A supergroup is a difficult project to make a success of. The work of previous band members overshadows any new material, and although it brings a ready-made fan base, it also brings unreasonably high expectations. Not only that, those that make up the new band might have similarly unreasonably high opinions of themselves - the idea that anything they put out will automatically be great. However, adapting previously successful formulas to an entirely new band with new personnel is a process fraught with difficulty, and often the only success is in putting out some truly awful music.
I write this article because I am excited by three albums supergroups are threatening to put out this year - the Thom Yorke/Flea project Atoms For Peace, the frankly ridiculous sounding Mastodon/Dillinger Escape Plan/Jane's Addiction/Mars Volta amalgamation that is Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, and the unnamed recently announced project presumably put together by the jealous members of DEP and Mastodon, Greg Puciato and Troy Sanders. I want these albums to be good. I really do. Given the caliber of musicians involved, they should be genre-defining records. But they will almost certainly be terrible. By way of tempering my expectations, here are three recent failures featuring personnel that you would expect to be capable of, I don't know, writing something vaguely good.
How was this not good? The entire backing band responsible for some of the most impressively chugging, rolling-demolition rock and metal riffs of the last two decades, in three-quarters of Rage Against the Machine, and the ironclad vocal beltings of Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, who was yet to commit career suicide with his Timbaland-produced solo effort. It could have been RATM for those who balked at a rap/rock crossover. It could have been the logical conclusion of rock in the 1990s. It could have been something that didn't end up sounding like an uninspired Led Zeppelin discovering loop pedals and then going home for the day.
For a time period somewhere in between five minutes and a month, Audioslave were treated like the second coming. And then when the excitement at the opening riff to "Cochise" wore off, the general public suddenly realized that, really, Tom Morello's effects pedal wasn't enough to carry an entire album characterized by Cornell hollering into a vortex of repetitive riffs. The only thing this album proved is that RATM's style really was suited to rap. Second single "Like A Stone" was the most ironically named single since Hole's "Awful", and the second album came and went with barely a whimper.
2. Everything Slash Has Been In Since Guns and Roses
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While Audioslave seemed to be a project based on a firm footing of musical ability, Slash's ventures since leaving G&R were a predictable disaster. Slash's Snakepit, a band that may as well have been called Fuck You Axl!, was definitive proof, if it were needed, that Slash was not the songwriter he hoped he was, and then worlds of ego collided in the form of Velvet Revolver, with other disenfranchised G&R members and Scott Weiland, of all people.
The second they named their new project The Project, you could tell it was going to be awful. Is this the only project that matters, Slash? Is it? The oxygen of judgment-free hype was pursued in the form of a VH1 documentary, and the eventual name, Velvet Revolver, simply expresses the sort of conceptual ineptitude that was to follow. I mean, a velvet revolver wouldn't even work, would it? The components would be hopelessly lightweight. It's like calling your band Polystyrene Bazooka. Their career followed a similar path to Audioslave's, however - excitement at the new project of famous rock musicians, followed by fans hearing the music and going "oh. Oh dear." The less said about Slash's Superbowl appearance, the better.
I am firmly of the opinion that Zwan are one of the worst things that ever happened. See, you'd forgotten about them until now, hadn't you? You'd repressed the memory of Billy Corgan hiring talented guitarists simply so he could push them down the mix and weep at the sheer emotive power of his own guitar playing, possibly while looking into a mirror as said guitarists brought him food they'd cooked. That's because repressed memories are the only answer to the damage done by this album. It should have killed Corgan's career stone-dead.
In case you've repressed it so effectively that you've no idea what I'm talking about, have a look at Zwan's video for "Lyric". Look at that hat and scarf combo Corgan is sporting. Look at the fact that he is literally leading all the talented musicians he hired out of the dark at the start of the video. Cry at the fact that one of those musicians is David Pajo, who could out-solo Corgan using only his teeth. Just listen with the sound off.
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Even Corgan can't stand the album any more, and his favorite possession is probably a photo album featuring only him, with everyone else cropped out of every single photo. Here's what the lead songwriter and man responsible for recruitment said about Zwan recently.
"Thousands of lies upon lies upon lies. I'll never go anywhere near those people. Ever. I mean, I detest them. You can put that in capital letters."
I'm not sure anyone else in Zwan is disappointed by that result.