugh (Sublime) and, most notably, Krist Novoselic (Nirvana). Foo Fighters this was not. The group attempted to blend genres such as country, punk and grunge, which represented their respective backgrounds. But the results were mixed, and the band’s only release – a self-titled album in 2002 – totally flopped. Point being, three talented members of three great bands do not a great supergroup make.

James Mercer (lead singer for indie rock gods The Shins) and Brian Burton (you know him as Danger Mouse) paired up in 2010 for a self-titled release. It ended up ranking among the best alternative rock albums of the year. Not content to make the all-star duo a one-off, Mercer and Burton teamed up again for 2014’s After the Disco. The album, like its predecessor, was dark and moody in an almost sunny way (it’s hard to explain, but it works) and showcased Mercer and Burton’s ability to blend their respective styles. The two certainly produced their fair share of great music before getting together, but here’s hoping Broken Bells continues producing more of its own moving forward.

Guns n’ Roses is one of the most iconic rock bands of all time. The late Scott Weiland – he of Stone Temple Pilots fame – possessed one of the most iconic voices of his era (and not just in rock circles either; Weiland could flat-out wail). Neither GNR nor Weiland was ever regarded as among the most reliable artists (drugs have a way of derailing people), so it’s fairly surprising the band – made up of Weiland and GNR members Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum – was able to record and release two full-length albums from 2004 to 2007. Unfortunately, aside from “Fall to Pieces,” the band never truly merged its artists’ styles in creating any music of critical or commercial consequence. They acrimoniously broke up in 2008 amid rumors that Weiland’s old drug habits were resurfacing (he later died of a drug overdose in December 2015).

If there’s a more talented trio in all of rock, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. Them Crooked Vultures, which released a self-titled album in 2009 and played a rocking set at Austin City Limits Music Festival the same year, is composed of Foo Fighters mastermind Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age architect Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin’s own John Paul Jones. A second album has been rumored for some time, but considering the respective schedules of each of these artists (particularly Grohl and Homme, two of the busier men in rock), it’s uncertain when that follow-up will ever come to pass.

If Billy Corgan is involved, two things are certain. The music will be ambitious, and the breakup will not be pleasant. Zwan – a supergroup made up of Corgan and members of a number of bands, including Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle – certainly qualifies on both counts. The band only released one album – 2003’s Many Star of the Sea – and while it was certainly ambitious, the result just kinda felt like Corgan trying to do something that wasn’t Smashing Pumpkins. As for the breakup, well, let Corgan take it from here (via a 2005 interview with The Chicago Tribune): “The music wasn't the big problem; it was more their attitude...Sex acts between band members in public. People carrying drugs across borders. (Band member David) Pajo sleeping with the producer's girlfriend while we were making the record.” That'll do it. 

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