5 Famous Musicians Who Went Solo (and Insane)
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 ...
Aaron Lewis of Staind Is a Redneck Country Boy
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.
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!
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.
Lauryn Hill Sells Us Sloppy Folk Songs, Never Makes Them Better
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.
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.
Keith Moon of the Who Did Drunken Karaoke, Forgot He Was a Drum God
You Know Him As:
The reason nobody in the Who can hear anymore.
But on His Own:
Moon, an undisputed drum god, could've just recorded a bunch of drum instrumentals, and it would've panned out perfectly. Instead, he got drunk, hit "record," butchered other people's music, and sold it as Two Sides of the Moon. Instead of everything panning out perfectly, everything was just plain panned.
His bare ass is on the back cover, but that's on you to research.
Here's the whole album, in case you ever run out of ways to torture yourself. For reasons that all suspiciously stink of gin, one of the greatest drummers of all time chose to barely drum, instead recruiting EIGHT different people to bang for him. That's like a world-class chef opening his own restaurant and hiring middle school lunch ladies to make everything while he sits back and samples the sherry.
On the rare tracks where he deigns to drum, you can tell, because it actually sounds decent. Until he sings, that is. Even though he openly admitted that he couldn't sing, he does so anyway, and drunkenly to boot. His pitch is worse than the Chicago Cubs, and his version of "In My Life" is so awful, you'll despise the Beatles by mere association.
Nobody liked the album, even ironically. This wasn't just because it was glorified karaoke performed by the most blitzed guy at the bar, but because of who the blitzed guy was. Keith fucking Moon turning in an amateur, uncreative, and unprofessional album that didn't play to anything resembling his strengths was sad for all. As critic Roy Carr told him, "Moonie, if you didn't have talent, I wouldn't care; but you have, which is why I'm not about to accept Two Sides of the Moon."
And yet, because the music industry will jump at any chance to make even a piddling bit of cash, the rock and roll equivalent of a class valedictorian forgetting how to spell "cat" saw TWO rereleases, in 1997 and 2006. Nobody gave a shit either time, in what will go down in history as the one and only time a record company ever made a mistake.
Stewart Copeland of the Police Stumbled Through African Tribal Music
You Know Him As:
The other guy from the Police. Stewart Copeland was the band's drummer, which meant he was the first to be forgotten once his good-looking bassist eclipsed the band and EE-YO-OH'd his way to fame and fortune.
Not a re-enactment.
But on His Own:
Due to a vague "desire to study the roots of music," Stewart Copeland put out an entire album of African tribal music. Called The Rhythmatist, you don't hear Copeland sing much, if at all. Sting never letting him do so while in the Police suggests that this is probably a good thing.
So what does he do? He drums over African chants supplied by other people. Y'know, actual Africans. If the tribe that made the music released this under their name, everything would've been peachy. But since they didn't, we're stuck with this guy ...
... selling his peachy ass as a traditional African dancey dude.
The album kicks off with "Brazzaville," which rambles on for about a minute before Copeland finally gets his drum kit set up. This means that the Stewart Copeland album starts with no Stewart Copeland. It's the best part of the album.
Shortly thereafter, we get a traditional African sitar, because there's America, and then there's Everything Else. Why not a didgeridoo, too? Let's just stick all the world's instruments into one clusterfuck of a record and call it "Pangaea Rock."
It gets even stupider, thanks to the video for "Koteja (Oh Bolilla)," where Copeland casts himself as the cream-filling life of the chocolate cookie party and thoroughly embarrasses himself in the process. He dances (kind of), crashes an ancient ceremony and gets away with it because he promised to leave immediately after (he lied), and showed the natives how keyboards work, in case they ever get bored with real instruments.
Finally, the smartest people in the village realize Copeland really shouldn't be there and chase him around the block with pain on their minds and bloodlust in their eyes. He escapes by turning left, a cunning strategy no silly tribal man had ever thought about before. If only that album could have done the same thing to people with functioning ears.
Jason interviews, edits, columns, and lays stuff out for Cracked. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.