Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Totally pointless ramblings - The impact of departures and split ups

 I found myself looking through random news articles on the other day, because now that my prelims are over, I need to find some way to occupy my time. I ended up finding an interesting article published in December about Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor stating that the legendary and influential was questioning whether he and Taylor should or shouldn't be performing under the moniker of Queen, having performed together on several occasions under the name following the death of iconic frontman Freddie Mercury and retirement of bassist John Deacon. The article made the suggestion that May and Taylor may work again making new music with a different band name perhaps with a chance to add newer elements to their sound. Of course, no visiting of a news article is complete without a thorough examination of the comments section. The general thoughts regarding this idea was that it was a good idea for the pair to do this. It would allow them to create new music and do whatever they want without any chance of ruining Queen's legacy and losing mass respect. After all, there have been recent things the pair have agreed on which has sparked backlash from fans, such as the album they recorded with Bad Company's Paul Rogers, which was pretty good, but may have worked better if the actual band wasn't credited as Queen. A better idea may have been to have used a different band name for that album, such as when the combination of three quarters of Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell became Audioslave when they collaborated together. There were also many reservations from fans regarding We Will Rock You, a musical based on the songs of Queen written by Ben Elton. It's a musical that awesome comedian Frankie Boyle referred to as "The Queen musical that causes cancer." I have seen it twice. But, I have to say, I agree with the general beliefs of that comment board. May and Taylor are iconic enough and if they did some new music with a new name, perhaps an album featuring various guest musicians a la Slash's 2010 album, or finding a permanent singer who has become highly respected in modern hard rock circles a la Slash's decision to record a new solo record featuring only Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy on vocals. I think it would definitely work out for the pair.

 The idea regarding the fact that changing their name would mean Queen's legacy would stay intact is an interesting one though. Because Queen are now such an iconic band with their music seen as widely influential and a place secured in any musical history books, it seems that now that the group can never be fully complete again, it should be left alone and not ruined by the risk of any crap albums that risk ruining the iconic legacy in a way that would be seen by fans as disrespectful to Freddie Mercury. And at this point, we're going to have to have an obligatory Metallica reference. Now, I  absolutely adore ...And Justice for All, The Black Album and am even partial to the Load material and was totally immersed by Death Magnetic but can you imagine just how much higher the levels of respectability and the legacy of Metallica would be if they had stopped performing under the name of Metallica following the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton following the release of Master of Puppets? People would simply agree that Metallica were godly, full stop. There'd be no cynical references to them "selling out" for The Black Album or any references to 2003's St. Anger or the truly atrocious and mentally scarring Lulu, their joint theatrical concept album with Lou Reed. Needless to say, I'm extremely glad Metallica did go on after Burton's death, that's just the kind of thing I'm on about here.

 However, with Metallica, the death of a member would be no real cause for a full break-up. Obviously the sadness of losing a friend would get in the way, but with Metallica, it's the songs that are iconic rather than the personalities of the members, so in that sense it is easy to replace members. Jesus, that sounds incredibly harsh. Obviously the talent of Cliff Burton was incredible and his influence is undeniable, but when we consider someone who is culturally iconic like Freddie Mercury, his powerful vocals, true sense of onstage showmanship and flamboyance made him a person of legend, making him truly irreplaceable in Queen. And sometimes, when an iconic member is replaced, lots of respect and popularity is lost for the remaining members. Let us look to a band less famous than Queen but truly iconic in the world of metal as an example of this. With their influential pairing of elements of the new style of groove metal and elements of death metal in the 1990s, Sepultura were instantly recognizable and respected in all circles of metal for their new style of music heard on 1993's Chaos A.D. and the iconic frontman Max Cavalera. All fans of modern metal are familiar with Cavalera and his deathly growling which effectively accentuates his deep Brazilian accent. (Sepultura are also viewed as majorly influential for being one of the first South American bands to bring metal to the masses.) Unsurprisingly, with his status as a metal icon cemented, after he left Sepultura in 1996 following arguments with drummer and brother Igor Cavalera for reasons to complicated to get into now, and was replaced by American singer Derrick Green, most fans decided Sepultura wasn't going to be the same without Max and their 1998 album Against received much lower sales than the self-titled debut from Max's new band, Soulfly. Since then, Igor has also left the band and made up with Max and every now and then, the two get together and thrash things out in side-project Cavalera Conspiracy. And while Sepultura remain together, they are very much a shadow of the band they used to be and have very little relevance anymore.

 And of course, a better and more wide-spread example of loss of respect and credibility coming from replacing iconic members after their departure is in the form of Axl Rose's decision to release a new album after sixteen years under the name of Guns N' Roses, even though he is the only remaining original member, returning with a band lineup in which the reasonably well known members were keyboardist Dizzy Reed who had spent some time in the group during the Use Your Illusion era (because when we look back at classic G N' R songs, we always remember how awesome the keyboards were!) and guitarist Tommy Stinson who was best known for his work in punk band The Replacements. And when they came out with the collection of sub-par industrial rock songs that is Chinese Democracy, many people were outraged that the name of Guns N' Roses, a name that by all respects represents wildness, sleaze and Hollywood hard rock should come out with something like this, when the iconic figures that truly made up Guns N' Roses like Slash and Duff McKagan weren't even around in the group. As Kerrang! described the actions of Axl Rose in making the album and touring it, along with a stream of onstage hissy-fits in 2010, including their infamous set at Reading festival, involving turning up an hour late, played in a truly lazy and sloppy manner and desperately played with acoustic guitars and megaphones and tried to get the spiteful crowd to rally in protest after the festival organisers cut their set short, as actions that effectively "pissed all over G N' R's legacy." By the way, Chinese Democracy really should have just been an "Axl Rose and friends" solo project. Note how typing "Gins N' Roses 2008" into Google images brings up no pictures of Rose posing with any new band members.

 Sometimes, rather than having various iconic individuals in groups that effectively represents the bands name, as Freddie Mercury did with Queen (chuckles) it is instead the togetherness of a group which is something seen as iconic and to see them fall apart would mean the band would never be able to stay intact. This is pretty common in the world of metal, the perfect example being in the most respected metal band Pantera without a doubt. The togetherness of Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown, Vinnie Paul and the late great Dimebag Darrell makes Pantera less of a group of musicians and more of a solidified, strong brotherhood. (Which of course exists in a literal sense with Dimebag and Vinnie being the Abbott brothers.) But simply Pantera were brothers. They were partners in crime and in metal. They were the Cowboys From Hell! Therefore after Anselmo abandoned the group, the Abbott brothers broke up the group in 2003 realising that no one in the group could possibly be replaced. However, the members of the group found continuous respect for their music after playing together under different names with different musicians, with Anselmo and Brown finding much success playing in sludge-metal supergroup Down and Dimebag and Vinnie gaining much success continuing Pantera's groove metal sound in Damageplan. After the monstrous on-stage murder of Dimebag in 2004, Damageplan split up for similar reasons regarding the sense of brotherhood and inability to go on without someone as legendary as Darrell Abbott. Needless to say, Phil Anselmo has claimed that Pantera will never do a reunion, stating that it would be "disrespectful" to go on without Dimebag.

 Now, there is a point here that Damageplan and Down while gaining respect have never had the same amount of success as Pantera and there is a point to be made that many bands after losing a key member by any way, many bands should continue as they are with a new member because that band has a certain anthem or a large fanbase and they can never go on any other way, using such bands as Journey, Thin Lizzy and KISS as examples. As well as Van Halen, who continued following the departure of iconic frontman David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar and at one point Gary Cherone, formerly of extreme. But doing this came at a cost. While they still had their anthems crafted with Roth intact the subsequent stream of albums were pretty awful. Until most recent offering A Different Kind of Truth, which is awesome. Because David Lee Roth is part of the group again. But this argument of keeping the band intact because of the departure of a key musician because you'll never successful otherwise is an argument I'm going to deny straight away solely due to the existence of the Foo Fighters. Rising from the ashes of Nirvana and the underground popularity of discovered demo tapes of then-former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, the band has risen to become the biggest rock band in the world today with Grohl becoming a true rock icon in his own right, and as there would be no Nirvana without Kurt Cobain, there would be no Foo Fighters without Dave Grohl.

 The only band that has replaced an iconic member with someone else that has been truly successful as a result that immediately comes to mind is Iron Maiden. Replacing former frontman Paul Di'Anno with the powerful melodically voiced Bruce Dickinson led to the release of the group's finest and most iconic work. Albums like The Number of the Beast, Powerslave, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Brave New World have all been created due to the iconic band fronting of Bruce Dickinson and bassist Steve Harris. The pair are now recognised as the faces of Iron Maiden whilst the only major recognition Di'Anno has received in recent times was when police recognized footage of him performing onstage without any signs of back pain that he claimed to have and was receiving benefits for. That's not cool in any way.

 The other time that replacing an iconic frontman with someone else... sort of worked with Black Sabbath from 1979 to 1982 after iconic frontman Ozzy Osbourne was fired for too much alcohol abuse and inability to come up with any new ideas for music and was replaced by Rainbow frontman, the late great Ronnie James Dio. With Dio, the band created the masterpiece Heaven and Hell, which saw the band drop their doom metal style for a more energetic upbeat take on the mainstream heavy metal style and had never sounded so alive on record before. But of course, there came the unavoidable protest towards this change of style from people who preferred the doom metal  they made with Ozzy. And as someone who is a massive fan of stoner rock and doom metal, I'll gladly state that I prefer the classic stuff with Ozzy, as amazing as their material with Dio is. Following reunions with Ozzy from 1999 to 2006, guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler and then drummer Vinny Appice were asked about making a compilation collection documenting their years with Dio that the four got together and expressed a desire for making some new music together and decided to tour and make music together again until Dio's diagnosis and death of stomach cancer. This time no fans of the original Sabbath lineup were annoyed, as the group adopted the name Heaven & Hell and their music did not become part of Sabbath's legacy. Although it certainly was good enough to be part of the legacy without annoying anyone. But, like Pantera many fans of Black Sabbath view the original line-up as being something special because of the way in which it was the four of them that created heavy metal together. What everyone wants is to see Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward playing together while they still have the chance.

 Which effectively brings me onto more current events. Bill Ward has recently gotten into the way of chances of this highly anticipated but seemingly doomed reunion of the full original lineup that was promised to the world last November. An air of negativity first got into the way of Sabbath doing a reunion tour and making a comeback album when the devastating news that Iommi had been diagnosed with Lymphoma, an early sign of throat cancer had been announced. But every sense of positivity also revealed itself when studio updates revealing Iommi's brimming positivity about making the album and touring in spite of his ordeal were emerged. However, now drummer Bill Ward has displayed a negativity towards taking part in this touring and recording due to being offered a contract he that he has deemed "unsignable", claiming that signing it would ruin his dignity and sense of freedom as a performer. Following this shocking announcement, the band have announced that if needs be, they will tour without Ward, thus shattering the promise of a full lineup reunion that so many metal fans were promised. As a result, a sense of bitterness and disappointment has been revealed with many people claiming that there's no point in seeing them now, as it won't be the original lineup and it won't carry the same sense of wonder and awe that it would if the full lineup were around. Truly, the power of an intact lineup is a considerable factor in a band.

 So, these are some thoughts and examples I present to you regarding the issue of band line-ups and the kind of stuff that happens if key members are removed whether it be due to fall-outs or deaths of key members that are deemed irreplaceable. For the most part it seems that creating music without them ruins the group's legacy and makes them less desirable as a result. While in some cases the replacement of a lead singer has worked out well, in many other cases, it's led to a major flop in terms of respectability and popularity. Anyways, as always with these posts of mine that aren't reviews, this has taken a lot longer to read and is of much less relevance. So, I hope reading this has effectively put you off doing more important things with your life and has cured a significant amount of boredom in your lives. Thanks for reading!

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