Tail between legs: 27 solo albums that sent musicians scurrying back to their main bands

Tail between legs: 27 solo albums that sent musicians scurrying back to their main bands

1. Julian Plenti, Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper (2009)
Band members who go solo ought to know—or at least their labels ought to know—that fans won’t necessarily recognize their actual names. When he stepped out on his own, Interpol singer-guitarist Paul Banks actually took steps that seemed designed to disguise his identity, assuming the silly name Julian Plenti for 2009’s Julian Plenti Is… Skyscraper. The songs were far superior to those on Interpol’s 2007 album Our Love To Admire, and yet nobody heard it, so it was back to his main band the next year. (And for 2012’s solo album Banks, he smartly dropped the stage name.)

2. Billy Corgan, TheFutureEmbrace (2005)
After dissolving alt-rock juggernaut The Smashing Pumpkins in 2000 and then crashing and burning with the highly underrated indie-rock supergroup Zwan, Billy Corgan turned his attention in 2005 to what stands as his lone solo album—in name, anyway—to date, TheFutureEmbrace. Like Zwan’s Mary Star Of The Sea, it’s pretty underrated—it sold horribly and received a bunch of sour reviews—but the weird ’80s-ish electro-rock Corgan made with Nitzer Ebb’s Bon Harris was an impressive departure from his past life that retained his pop precision. That said, maybe Corgan saw the writing on the wall while he was making TheFutureEmbrace, because on the day of its release, he took out a full-page ad in a couple of Chicago papers to declare his intention to put the Pumpkins back together. (Then again, the ad also talks about a follow-up solo album, so who knows.) Corgan toured in support of TFE, but before long his solo career was just a memory. Jimmy Chamberlin responded to Corgan’s want ad, and hired guns were brought in to fill the remaining void. Though the ensuing Zeitgeist turned out to be a heavy-metal mess—and Chamberlin jumped ship in 2009, leaving His Baldness as the band’s only original member—the Pumpkins’ ship has been righted in recent years.

3. Bill Wyman, Monkey Grip (1974)
Of all the members of The Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman seemed the least likely to release the first solo album. But the quiet, nondescript bassist did exactly that in 1974, when Monkey Grip debuted to a collective shrug. It’s not for a lack of great guest musicians: The disc sports contributions from singer-songwriters Leon Russell and Dr. John as well as soul artists Gwen McCrae and Betty Wright. But single “Monkey Grip Glue” not only failed to tap into The Stones’ bluesy mystique, it sounded about as accomplished as the Banana Splits theme. Then again, no one ever cared much about all the subsequent solo Stones albums, so Wyman at least deserves credit for being a trendsetter. And for making sure no one in the band ever got uppity enough to stray too far from the roost.

4. Patrick Stump, Soul Punk (2011)
5. Black Cards, Use Your Disillusion (2012)
6. The Damned Things, Ironiclast (2010)
After nearly a decade together, interpersonal annoyances and an album that didn’t set the world afire pushed Fall Out Boy into an indefinite hiatus at the end of 2009. Singer-guitarist Patrick Stump pursued his R&B aspirations as a solo artist, bassist Pete Wentz started a dance-rock band called Black Cards, and drummer Andy Hurley and guitarist Joe Trohman followed their heavy muse to The Damned Things, with members of Anthrax and Every Time I Die. None of it panned out. Stump sunk a ton of money into a tour to support his tepidly received album, Soul Punk, and at one point vowed to take a hiatus from music altogether. Black Cards toured and recorded an EP, but lost its singer and tried to regroup as a DJ duo. The Damned Things released an album and played some festivals, but never gathered much momentum. Unsurprisingly, when all four members of Fall Out Boy found themselves without much to do, they eventually reconnected. The band recorded a new album and booked an extensive tour in secret; considering how quickly most of those dates sold out, the quartet has probably realized it’s stronger together than apart.

7. Keith Moon, Two Sides Of The Moon (1975)
The number of legitimately classic Who solo albums can be counted on one finger—and that would be Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass. The group had its share of tensions and breakup scares in the ’70s, though, so it’s no wonder that everyone in the band tried to cultivate a solo career. Legendary drummer Keith Moon only managed one such disc: 1975’s Two Sides Of The Moon. The roll call of guest musicians is staggering, including David Bowie and Ringo Starr. Oddly, though, Moon chose to sing rather than play drums, which he does on only one of the album’s tracks. The rest of Two Sides is a grab-bag of half-assed covers—the most ill-advised being a remake of The Who’s own “The Kids Are Alright.” Moon himself most definitely wasn’t all right; three years after the release, he died from an overdose. Luckily, his incredible tenure with The Who left him with many far worthier headstones.

8. Nick Jonas & The Administration, Who I Am (2010)
While Nick Jonas always seemed to be the Jonas Brothers’ most serious musician, he never really got to strut his own stuff until he went solo with 2010’s Who I Am. Backed by anonymous-sounding group The Administration, Jonas lets it all blandly hang out on the record, singing songs about love, loss, and standing on his own. The record did okay with critics, but even backed by a world tour the record wasn’t much of a commercial success, selling well under 200,000 copies in the U.S. Following the tour, Jonas dabbled a bit as a stage actor, with parts in Les Misérables in London and How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying on Broadway. In 2012, though, the Jonas Brothers started working and writing together again, and Nick fell back into the fold. You can’t really blame the guy: It’s one thing to leave a band, but it’s another to abandon your family.

9. Freddie Mercury, Mr. Bad Guy (1985)
In the liner notes of Mr. Bad Guy, the solo debut by Freddie Mercury, the singer thanks “Brian, John, and Roger for not interfering.” But Mercury’s Queen bandmates should have thanked him. By the time of Mr. Bad Guy’s release in 1985, Queen’s fortunes were suffering due to a detour away from epic rock and toward synthesized dance pop. Mr. Bad Guy doubles down on the disco and operatic new-wave influences, resulting in a stilted, forced disc that’s neither fish nor fowl. A flop in America, the album barely performed in Queen’s native U.K.; it did, however, rally the band to begin working more closely together in the studio—which served it well during Mercury’s final years, resulting in a triumphant return to form before the flamboyant frontman died in 1991.

10. +44, When Your Heart Stops Beating (2006)
11. Angels & Airwaves, We Don’t Need To Whisper (2006)
Blink-182 made a significant stylistic departure on 2003’s self-titled album, stepping away from the dopey (but catchy) pop-punk that had made its name in favor of more refined, arty, and painfully serious rock. It reflected the clashing sensibilities within the band, which became more obvious in the projects that followed during Blink’s indefinite hiatus. Bassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker started +44, a more straightforward punkish rock band, while guitarist Tom DeLonge finally unleashed his U2-esque, stadium-rock ambitions in Angels & Airwaves. Both projects released debuts in 2006, neither especially memorable (aside from the annoying pretension of Angels & Airwaves’ We Don’t Need To Whisper). +44’s label troubles and Barker’s plane crash delayed a follow-up, and neither Barker nor Hoppus seemed especially interested in continuing it, especially once Blink-182 reunited in 2009. DeLonge still performs with Angels & Airwaves, though the band has self-released everything after 2007’s I-Empire.

12. Peter Criss, Peter Criss (1978)
When the four members of Kiss released simultaneous solo albums in 1978, it seemed the height of rock-star hubris. History has not proven that wrong. Riding high on a level of mega-success usually reserved for monarchs and deities, the four self-titled albums trafficked in varying degrees of suck, with a handful of solid tracks gleaming among the lousiness. Peter Criss, though, has the worst batting average: With the drummer taking over lead vocals, the record features Criss’ schmaltzy balladry, Meatloaf-level corniness, and gulping, grunting voice. This grand experiment didn’t empower any member of Kiss to strike out permanently on his own, at least not of his own volition. As it turns out, Criss was the first founding member of Kiss to leave the group after being fired in 1980. His first and perhaps not-so-wise move after that: making more solo records.

13. Ian Astbury, Spirit\Light\Speed (2000)
If there’s one thing fans of The Cult love, it’s Ian Astbury’s mysticism-drenched cock-rock. So when Astbury went solo following The Cult’s breakup up in 1995, he decided to give his fans… exactly the opposite. Recorded just prior to The Cult’s reunion in 1999, Spirit\Light\Speed is a droning, dragging, thrill-free exercise in acoustic dullness and watered-down electronica. It’s hard to ascertain exactly what Astbury was trying to accomplish with the disc, other than secure an advance and maybe piss a few people off. In any case, it helped nudge him back to his main gig, so fans should at least be grateful for that.

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14. Chris Cornell, Scream (2009)
Chris Cornell’s solo debut, 1999’s moody Euphoria Morning, came out soon after Soundgarden broke up—and it’s actually pretty good. Not so for the rest of his solo output, most notably 2009’s godawful Scream. Sporting a slick, lifeless shell of Timbaland production, it’s the furthest from Soundgarden (or even Audioslave) that Cornell could possibly get. With the bombastic grunge howler whispering over spidery beats and whisper-thin synth lines, Scream did anything but live up to the drama of its title. Curiously enough, it wasn’t long after the disc sank without a trace that the first rumors of a Soundgarden reunion began to surface—and sure enough, the band’s comeback album, 2012’s King Animal, was a guitar-heavy affair that pretended Scream never happened. If only the universe could do the same.

15. Greg Graffin, American Lesion (1997)
Bad Religion singer Greg Graffin hasn’t gotten the chance to explore much musical range over the past 30 years (the band’s 1983 prog album, Into The Unknown, notwithstanding). But there’s always been a strong songwriting backbone to the band’s melodic hardcore, and Graffin took a break to explore that avenue with his 1997 debut solo album, American Lesion. If only he hadn’t. With lyrics that revolve around his divorce, there’s definitely something poignant going on in Graffin’s sad-sack, piano-based ballads. But his rigid, drill-sergeant vocal delivery doesn’t play well with the quieter arrangements, and the whole thing treads the line between cathartic and self-indulgent—before completely toppling into the latter.

16. Richard Ashcroft, Keys To The World (2006)
As singer of The Verve, Richard Ashcroft had pretty massive worldwide success, but he could apparently never get along with his bandmates—especially guitarist Nick McCabe. After the band split for the first time (or it might’ve been the second—there’s some confusion even among the members themselves), Ashcroft went solo, releasing three albums with diminishing commercial and artistic returns, with 2006’s Keys To The World as the low point. So even after claiming he’d never do it, he got back with The Verve for a lucrative reunion tour and stinky album, Forth. His fellow Verve-ists later claimed that Ashcroft only did the reunion to kickstart his solo career, but if that’s the case, he failed miserably: 2010’s United Nations Of Sound barely registered in the public consciousness. So look for yet another reunion soon.

17. Methods Of Mayhem, Methods Of Mayhem (1999)
In 1999, the Tommy Lee brand was probably bigger than the band that spawned him, Mötley Crüe, due mostly to the life he was living in the tabloids. (He could drive a boat with his giant dick!) So Lee didn’t have a problem creating a group around himself called Methods Of Mayhem, gathering the likes of Kid Rock, Fred Durst, and George Clinton to contribute to a self-titled debut. The album wasn’t as savagely received as it should’ve been, but the band (such as it was) kind of petered out. In subsequent years, Lee would rejoin Crüe, get kicked out, make solo albums with shitty titles (Never A Dull Moment, Tommyland: The Ride), try his hand at reality TV (Tommy Lee Goes To College), then rejoin the band for what has now been billed as its final album and tour. Until the next one, presumably.

18. Dee Dee King, Standing In The Spotlight (1989)
A case could be made for Dee Dee as the one true punk among the Ramones, a born troublemaker who had no interest in being anyone’s boss, and even less interest in being told what he could and couldn’t do. And his interest in the music of the streets was sincere enough to propel him toward a brief rap career, which absolves him of critic Rob Sheffield’s charge that the Ramones’ work in the late ’80s was “unmistakably the work of men who hadn’t bought a new record since Watergate.” Unfortunately, knowing that something is happening isn’t the same thing as understanding it, much less having a facility for it. A complete trainwreck and instant collectors’ item, Standing In The Spotlight offers a mix of soft, shambling rockers and even softer raps, including lame boasts (“Gonna make you snap, crackle, and pop / I’m the master of hip-hop”), a naked bid for the non-existent East Coast surf-rap audience (“I am a surfing nut / And the surf is up”), and backup assistance from Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, who must have been flattered that an esteemed graduate of the CBGB’s scene was keeping the spirit of “Rapture” alive. With its childlike, stop-and-start vocal rhythms and novelty-record vibe, opening track “Mashed Potato Time” is strongly reminiscent of “Monster Mash,” and things quickly spiral down from there, indicating that Dee Dee should have heeded his own advice that “amateurs should be barred.” Having put his midlife crisis out on the curb for all to gawk at, he was soon back to defining himself as a rocker, and basing much of his income on the Ramones. (Johnny wouldn’t let him back in the house, but the band did continue to buy his songs.) 

19. Scott Weiland, 12 Bar Blues (1998)
20. Talk Show, Talk Show (1997)
With Scott Weiland’s “personal problems” (he personally loved to do lots of drugs) screwing things up for Stone Temple Pilots, he and his bandmates took a break from each other in the late ’90s. Weiland tried to get a little arty with 12 Bar Blues, which some critics really liked—maybe for the fact that it didn’t sound much like STP. Meanwhile, his bandmates got themselves a new singer and called themselves Talk Show, but nobody listened to their self-titled debut. Lack of success sent the singer and his band hurtling back together for a while, which would happen a couple more times throughout the years. They’re like the horrible couple that can’t seem to quit each other; right now they’re splitsville, but when the big offers come in, they’ll fall in love again.

21. Tony Banks, A Curious Feeling (1979)
Genesis was popular within the world of progressive music during and after the time Peter Gabriel spent in the band. But by the time they were a trio, Genesis had crossed over as a mainstream act and spent the next decade climbing the heights of the pop world. One of the architects of the band’s music, keyboardist Tony Banks, was the first member of the trio to release a solo album. But unlike Mike Rutherford (who went on to form Mike + The Mechanics) and Phil Collins (who went on to be one of the dominant solo acts of the 1980s), Banks’ solo output barely made a commercial dent. Only two of his six albums actually charted at all, which is curious considering Banks’ contributions to Genesis’ hit songs. It’s possible that his charisma (or lack thereof) had something to do with it, in addition to the fact that many of those albums feature singers other than himself. Musically, Banks gave Genesis fans the same type of material they normally loved. But without the Genesis moniker attached, Banks’ solo output remained largely unheard, sending him time and again back to packed arenas full of people seemingly unaware of what else he had to offer.

22. Jordan Knight, Jordan Knight (1999)
23. Joey McIntyre, Stay The Same (1999)
Growing up and out of a boy band has to be hard, especially when that group is the über-popular New Kids On The Block. Having sold 80 million records by 1994, the group disbanded, ostensibly because the members found themselves more interested in being men than “kids.” While Donnie Wahlberg started acting and Jonathan Knight went into real estate, the group’s two main soloists, Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre, struck out on their own, releasing several decently successful solo records. Knight’s 1999 self-titled debut did the best, with single “Give It To You” going platinum, but McIntyre’s 1999 record, Stay The Same, also did fairly well, especially considering he initially released it only via his website. Recorded with McIntyre’s own money, Stay The Same ultimately sold a million copies worldwide and led to the former New Kid opening up for Britney Spears on tour. Still, the allure of a lot more money, power, and middle-aged screaming women proved too enticing, and the New Kids reunited in 2008, touring with another fellow teenybopper act, Backstreet Boys.

24. Daryl Hall, Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine (1986)
Daryl Hall’s first solo album, a collaboration with Robert Fripp, was recorded in 1977 but not released until three years later (as Sacred Songs), because his label thought the music was so uncommercial that it would damage the momentum he was beginning to enjoy with his partner, John Oates. Almost a decade later, Hall & Oates had become a hit-making machine, and Hall struck out on his own with Three Hearts In The Happy Ending Machine, a solo album as overblown, prolix, and sprawling as the best parts of Sacred Songs were soft-spoken, elliptical, and precise. (For a start, just compare the titles.) At the time, the album was widely taken as an unofficial announcement that Hall & Oates had broken up, but the commercial and critical response were underwhelming, and two years later the duo put out another new album, Ooh Yeah! Although they would continue to perform and record together, they never again approached anything like the commercial dominance they had enjoyed a few years earlier—which, as unseemly as it is to take a record company’s side in these matters, might almost make a person wonder if RCA hadn’t had a point back in 1977.

25. Nickel Eye, The Time Of The Assassins (2009)
26. Julian Casablancas, Phrazes For The Young (2009)
27. Albert Hammond Jr., Yours To Keep (2007)
When The Strokes went on a break in late 2006, its members were perhaps the teensiest bit excited to do other things. Most of them released music with vaguely Strokes-reminiscent licks, yet slightly tweaked: Frontman Julian Casablancas threw in a ’70s electronic vibe and Albert Hammond Jr. slowed his roll waaaay down. Nikolai Fraiture’s Nickel Eye went rogue, stripping the Strokes sound down for parts. Each side project produced a few memorable songs, but nothing that congealed into something as tangible as The Strokes’ excellent 2001 debut, Is This It, or its not-bad follow-up, Room On Fire. The band got back together in 2009 for the refreshing and cocksure Angles, but this time Casablancas removed himself from the recording process, sending in his vocals from self-isolation. So perhaps not everyone was excited about this inevitable reunion, but they all did it anyway.

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