Flip Through

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Conglomerations and side projects

Supergroup: n. a) term used to describe music groups consisting of members who have already achieved fame, either as solo artists or as members of another group. b) any band Eric Clapton has ever been a part of.

Everyone has at least one supergroup in their record collection. Admit it. You're listening to Roger the Engineer right now, aren't you? No? How about Fresh Cream? Damn Yankees? Please don't let it be Mary Star of the Sea.

Every genre has its supergroups. The only question is, what the heck's the point of them? Ego-boosting? Ego-casting? Why on Earth would Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton feel the need to make music together? Aren't they great enough on their own? Certainly. Who told Stone Gossard to release an album with Chris Cornell? Don't these people realize that too much talent on one record can cause fans' heads to explode? But enough complaining about virtuosoes. I suppose I whine because I have no musical talent whatsoever, and don't understand the need of guitar gods to hang out together and make everyone else look bad. Let's peer at a few of these beauties in particular, and a few subcategories too.

Never heard of them? Shame on you. Possibly the first supergroup, Traveling Wilburys only contained every major musical figure of the 1960s and 70s. George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne were the brotherly sojourners of the name, and they rocked. Their first album, Traveling Wilburys Volume 1, was composed and recorded in ten days straight, and immediately after its release became one of Rolling Stone's top 100 albums of all time. Plus, they tried to get the orphans of Romania some much-needed attention with the 1990 single "Nobody's Child". Essential track: "Handle With Care" (Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1)

Yeah, they count. Alcatrazz had possibly the greatest classic metal lineup of all time, including Graham Bonnet, Jan Uvena, Yngwie Malmsteen, and after Malmsteen's departure, Steve Vai. Come on. Could they have rocked any harder? Probably not. Described by Bonnet as 'the thinking man's metal', they released five albums in as many years, and managed to score a hit which mocked MTV ("God Blessed Video") on the way. Essential track: "Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live" (No Parole from Rock'n'Roll)

Now, don't look at me that way. A collaboration between the inimitable Steve Albini of Big Black and Scratch Acid's rhythm section, David William Sims and Rey Washam, Rapeman was the supergroup of the underground--angry, sonically grating, unapologetically incorrect, and so good. Bonus!--they named one of their EPs for R. Budd Dwyer. The band's performances were often the target of feminist protests, who for some reason took offense at the band's name or music or maybe just at Albini for the mere fact of his existence. No worries; it just adds to the flavor. Essential track: "Trouser Minnow" (Two Nuns and a Pack Mule)

I know, I don't like them either, but A Perfect Circle are proof that the supergroup dynamic lives on (or, I guess, that musicians will always be egotists). With a rotating lineup of Maynard James Keenan, Twiggy Ramirez, James Iha, Josh Freese, Tim Alexander and Paz Lenchantin (among others), A Perfect Circle is the alt-rock girl's wet dream. Their second album Thirteenth Step managed to hit the #2 spot on Billboard within its premiere week, and certified gold less than a month later. Their third album, eMOTIVe, was a bunch of political cover songs. What more could you want? Essential track: "Sleeping Beauty" (Mer de Noms)

Of all the musical genres, grunge seems to be top-heavy with supergroups. Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, Mad Season, Zwan, Eyes Adrift, Mother Love Bone, and even Nirvana and Velvet Revolver all fall into this strange, interbred little category. Mark Arm of Mudhoney had an interesting take on the grunge scene in general--that its close-knit style was all due to everyone involved being on MDA. Lovefest takeover! I guess the grunge guys just couldn't keep their guitars off one another. In any case, some of these incestuous collectives were better than others--leave Audioslave to the eighth-grade suburban set, put Zwan out to sea where it belongs, download Eyes Adrift, and if you can, find a copy of Mad Season's lone album Above and treasure it.

Perhaps it's an oxymoronic term, but I say they exist. Groups like The Yardbirds, Yes, Genesis, and Cream can all be classified as retroactive supergroups. Sure, Jimmy Page wasn't famous when The Yardbirds actually existed under that title, but everyone knows who he is now, right? Maybe Peter Gabriel would rather not be associated with what Genesis became, but the fact remains that before Phil Collins mucked things up with his sweet'n'low pomp rock gloss, Gabriel was making music like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. (On a related note, Jon Anderson of Yes auditioned to sing for Genesis.) It's unfortunately true that when Cream was an entity, people might have asked, Ginger Baker who? but by the time Blind Faith rolled around, everyone knew who was behind that drumkit.

I rest my case. Supergroups baffle me. I love some of them and I hate some of them, but mostly, I just can't see the point.
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