Saturday, May 21, 2011

He got caught in the spotlight (The Band)

Mark Beaumont recently posted on solo albums (featured on the Guardian's music blog). It was a really interesting post and was of the moment as I began listening to James Labrie's two solo albums. Neither of which I was aware of before I saw them at the Virgin Megastore in Dubai.
James is (I'm pretty sure the use of present tense is still right) the lead vocals man in the progressive rock outfit called Dream Theater (sic) for the uninitiated. I love Dream Theater's meaty metallic way with a prog structure. They are blessed with a fantastic guitarist and drummer (the necessary building blocks) and James has a great vocal range. So why would James do some solo albums? Maybe to branch off into another musical genre?

From the Beaumont post:

Time was, if a band's vocalist put out a solo album it meant only one thing: irreconcilable differences, singer and guitarist chewing each other's throats out over who slept with who's girlfriend, the beginning of the end of the band. Lennon released his first Plastic Ono Band single in August 1969 and the Beatles were toast within the year. Phil Collins and Bryan Ferry snuck off from their Genesis and Roxy Music motherships to build the groundwork for solo careers over some years, but ultimately it was the Other Blokes who got sidelined. And in pop the practice was even more mercenary – at least BeyoncĂ© gave her Destiny's Child brethren a farewell album and tour after the success of Dangerously in Love proved her the golden goose of the group. No such luck, The Rest of Boyzone.

The solo album was invariably a toe-dip into the murky pool of individual success, and if the waters were found welcoming, the singer dived in. But of late there's been a shift in attitude; solo albums have become legitimate pressure valves for singers' creative steam. Inspired by autonomic US collectives such as the Wu-Tang Clan or Animal Collective – where solo projects went hand-in-hand with group releases – the past 18 months has seen a positive glut of solo albums. Brandon Flowers, Julian Casablancas, Kele Okereke, Interpol's Paul Banks and Maximo Park's Paul Smith have all put out their own records while insisting their band is merely "on a break", and in the coming months Noel Gallagher, J Mascis and ex-Rascals and Last Shadow Puppets linchpin Miles Kane join the lone ranger ranks.
But why so many singers nipping off from their bands for a crafty solo album on the side? ...the most common reason is a fear of creative inertia or an inability to stop writing during down-time. After five years and three albums of solid touring and promotion, many bands crave a hefty dose of R&R, but frontmen, it seems, get itchy.
The most cynical view of the solo album, however, remains the mercenary front-person considering the shelf-life of their band and the attention span of their audience and deciding to cut loose the dead wood while they're still popular. And that, surely, signposts the end of the band?

Beaumont didn't include James Labrie in his list but he might have. Frankly, though, I'm puzzled. I really like James' first solo album - Elements of Persuasion. Only thing is it sounds just like Dream Theater. He's drafted in some other players who sound awfully like his mates in the mothership. Why couldn't he record with them? The songs are similar - he sounds the same: no acoustic folk or jazz stylings; no urban beats or synth washes here - just great sounding prog rock.

I could add any of the solo tracks to a mix tape with Dream Theater and defy anyone to tell the difference.

That's not a bad thing, just a weird thing. Wonder what the the other guys in the band think? Or are they off doing 'their own thing'  which sounds exactly like the band thing as well?

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