Bands are hard to keep together. People fight, quit, rejoin, remember, quit again, die and so forth. Sometimes that band member is so integral to the music that it’s pointless to go on”some bands realize this and pack it in. But often, the remaining members don’t want to give it up. Here is the good, the bad and the ‘meh’ of some big, post-departure acts.
The Rolling Stones
Thank you, Jeebus, that The Stones kept it going after the 1969 departure and subsequent death of band founder Brian Jones (but couldn’t they have stopped after 1981’s Tattoo You, oh mighty Jeebus?). Jones’ contributions to the band are not to be discounted, but by the time he left, he had been marginalized”for better or worse”by the Jagger-Richards power team (and by most accounts, by manager Andrew Loog Oldham, not to mention by booze and drugs). The Stones went on to produce some of their greatest work.
While some people swear by Syd Barrett-era Floyd, the mental unraveling and eventual canning of the former frontman heralded one of rock’s greatest and most unlikely metamorphoses. With Roger Waters taking the pole position (and with able assistance from Barrett’s replacement, David Gilmour), the band slowly shed their psych-pop identity in favor of spaced-out stadium rock.
Most of us probably would be loathe to admit it out loud, but we all have them: Singers and bands we love in spite of everybody else. They create music to our ears, while to those who consider themselves highbrow connoisseurs of cool, they’re incurably uncool. I’d call these acts “guilty pleasures,” but when it comes to the music I listen to, I don’t believe in shame.
Jennifer Lopez Don’t judge. And don’t write off Love?, Lopez’s 2011 pop comeback. It’s a lot better than the title. All these months after she debuted the video from her judge’s perch on American Idol, “On the Floor” still never fails to take me there, and “I’m Into You,” the follow-up single, deserved so much more than a No. 41 peak on Billboard’s Hot 100. The other day, my iPod landed on Lopez’s first hit, “If You Had My Love” (No. 1 in 1999), and I didn’t press skip. In fact, I hit repeat. Twice. Carp about her thin vocals all you want, but if you’re a pop fan and you say you haven’t gotten swept up in her groove at least once”most likely thanks to the aforementioned “On the Floor,” or “Jenny from the Block,” perhaps her greatest hit”I’d say you’re probably lying.
Enya Back in college I worked in a record store, and one day I faced an angry customer who had requested something similar to Enya and was recommended Kate Bush by one of my colleagues. She bought it, tried it, hated it. If only my clueless co-worker had known that nothing compares to Enya. She’s lumped into the new-age category”home of Yanni (yikes!)”and her songs often are dismissed as music for insomniacs because of it. But stay awake and listen: Her potpourri of Irish folk, choral music and gospel, with occasional flourishes of tribal and world music, sometimes tense, sometimes soothing, is so much more than anodyne pop.
The greaser types with slicked back hair and leather jackets? Yeah, they’re probably in a psychobilly band. The bearded black-clad guys practicing sweep picking? Pretty sure they’re metal.
So, what about the group with face paint and capes?
While band members’ live apparel is generally a fairly reliable marker of their genre, Michigan’s own Stepdad aren’t as easily pigeonholed. Having quickly amassed a loyal fan base on the strength of their giddy falsetto-laced pop, the members of Stepdad haven’t put any limits on their own creativity. In addition to releasing their debut EP Ordinaire in 2010, the band composed the theme for Axe Cop, an Internet comic created by a five-year-old, as well as the theme for the Atom.com’s “Top Rope” web series. Currently riding a wave of creative steam, they’re planning to release their debut full-length album Wildlife Pop this fall, and their Ordinaire EP just received a September re-release courtesy of Quite Scientific Records. Clearly, Stepdad are in no mood to slow down. Their boundless creative energy recalls a kindred prolific songwriter, one whose style permeates the opening track on Ordinaire.
If you’re like 99.9% of the population, the words Deep Purple instantly evoke the quintessential classic-rock power-chord riff that drives Smoke On The Water. Secondarily, the stratospheric wail of Ian Gillan screeching out the chorus of Highway Star might leap to mind. Both are to ˜70s rock what the lion’s roar is to MGM, and they make it immediately clear why Deep Purple has always been revered as one of the bedrock bands whose hard-rock tonnage paved the way for heavy metal (In it’s day, it was considered heavy metal). Given this knowledge, you might feel confident in knowing all one needs to know about the band. You’d be wrong.
Long ago and far away, back in the days of paisley and patchouli, there was another Deep Purple. Today it’s commonly referred to as the Mk. I version of the band. And while it included three-fifths of the classic ˜70s lineup, it was a different beast entirely. Keyboardist Jon Lord, guitar hero Ritchie Blackmore and drummer Ian Paice were all on board for the original incarnation of Purple, but instead of Gillan’s piercing wail, Deep Purple Mk. I boasted the low, soulful tones of Rod Evans, while Nick Simper occupied the bass chair rather than Roger Glover, and instead of chugging, chomping, hard-stomping proto-metal, they played a progressive-pointing brand of psychedelia.
In fact, the psychedelically inclined version of the band made no less than three albums between 1968 and ’69”Shades of Deep Purple, The Book of Taliesyn and a self-titled third outing. In the US, these releases have largely been swept under the rug, which is ironic, considering that ˜60s Purple’s greatest success by far was in America, where they scored three chart hits, most notably a churning cover of roots-rocker Joe South‘s Hush. In fact, more people probably know that song from the Deep Purple version than the original. Nevertheless, all three albums have been languishing in obscurity for years, remaining out of print and all but forgotten by the world at large. Thankfully, the balance of rock & roll history can be restored to its proper position at last, with the Eagle Records reissue of Deep Purple Mk. I’s entire output, expertly remastered and featuring a brace of bonus tracks.
From high-profile NPR darlings [that’s not a pejorative distinction] like The Decemberists to more underground-oriented acts such as The Globes and Teeth of the Sea, there’s no shortage of current bands banging around whose sound suggests the presence of more than one Roger Dean-designed album cover in their collections. With such a proliferation of second (or even third)-hand prog-rock influences in the air, it should probably come as no huge surprise that there seems to be a lot of activity lately on the old-school front, as first-generation UK art rockers (Great Britain is, of course, prog’s spiritual home) rise up in various formats and configurations to offer up something new to the world that they helped shape.
Of course, music was never meant to be the aural equivalent of a yearbook photo, presenting the same face to the world regardless of how the person in the portrait may have evolved. Classic albums, naturally, remain their own irreplaceable, immutable selves ad infinitum”King Crimson‘s Red, Brian Eno‘s Another Green World and Yes‘s Close To The Edge, for example, will always offer the same sonic satisfaction no matter how many years go by. But the artists who made those internationally beloved, incalculably influential albums have never stopped growing. Unless you go all Star Wars on them and freeze them in carbonite a la Han Solo, or stick them irretrievably onto the oldies circuit, all true artists will keep on changing.
The generation of envelope-pushers (and we’re not talking about stationery salespeople here) who made the aforementioned milestone recordings are suddenly popping up with new albums that showcase a very different sensibility from their firestorming days of old. It’s almost as if there’s been a consensus among those artists to pursue a subtler, lower-key kind of sound circa 2011. Nowhere is that feeling more overt than on the new album A Scarcity of Miracles by Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins. Thinking man’s guitar hero Robert Fripp, has of course, been the driving force behind King Crimson from the beginning, and sax man Mel Collins played with the band in the early ’70s. They joined with singer/guitarist/keyboardist Jakko Jakszyk, who had played with Collins in 21st Century Schizoid Band (an outfit full of former KC members playing the band’s old repertoire) in what’s being billed as a King Crimson “projeckt,” which also includes longtime Crimson bassist Tony Levin and current KC drummer Gavin Harrison in supporting roles. The barnstorming brashness of classic King Crimson (or even more recent King Crimson), however, is completely, and quite purposely, absent. Instead, the album is filled with dreamy, atmospheric tunes full of hushed vocals, delicately textured guitars (hardly any of the old Fripp fire) and contemplative sax solos, having more in common with some of Fripp’s work with David Sylvian than anything that’s ever flown under the Crimson Banner.
Speaking of Sylvian, he may be of a younger generation than Fripp and Collins, but he could certainly be grandfathered in, as it were, to the old-boy network of English art rock. Besides memorably utilizing Fripp’s guitar work on his own albums, he did, after all, have a striking ”if short-lived”duo with Fripp in the early ’90s. But Sylvian’s own new album, Died In The Wool, makes the JFC trio sound like the MC5 by comparison. That’s not to say that it’s unimpressive or underwhelming in any way, mind you, merely that it makes the most of minimalist techniques and super-sparse arrangements, with half the tracks being re-workings of songs inspired by Sylvian’s previous album, Manofon, and half being unheard material from the same sessions.
Of course, Brian Eno, who began his career with original art rockers Roxy Music and created some pioneering duo recordings with Fripp before becoming a vital force as a solo artist, has been treading an ambient path for many, many years, and adjectives like “atmospheric,” “subtle” and even “subliminal” are used in connection with his efforts about as often as “play ball” has been heard in Yankee Stadium. Eno’s new album, Drums Between The Bells, is certainly no exception, but even though it’s full of ambient-oriented electronics, it does contain some more visceral grooves, and even a fair amount of vocal tracks, with Eno himself opening up his mouth on a couple of tunes.
Meanwhile, when he wasn’t busy with the JFC trio, Fripp seemingly found time to join an all-star cast of prog rockers guesting on the latest solo album by former King Crimson singer/bassist John Wetton, Raised In Captivity. Admittedly, this one is much more of an in-your-face outing than any of the aforementioned albums, moving in an AOR-ish direction that has more in common with Wetton’s post-Crimson cash cow, Asia, than anything else. Regardless of what your feelings may be about such things, the record nevertheless features a jaw-dropping array of prog heavyweights”besides Fripp, there’s Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, current and past Yes keyboardists Geoff Downes and Tony Kaye and former U.K./Curved Air/Roxy Music member Eddie Jobson, among others. Would that the results lived up that stellar guest list, but you can’t have everything.
Naturally, no assessment of art-rock o.g.’s returning to active duty would be complete without the inclusion of Yes, the standard-bearers for classic, symphonic-style prog. Conveniently enough, there happens to be a new Yes album, Fly From Here, just around the corner. It’s the band’s first studio album in a decade, and their first ever with new singer Benoit David, replacing founding member Jon Anderson. It’s the second non-Jon Yes album, though ”1980’s Drama featured a post-Buggles/pre-Art Of Noise Trevor Horn on vocals (and former Buggle Geoff Downes on keys). With Downes returning to the fold for this album, and Horn back in the production chair, this is actually looking like a bit of a return to the Drama era. Hell, Roger Dean even did the album cover. “So, can a new Emerson, Lake & Palmer album be far behind?” we hear you cry. Keep your shirt on, prog-head, we’ll cross that inter-dimensional bridge when Dean paints it.
Even if you have only a passing knowledge of ˜80s new wave, it’s likely that Thomas Dolby has a place in your heart for lending some class”not to mention the occasional touch of funk”to the burgeoning synth-pop movement with such hits as Hyperactive, Europa and the Pirate Twins, and of course, the ultimate ode to love in a lab coat, She Blinded Me With Science. But if your knowledge of Dolby’s career drops off after the ˜80s, it’s not because you’re uninformed. In fact, Dolby spent much of the ˜90s and ˜00s outside of the music biz, pursuing other electronic interests that we’ll get to presently. But now, he’s set to release his first album of new material, and we talked with him about that record, A Map of the Floating City, as well as his early output, and got the straight story on Dolby’s missing years too.
Back in the ˜70s, the electro-pop pioneer was actually a teenage prog fan, worshipping at the altar of arty epics and tricky time signatures. I think many punks were teenage prog rockers, says Dolby. I still remember the outrage that prog rockers felt when punk first came on the scene. When I was fifteen I was into Genesis and Yes and Little Feat and Steely Dan. [Pogues frontman] Shane McGowan, who I was at school with, came in one day and said ‘Well, I think The Beatles and the Stones is all shit,’ and I remember my sense of outrage. I said, ‘Well, Shane, what should we be listening to?’ And he said ‘Johnny Thunders, MC5, Iggy Pop.’ And we’d never heard of any of these people. Of course within a few months we’d all spiked our hair and torn our trousers, and were all down at the 100 club listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees or The Clash.”
Even after trading his bellbottoms for leather pants, though, Dolby still gravitated naturally towards the brainier end of the British new wave, idolizing XTC to an obsessive degree. I used to follow them around in the early punk days, he admits. XTC came along and they had the energy of punk, but they had a musical intelligence to go along with it, so obviously that was a revelation to me. I knew their songs inside out, and I remember being in front of the stage, in front of Barry Andrews, their keyboard player, hoping that he would get hit by a tram or something, and they’d have to go ˜Is there anyone in the house that knows our keyboard parts?’ and I could leap up on stage.
Before that opportunity arose, though, Dolby began making his own way in the music world, working with other artists at first, from Bruce Wooley & The Camera Club to Lene Lovich. He released his first single in 1981, and his 1982 debut album, The Golden Age of Wireless, made him a success straight out of the gate. The sophistication of Dolby’s songwriting put him at the forefront of artists working with the new musical toolkit the ˜80s brought along, and even today he’s often associated exclusively with an era when he recalls providing an alternative to a lot of hair bands and a lot of AOR, noting The irony of it is that if you listen to my first album¦a lot of the songs are a three-piece band with additional keyboards. I was a big fan of early Talking Heads, and a couple of songs have that kind of vibe to them.
Nevertheless, he still embraces his early recordings. I do feel very strongly connected to them. There’s very little that I would choose to redo or delete. I guess, like anyone else in the ˜80s, I fell prey to some trends and sounds of the moment. Some were of my own making, some were just the flavor du jour, but overall I think my early stuff still stands up fairly well because of the substance behind the songwriting. There are some artists that transcend the era that they’re from; I think of anyone from Steely Dan to Kraftwerk to Van Morrison or Joni Mitchell, all of whom have influenced me very strongly. You wouldn’t catch any of them going out on a ˜70s revival tour¦the contribution they made spanned a wider spectrum than that.
However, Dolby found himself sufficiently dissatisfied with the music industry in the ˜90s to pursue a different course. I thought, ˜I’ll take a little sabbatical and go to Silicon Valley and explore my interest in technology,’ he recalls. Eventually, he started his own company and created a revolutionary ringtone technology that made a huge splash in the cell phone world, and he created soundtrack music for video games. Dolby found himself a success once more, but in an entirely new context. He could never resist the pull of songwriting for long, though, and the seeds of his upcoming album, A Map Of The Floating City, began to bear fruit. I had some songs that I’d been unable to escape from, he remembers. I needed to get those done, and once I started, I wrote brand new songs. Much of the recording process took place in Dolby’s home studio, built inside a lifeboat from the 1930s, which he says looks out over the North Sea and is powered by the wind and the sun.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the songs he recorded in this idyllic setting turned out to be much more acoustic-oriented and balladic than the tunes Dolby is most famous for. The songs from the new album are very organic, he agrees, adding, I’m very influenced by my environment. The inclusion of Dire Straits axeman Mark Knopfler on the track 17 Hills helps lend a rootsy touch as well. I just felt that his style would be a very good complement for the song, explains Dolby. He’s a student of American roots music¦I love his lyrical guitar style.
So, with all this earthiness going on, does Dolby still have a soft spot in his heart for the technology of old? Quite frankly, he confesses, a $1.99 iPhone app with a picture of a Mellotron, that sounds pretty close to the real thing, is to me a huge improvement on something that goes out of tune and takes three guys to carry it. But I know purists would probably be outraged to hear me say that. Nevertheless, he can envision a future where even today’s cutting-edge digital gear is fetishized as vintage equipment. I think fetishism for the past will always exist, he speculates, but maybe the future will be [about] jacking into the matrix and imagining ourselves in front of our 64k Mac, playing with those old tools. Things go full circle, so it’s hard to know where we’ll end up.