What’s with all the indie blokes going solo all of a sudden? We’ve already had Kele’s ‘The Boxer’. In the next two months you can expect solo albums from The Killers’ Brandon Flowers, Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith, Carl Barât, and not one but two members of Animal Collective.
What next? The curly-haired fella from Italo-disco grafters Heartbreak going it alone? Er, actually he has – and so has his bandmate.
This is getting weird. On one level, it’s nothing new. Musicians have always sought a break from their day jobs. With drummers, such as Radiohead’s Phil Selway and Razorlight’s Andy Burrows, both of whom have recorded solo albums this year, you can understand the urge: they want to be centre-stage for once.
Likewise, a guy like Julian Casablancas. His solo record gave him an outlet to goof off, free from pressure. If ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’ had appeared on The Strokes’ fourth album, everyone would have WTF’d their heads off. But since it was just a silly seasonal and solo single, people thought, ‘OK, cool’. Though admittedly it was weird when he played it at Glasto mid-summer.
What is new, and slightly puzzling, is the current trend of singers going solo, and then making exactly the same kind of music they would’ve made with their band anyway. Brandon Flowers said that with his album ‘Flamingo’ he was “conscious of not trying to do something that was ‘too Killers’.” Well, he obviously didn’t try very hard, because to my ears it contains nothing that wouldn’t have sat comfortably on ‘Sam’s Town’.
Same with Paul Smith. On his album ‘Margins’, he’s clearly revelling in the opportunity not to have to pen any pint-flinging, Maxïmo Park-esque indie-disco anthems. But it’s not like it’s full of funky house ‘bangers’ or R Kelly-style slow jams. It’s not a radical departure.
And that’s the point. Surely if you’re going to go your own way, you might as well do something unexpected. Kele had the right idea. ‘The Boxer’ enabled him to do things he couldn’t have done with Bloc Party, such as play thrumming electro, smile once in a while and develop biceps the size of goldfish bowls.
Honouring that admirable spirit of reinvention, then, here are some radical solo departures I’d like to see:
• Win Butler – ‘Cor Blimey!’: a bawdy album of Cockney knees-up songs, accompanied by Regine on stand-up piano and swanee whistle. Standout track: ‘Roll Out The Barrel (Part 2)’.
• Marcus Mumford – ‘Pumped’: a slavish tribute to ’80s poodle-rock. For the promo shots Marcus sports a ratted frightwig and a spandex jumpsuit slashed to the crotch. Standout track: a cover of Whitesnake’s ‘Slide It In’, complete with banjo solo.
• Faris Badwan – ‘Faris!’: The Horrors’ beanpole terror-goth unleashes his theatrical side with a collection of jazz-handing show tunes. Standout track: ‘If I Were A Rich Man’, from Fiddler On The Roof.
OK, maybe not. But a man can dream, right?
This article originally appeared in the August 14 issue of NME
Subscribe here and get NME for £1 a week, or get this week's digital issue for your iPad, laptop or home computer.