As Morrissey wows his public once again with 10th album ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’, it’s time to reflect on artists who haven’t completely shamed their bands with their solo careers and side-projects. For every Morrissey, there’s a Gary Barlow, taking time between his group’s albums to really homogenise his music, so it’s a risky path. Here are some who negotiated it successfully.
Radiohead’s happy-go-lucky frontman occupied his time in the interminable gap between ‘Hail To The Thief’ and ‘In Rainbows’ by creating a perfectly difficult piece of electronica that slipped nicely into his band’s canon. So non-embarrassing was 2006’s ‘The Eraser’ that it was nominated for both the Mercury Prize and a Grammy.
In 2010, Kele Okereke took a breather from Bloc Party to release debut solo album ‘The Boxer’. Its stark electronic beats suited the big man so well that he took them right back to the band and changed their musical direction. He’s still not satisfied. Second solo album ‘Trick’ is due in October.
Another artist to find a new sound for his band while pootling around selfishly in the studio, Julian Casablancas inadvertently revolutionised The Strokes with synth-pop-heavy solo album ‘Phrazes For The Young’ in 2009. He even managed to cut a Christmas single, ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’, the japester.
Described by legendary music journalist Simon Reynolds as “like The Beach Boys if they’d joined Hare Krishna”, Panda Bear’s 2007 solo album ‘Person Pitch’ was a friendlier accompaniment to the records he was putting out in his day job as one quarter of Animal Collective. In turn, Animal Collective got more accessible with the awesome ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’.
The chief Arctic Monkey’s made a habit of chucking himself into highly serviceable side projects, from his one-man rescue of Miles Kane’s career with The Last Shadow Puppets to his acclaimed solo album ‘Submarine’, the soundtrack to the Richard Ayoade movie of the same name.
Here was one side-project that ended up overshadowing the old band. Jenny Lewis’s solo album (with the mysterious Watson Twins) in 2006, ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’, was frankly better than anything she’d managed with Rilo Kiley. She returned to the other chaps for 2007’s ‘Under The Blacklight’ but they’re now on hiatus*. *disbanded but no one’s admitting it.
Karin Dreijer Andersson took a quick vacation from Swedish electronic duo The Knife in 2009 to release one of the most critically garlanded albums of the year. One of those where it’s not a million miles from what she was doing in the 9 to 5, but it was all worth it. It went top 10 in Norway, don’cha know.
There were times in the Noughties where it felt like Bradford Cox was releasing a Deerhunter album one week and an Atlas Sound one the next. The solo stuff gave him a chance to exercise some experimental whims, keeping him rough and vital for the Deerhunter obligations.
RZA as Bobby Digital
Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA let his Bobby Digital persona get out of control, with three solo albums under the pseudonym, each a technicolour hip-hop brainstorm that rivalled his band’s output. “There’s some of the RZA [in there],” said the rapper forbodingly, “But Bobby’s also based on some of the things I’ve shielded myself from.”
By this point, Damon Albarn’s spent more time gadding about on solo projects than being a member of Blur. From The Good, The Bad & The Queen to this year’s solo debut, he’s kept the quality control in order but none of his hobbies has been as enduring as pretend cartoon band Gorillaz.
Mark Ramos Nishita has been the keyboard man on every Beastie Boys album since ‘Check Your Head’ in 1992, but has also indulged a pretty tasty solo career in the gaps. His most notable efforts have been 1995 debut ‘Mark’s Keyboard Repair’, an intriguing ragbag of mini-songs and sound collages, and the pure pop 1998 album ‘Push The Button’.
“If you’re in a group with four other people sometimes you just want to get away,” said Bernard Sumner in 1991 as he shelved New Order to turn one-off musical project Electronic into a proper (albeit occasional) band. With Johnny Marr and sporadic contributions from Neil Tennant, Sumner found himself outshining his usual outfit in the 1990s.
Classic 1980s perfect pop band Prefab Sprout has pretty much become a solo vehicle for singer and songwriter Paddy McAloon over the last decade or so, but he still chose to release solo album ‘I Trawl The Megahertz’ in 2003. Based around obscure radio recordings, it’s an ambient piece that still showcases McAloon’s ear for a romantic melody.
Tom Tom Club
Yes, it’s a solo project – it’s just two people doing a solo project at the same time in the same room. Husband and wife Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth fancied some light relief away from Talking Heads at the start of the 1980s and found it in the quirky new wave disco of megahits ‘Wordy Rappinghood’ and ‘Genius Of Love’.
A little like Damon Albarn, Alexis Taylor’s always moonlighting from his Hot Chip day job, encompassing improv jazz in About Group and stark folk on his tod. It’s all a far cry from all that pop fun with the ‘Chip, but never less than assured. Solo album ‘Await Barbarians’ has just come out; Hot Chip are resting.
It wasn’t too much of a stretch to match The Beach Boys’ efforts in the late 70s, but Dennis Wilson’s sole completed solo album ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ is a classic anyway, a soulful rock masterpiece that he planned to surpass with follow-up album ‘Bambu’ before death intervened. A few years later, The Beach Boys released ‘Kokomo’, so who’s the real winner?
The Smashing Pumpkins guitarist regularly had something happening on the side during his time with Billy Corgan’s merry men, but his crowning glory was debut solo album ‘Let It Come Down’ in 1998. There’s a bit of the Dennis Wilsons about this too, in its easygoing melodic rock charm, but Iha’s wafer-thin voice is no match for a gruff, hard-living Beach Boy.
Another one to not only equal but outstrip the usual band’s records, Gwen Stefani grabbed her solo career with both hands when No Doubt went on hiatus in 2003, releasing two sterling day-glo pop albums in ‘Love. Angel. Music. Baby.’ and ‘The Sweet Escape’. Unfortunately, No Doubt decided to reform in 2008 but indifferent – at best – sales have precipitated a second hiatus.
This one’s at least as hardy as the main band. Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard founded Brad in 1992 at the height of the grunge stalwarts’ success, and has kept them going since, through five albums that show a slightly lighter touch than Eddie Vedder and cohorts allow.
Let’s call Loose Fur a Jeff Tweedy solo project. The Wilco singer took a break from the alt-country legends in 2003, taking drummer Glenn Kotche with him and hooking up with avant-garde genius (and occasional Wilco producer) Jim O’Rourke. The fabulously named Loose Fur (it’s a pun, say it) made two LPs mixing gentle country with abrasive rock that fed back into Wilco’s own work.
To be honest, Odd Future are probably totally unembarrassable, so Frank Ocean would’ve had to make one stinker of a record to shame his bandmates. As it is, ‘Channel Orange’ is one of the finest albums of the century in any genre, and ‘Nostalgia Ultra’ was no slouch either. Now Tyler, Earl and the rest need to make sure they don’t embarrass Frank. Oh.
Siobhan Donaghy’s second post-original Sugababes Mk I effort ‘Ghosts’ (2007) was so great, so magical, so junior Kate Bush, that it’s almost a pity she’s not going to follow it up, preferring to mooch about with Keisha Buchanan and Mutya Buena, kidding on that they’re actually going to release an album.
Mere months before the release of The Horrors’ third album ‘Skying’, Faris Badwan was swanning about with Rachel Zeffira, putting out weird, gothic, girl-group pop under the name of Cat’s Eyes. Their one self-titled album is a curio but a triumph – ” I just want to do things that other bands can’t do,” revealed Badwan.
Clearly sick to the back teeth with waiting for the OutKast hiatus to finish hiating, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton laid down his debut solo album – the understatedly titled ‘Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty’ – in 2010. It proved he could cut it without Andre 3000, on a LP that leaves you “knocked sideways by Patton’s fluid vision” according to Louis Pattison’s NME review.
With seemingly too many ridiculous ideas even for the prolific Super Furry Animals, Gruff Rhys has been pouring a few brainchildren into side-project Neon Neon. Not strictly a solo mission – producer Boom Bip’s also on board – but there are few things as Gruff as concept albums about John DeLorean and Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.