Some musicians go solo and do the same damn thing they were doing in their band. Others spread their wings and put out amazing music that sounds nothing like anything they've ever done before and solidifies them as artists of the highest caliber.
Others try the latter, but should've gone with the former, because their attempts at branching out and carving out their own identity were on par with Michelangelo trying to carve out David's penis using just his fists. For instance ...
#5. Aaron Lewis of Staind Is a Redneck Country Boy
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You Know Him As:
The bald ugly dude from Staind, a nu-metal band whose biggest claim to fame is probably getting discovered by Fred Durst, another bald ugly dude, and then promptly offending him with the Satanic imagery on their debut album. Guess being bald and ugly has its limits after all.
They're love songs, really.
But on His Own:
Out of all the ugly, pissed-off nu-metal singers, Aaron Lewis has the prettiest voice. So much so, in fact, that he launched an acoustic-heavy solo side project. But this isn't just Aaron Lewis and his guitar -- this is Aaron Lewis, his guitar, his favorite pair of jeans, his muddy pickup truck, his guns, and his chew-stained shit kickers. Yes, Aaron Lewis is a stereotypical country bumpkin redneck.
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Southern Mass. It still counts.
Aaron the Cable Guy isn't exactly reinventing the genre, either. Without even hearing "Granddaddy's Gun," you already know what it's like. Slide guitar, pseudo-Southern twang, Old Glory, fishin', and pearls of wisdom such as "A gun's like a woman, son, it's all in how you hold her." That line is so old, they found a version of it in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Apparently, Lewis' grandpa bought a gun and passed it on to Lewis (because fuck his own kid), and now Lewis is planning to pass it along to his grandson (because fuck his own kids, too). Of course, you never see Lewis shoot a gun in the video, and I can't find any footage of him shooting one ever. Still, simply talking about it is more than enough for Wayne LaPierre to crank this shit up to 11 while furiously jerking off in the dark.
This wasn't just a one-off vanity single, either; Lewis made a whole album to shake your honky-tonk badonkadonk to. The standout song (in much the same way a guy with two teeth stands out in a crowd of people with just one) is probably "Country Boy," a declarative anthem about how he's very much a down-home bumpkin that Hollywood never could change. They tried to whiten his teeth! They wanted him to smile! They probably didn't do any of those things!
#4. Peter Criss of KISS Loves Soft Rock and Lite White-Boy Funk
You Know Him As:
The Ringo of KISS, which is amazing since that stupid band didn't have a John, a Paul, or a George. Just a pile of paint and fake blood, mixed with a catchy riff or two here and there.
But on His Own:
When kept away from Gene Simmons, giant boots, and towers of unplugged amps, Peter Criss turns out to be very much into lite rock and goopy balladry. He isn't so much a knight in Satan's service as he is a gentle, spoony bard traveling the kingdom looking to woo the maidens fair with his Lute of Loveliness.
Your grandma could listen to this and it wouldn't even make her a cool grandma.
Solo Criss is cheesy, schmaltzy, and depressingly bland. While he had already recorded "Beth," a Bic-waving power ballad that introduced the band to sterile dentist offices everywhere, that alone didn't mean much. Every rocker gets sappy once. Criss made the sap even sappier and turned it into a second goddamn career.
"Don't You Let Me Down" is Criss' way of saying, "I wanna rock and roll all night, except the neighbors are sleeping so I'll just hum quietly until 9 p.m." His Casio is set to Ballad Stack the entire time, and the guitar is so light and fluffy, it would make a unicorn puke baby bunnies. On the other hand, his backing singers sure can "oooh" with the best of them.
But Criss doesn't limit himself to music so goopy it makes "Beth" sound like Cannibal Corpse. Sometimes he gets funky funky fresh! Take "Tossin' and Turnin'." The intro almost sounds like KISS, but then the bored backup singers from Eric Clapton's vanillafication of "I Shot the Sheriff" arrive, helping Criss dive straight into "weird, soulless Tom Jones" territory.
His brass section, which is supposed to be loose, lively, and full of joy, is so supremely stiff, even the drunkest of wedding guests would immediately sober up and sit down if they heard it. And of course there's a cowbell. It provides a steady beat and requires no skill -- what else could the drummer from KISS ask for?
Also, make your own damn "fever for cowbell" reference. I want nothing to do with anything that cornball and overdone.
#3. Lauryn Hill Sells Us Sloppy Folk Songs, Never Makes Them Better
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You Know Her As:
The only member of Fugees with talent, sexuality, and a criminal record.
But on Her Own:
Hill has two solo albums. The first one, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is a masterpiece and won't be mocked here at all. Its success is likely due to Hill taking what worked as a Fugee and making it 10 times better.
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Of course it didn't hurt dumping Whatshisname and Wyclefsomething.
Her 2002 follow-up, the double album MTV Unplugged No. 2.0, saw her trying her hand at acoustic folk music. It failed on just about every count. She came to the show with her guitar, intending to showcase her skills on a slew of brand-new songs. That would have been fine, except for two minor issues:
1. She could barely play guitar.
2. The songs ate more than the guest of honor at the Kevin Spacey Never-Ending Buffet.
Hill's new songs all sounded the same, so much so that even AC/DC got bored after a couple tracks. Her formula required extra-long tunes, incredibly basic structures (two chords, three if she felt inspired), zero melody, and obtuse lyrics that she might well have been making up on the fly. In addition, her vocals were strained at best -- in small doses, you can chalk that up to pure emotion, since Hill clearly knows how to sing. After 106 minutes of feels-based croaking, however, somebody should've thrown her into a warehouse full of tissues and told her not to return until she was finally ready to sing "Killing Me Softly."
My theory is that these messy, simplistic jingles were actually rough drafts that Hill hadn't quite finalized yet. Normally, getting a sneak peek like that is a lot of fun, as long as you balance it out with actual completed material to remind your audience that you still know what you're doing. But Hill based an entire album on these sneak peeks, spanned it over two discs, and then charged people double money for it. Twelve years later, we've yet to hear any completed tracks. So either I'm wrong and she lost it after one album, or I'm right and she's lazy as shit.