From David Bowie to Liam Gallagher: The failed projects from great artists
Whilst on the outside, it may seem like there’s a flock of artists who don’t know how to make a bad record, a run of creativity that seemingly appears as though everything they touch instantly turns to gold. Once these artists are removed from the environment that has given them such great rich successes, they can fly or fall flat on their feet.
For those artists that have been working within the music industry for large sections of their life, and have been a part of projects that they are not entirely proud of, it comes as little surprise that they would rather leave it behind in the past. When artists step outside of their comfort zone, it is truly a flight or fight moment. Whilst many musicians never look back when forming a side-project, one which allows a renewed vigour for their craft, it doesn’t always end in such a rosy way.
Not everyone who has jumped ship has ended up with a glittering solo career that sits beautifully alongside their band and allows them to have two different bows to their artistry. While Damon Albarn is the perfect example of how this is done properly, not only can headline festivals around the globe with both Blur and Gorillaz, but this duality allows him to express two different sides of himself with his two bands.
On top of that, Albarn also enjoyed a stellar solo career, and The Good, The Bad & The Queen was another successful venture that allowed the singer to link up with Tony Allen, The Clash’s Paul Simonon and The Verve’s Simon Tong. However, few people have a CV that’s reminiscent of Albarn’s and, in this feature, we will look at some rare missteps from your favourite artists.
Eight failed projects from great artists:
David Bowie / Tin Machine
On 31st May 1989, David Bowie would add to his long line of musical revelations when introducing the world to his new band Tin Machine at the International Music Awards. Bowie’s attempt at fronting a group would never really match his solo work and, in the end, would leave him rather unsatisfied. Tin Machine was ordinary, not a word that one would ever associate with Bowie.
Bowie forming a group had the potential to be an unstoppable force, but the group’s democratic process tamed him, and when he was on-stage with Tin Machine, he was no enigma. The project was a back-to-basics project for Bowie, but he was never basic in the first place, and it took his sparkle away. Following the group’s dispersion in 1991, Bowie would go back to being the solo artist who had full control over his destiny and didn’t have bandmates holding him back from greatness.
Liam Gallagher / Beady Eye
Following the split of Oasis, Liam Gallagher found himself in no man’s land both personally and professionally. He immediately formed Beady Eye following with his bandmates but sans Noel Gallagher and the project was doomed for failure from the start. The band released two albums together before calling it a day back in 2014. Of course, he has since gone on to rediscover his magnificence by going solo and having time out of the music business for the first time in his adult life.
Opening up about the spit in 2017, Gallagher told The Guardian: “The last album we put out, that was the first album I’ve ever put out in America when we only did one gig for it. That got under my skin. We got asked to do Coachella, but apparently, we couldn’t afford to go out there. I was like: ‘I’ll pay for us to go out there and once we’re out there we’ll do some gigs.'”
Gallagher added: “Gem had hurt his head and I’d had my divorce, but the best place to be is on the road. Anyway, there were no gigs going down. So I thought to myself: ‘Maybe it’s just not happening, maybe it’s just not connecting.’ And then Andy got a call that he was gonna do his Ride thing, which was fine, but I thought: ‘You know what, I’m not sitting around.’ So I went: ‘Tell you what, go and do Ride and I think we should just call it a day.'”
Jimmy Page / XYZ and The Firm
The 1980s were an odd time for jimmy Page as he dipped his toes into several different rivers to discover what he wanted to do following Led Zeppelin’s split. The first of his ventures in the 1980s would be in 1981 with the short-lived supergroup XYZ with ex-Yes members Chris Squire and Alan White — but they would split before the same year.
He then founded The Firm, who was active from 1984 until 1986 and featured Free’s frontman Chris Rodgers with whom he released two records. However, Jimmy Page’s presence alone wasn’t enough to make these records anything but a forgettable footnote on his career. The two albums were almost universally panned at the time. However, although The Firm wasn’t a huge success, it helped Page fall back in love with the art of performing and then venture upon a solo career.
Audioslave were a huge commercial success and certainly was far from a failure under that barometer. However, there was something undeniably clunky about Rage Against The Machine without Zach De La Rocha’s powerhouse and instead replaced by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. Whilst all these four men weren’t short on talent by any stretch of the imagination, they both felt kneecapped compared to working with Rage Against The Machine and Soundgarden respectively.
Although millions undoubtedly adore the fusion of sounds they concocted together, the question remains if this would be the case if it wasn’t for their huge star power. In 2007, Cornell announced his departure from the group, stating: “Due to irresolvable personality conflicts as well as musical differences, I am permanently leaving the band Audioslave. I wish the other three members nothing but the best in all of their future endeavors.” The band would reunite for one performance in 2017 to oppose Donald Trump, just a matter of months before Cornell’s tragic death.
Mick Jagger / SuperHeavy
SuperHeavy is the name for Mick Jagger’s 2011 project that saw him line-up alongside Joss Stone, A.R. Rahman, Dave Stewart and Damian Marley. They made a rock, soul, reggae, Indian pop fusion record that sounds as bizarre on a stereo as on paper. Jagger said of the band at the time, “We wanted a convergence of different musical styles. We were always overlapping styles, but they were nevertheless separate.”
The album was largely slammed by critics who couldn’t for the life of them understand what the record was trying to be. However, Mick Jagger has earned the rights to form a left-field supergroup and make a weird record that blends all these cultures and sounds under one roof. The album was intended to be a fun-filled side-project for Jagger, nothing more and nothing less. It allowed Jagger to experiment outside of the world of blues that he’s been living in with The Rolling Stones since 1962 and everyone else got to say they made an album with Mick Jagger. However, it’s probably best that we don’t get a second album from SuperHeavy anytime soon.
Keith Moon’s only solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, is looked upon negatively and it’s hard to disagree. The covers album featuring some rather poignant moments that allow Moon to express another side to himself, but, that’s not Keith Moon, and he’s best placed behind a drumkit rather than in front of the mic.
The Who drummer’s 1975 solo effort made him the final member of the group to release their own album with John Entwistle already releasing Smash Your Head Against the Wall, Roger Daltrey released his hit album Daltrey, and Pete Townshend had worked on several Meher Baba tribute albums as well as the demo compilation Who Came First.
Keith Moon is arguably the finest figure to ever step behind a drum kit, and, admittedly, is not remembered for his angelic voice. The record was panned when upon release, which seems fair enough as the album didn’t even see Moon attempt to write his material and instead covered an eclectic collection of tracks that lacked coherency.
The impact that The Stone Roses had on British culture is remarkable, even though their output would only see them release two records, they are one of the most important acts in British history. While the band and their collective approach to the music industry inspired countless other groups, a lot of what makes them great can be attributed to the magical fingers of John Squire. However, he floundered with his next band as The Seahorses proved.
Although Squire was the special ingredient that made The Stone Roses tick when he didn’t have Mani, Reni and Ian Brown beside him, he wasn’t the same guitar wizard. In the wake of him leaving the Roses, the guitarist decided to form his new band The Seahorses with three previously unknown musicians. While there was vast intrigue into his latest musical venture, unfortunately, the band never quite hit the heights that Squire’s fans expected of them. Their only album, Do it Yourself, was released in 1997 and two years later The Seahorses disbanded due to creative differences, a common theme throughout Squire’s uncompromising career.
Following The Streets’ split in 2011, Mike Skinner couldn’t think of anything worse than getting back behind the mic and instead switched it up by becoming a producer. He formed his new band, The D.O.T., alongside former lead singer of The Music, Rob Harvey, who was also part of his live-band with The Streets. Although both men had already had successful careers, their collaborative project may have been creatively freeing, but that’s where the triumph ended.
They released their debut album, And That, in 2012, then the band followed up the following year with, Diary. Both albums failed to chart, and they were playing tiny venues together during their tenure. However, after the pressure of carrying The Streets for a decade, perhaps this is exactly why Mike Skinner formed the project, and it allowed him to take a step out of the limelight.