Spin-offs aren’t always great, are they. For every ‘Frasier’ there’s a Joey, for every ‘Mork and Mindy’ there’s a ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’. The same is true of music: side-projects and offshoots are rarely remembered as fondly as the originals, whether that’s Ringo Starr’s solo albums or Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Still, there are some exceptions. This week we look at artists whose second career yielded some commercial and critical acclaim.
Gene Clark, ‘White Light’ (link)
The first album from the Byrds’ main songwriter credited to him alone (there had been three collaborative albums before it), this is an okay but not especially varied collection of country-ish songs built predominantly around the acoustic guitar and harmonica. Perhaps Clark was playing it safe, perhaps just finding his feet, but either way the more diverse sounds of ‘No Other‘ feel more interesting to me.
Holger Czukay, ‘Movies’ (link)
Oddly titled ‘Movie’ on Spotify, this is a predictably eccentric album from the former Can bassist/tape operator, who expands his role here to play keyboards and guitar and sing in a reedy, accented falsetto. It combines arty rock with samples of dialogue and other sounds: a 70s Avalanches, perhaps. It’s interesting to hear once at least. Czukay worked with Brian Eno on a 1977 track, but it’s odd that they didn’t collaborate beyond that: they seem like they’d have been kindred spirits. Sadly, we lost Czukay last year, aged 79.
Donald Fagen, ‘The Nightfly’ (link)
Fagen’s first solo album and only solo appearance on the list came after the split of Steely Dan but features many of the same musicians and engineers they’d been working with. ‘The Nightfly’ is apparently popular with audiophiles: it’s got the sort of clarity of production that you’d want from a speaker system demonstration, but it’s also been made by soft-rock musicians in the early 1980s and it shows. Predominantly based around electric piano, synth and harmonies, there’s something anodyne about it, rarely suggesting it’ll throw up any challenges or threats.
Gorillaz, ‘Gorillaz’ (link)
Recorded in 19/2000… wait, in 1998-2000, this unsurprisingly doesn’t sound too far removed from the post-‘The Great Escape’ era of Blur; in fact, with the grab bag of world music influences, melodica, simple acoustic guitar and fairground organ, it’s immediately recognisable as Damon Albarn even before he starts yelping “she turned my dad on!” over the top of it. Despite being a Blur fan, I never completely warmed to Gorillaz (I’ve heard ‘Plastic Beach’ and ‘Humanz’ too): alas, I haven’t been won over here. The cartoon characters play no part on the record (no skits or anything).
Paul McCartney & Wings, ‘Band on the Run’ (link)
The band the Beatles could’ve been only feature on the list once (there’s a McCartney solo record too). Recorded during turbulent sessions in Nigeria – two of the band left before they even got there, the studio was no good, the McCartneys were robbed at knifepoint, Fela Kuti turned up to confront the band about cultural appropriation – there’s little evidence of the troubles on the record, which mostly sounds upbeat. The best thing here is the many shifting sections of the title track; much of the rest is undone by McCartney’s tendencies to write blandly nice songs and/or his self-conscious attempts to push against that.
Rocket From The Crypt, ‘Scream, Dracula, Scream!’ (link)
RFTC’s appearances on British TV plugging dumb genius lead off single ‘On A Rope’ occupy a space in my mind somewhere between Andrew WK’s ‘Party Hard’ and the Glam Metal Detectives’ ‘Everybody Up!’ (by the way the latter, a novelty song from a BBC2 sketch show, is a lot worse than I remembered). The feeling that they were at the very least a semi-ironic take on Alice Cooper’s 70s stuff isn’t completely dissipated by the album, although it’s good fun and at least it doesn’t sound like Goldblade. RFTC only just count as a spin-off; slightly preceded by Swami/Speedo’s Drive Like Jehu, the bands mostly existed simultaneously and he treated them equally.
Tom Tom Club, ‘Tom Tom Club’ (link)
While David Byrne occupied himself with ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghosts’, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth found themselves at a loose end, which they resolved by working on a side-project of their own. It’s an unusual combination of Afrobeat, dance music and the wayward guitar of future King Crimson and Nine Inch Nails guitarist Adrian Belew, who adds an unpredictable edge. It feels like a breath of fresh air 37 years later; it must have sounded great in 1981.
Next week: we’ll be looking at some of the best artists in the animal kingdom!
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