Browsing Tag

Robbie Williams

Career Killers: “Cyberpunk” by Billy Idol

As we’ve seen, bad concept albums can kill careers and destroy their creators in the time it takes to throw a CD into the garbage, send it to China to be used for road paving or sell it to a used record store for half-pennies on the dollar.

In Billy Idol’s case, it did that and then some. But it also set the stage for an interesting critical re-evaluation. Was 1993’s Cyberpunk, a bloated concept album about machines, technology and consumerism that also happened to be one of the first major studio releases recorded mostly on the computer, packaged with a floppy disk containing bonus content and marketed via the internet actually ahead of its time?

Yes, it was. Without question.

Content wise, Idol’s musings about technology proved to be prescient, while his recording and marketing methods established a blueprint that almost every artist of the mid-to-late 90s and early 00s would copy and emulate, right down to the bonus floppy (although CD and DVD-ROMs predictably replaced the floppy as the technology became more ubiquitous and affordable).

But that doesn’t mean the album is good or deserved to be successful. And it’s certainly no surprise that it ruined Billy Idol’s career.

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Career Killers: “Schizophrenic” by J.C. Chasez

When it comes to transitioning from a boyband to a successful solo career, the rule of Highlander is typically in effect: There can be only one.

In other words, boybands rarely produce multiple solo stars. For instance, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen both launched solo careers after the first Take That breakup, but neither of them made much of an impact – at least not compared to their fired colleague, Robbie Williams, who became one of the biggest pop stars of the 00’s. Nick Lachey and Jeff Timmons of 98 Degrees both released solo albums, but whereas the former had one big hit and one theme song that became fairly ubiquitous, I had to look up Wikipedia to remember the latter. Meanwhile, it might be too early to write One Direction’s epitaph, but it looks like Harry Styles is going to be the only real star to emerge from that group (sorry Zayn).

A couple of bands have bucked this rule. New Edition spawned multiple successful solo careers, but even then, only one member had more than one successful album. And of course, Michael Jackson completely eclipsed his brothers, something that, apparently, stuck in Jermaine’s craw – despite the fact that Jermaine managed a couple of gold albums and a handful of Top Ten singles.

So J.C. Chasez was already behind the 8-ball when he embarked on his solo career following NSYNC’s breakup. Bandmate Justin Timberlake had beaten him to the punch, releasing the popular and well-regarded Justified in 2002. That album, which would go on to be certified triple-platinum by the RIAA, was filled with infectious pop/R&B hits, funky beats and ear worms that allowed Timberlake to immediately establish himself as a solo superstar.

But if anyone could rise to the occasion, it was Chasez. The best singer in NSYNC and, possibly, out of all of the late 90’s/early 00’s boybands (Timberlake even admitted as much), Chasez had charisma, good looks, dancing chops and a proven track record. All he needed was to link up with the right producers and songwriters the way Timberlake had when he worked with the Neptunes and Timbaland for Justified and Chasez would be well-placed to break the Highlander curse.

Unfortunately for him, he recorded Schizophrenic.

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Career Killers: “Switch” by INXS

Plenty of bands choose to soldier on after the death of an iconic, seemingly-irreplaceable lead singer.

Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen went with established singers, touring and recording with Paul Rodgers of Bad Company fame before moving onto “American Idol” alum Adam Lambert. AC/DC took the opposite approach, hiring then-unknown Brian Johnson to replace Bon Scott. The Eagles did a bit of both, replacing Glenn Frey with country superstar Vince Gill, as well as novice musician and Frey’s own son, Deacon. Bands such as Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even the Grateful Dead have carried on in some form, with mixed results.

Other bands chose not to try and replace the irreplaceable. Nirvana broke up after Kurt Cobain died by suicide – as did Mother Love Bone following Andy Wood’s fatal heroin overdose (although two members of the band ended up forming Pearl Jam). The surviving members of The Doors continued as a trio after Jim Morrison’s death, releasing two uneven albums on their own before calling it a day. On the other hand, Chicago decided not to break up after Terry Kath’s death and became an adult-contemporary powerhouse under Peter Cetera in the 1980s. And perhaps the most famous example is New Order, which formed out of the ashes of Joy Division after frontman Ian Curtis’s death, and achieved more fame and success than its predecessor.

Then there are some bands that give it a go with new singers, only to flop badly, ruin their legacy and confirm to everyone that they should have just let their band die with their late vocalist.

INXS was one such band.

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Album Review: “As You Were” by Liam Gallagher

Somehow, Liam Gallagher is cool again.

The ex-Oasis and Beady Eye frontman has been on a charm-offensive to promote his solo debut album, As You Were. Whereas the man who used to be notorious for showing up to interviews drunk, high, or both while muttering monosyllabic answers (when he wasn’t shouting obscenities) that necessitated a real-time chav-to-English translator and an ever vigilant censor, Gallagher seems to have matured over these last few years. During his publicity tour for As You Were, Gallagher actually seems sober, funny, insightful and likable – much to the surprise of anyone that knows anything about him (this clip of him making tea is both hilarious and revealing). For instance, an actual headline from Esquire reads: “Liam Gallagher Is Trying Not to be a Dickhead.”

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“Urban Hymns” Turns 20.

1997 was a banner year in British music. Radiohead gave us “O.K. Computer,” one of the best albums ever made and one whose central theme of being consumed by technology seems prescient given the world we live in today. The Blur/Oasis war entered a transitional phase, as Blur took a step back and released its low-fi, American style self-titled album while Oasis charged full-steam into pretension and excess with “Be Here Now.” The Chemical Brothers and Prodigy both released successful electronic albums, while one of their forerunners, Depeche Mode, made a nice comeback with “Ultra” (arguably, the band’s last good album). It was a good year for British pop, too, as the Spice Girls had two albums hit #1 on the charts, and Gary Barlow had his last solo chart-topper before reuniting with Take That.

But one album towered above the rest.

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Album Review: “Wonderland” by Take That.

I love Take That.

Not as much as my wife loves them. And definitely not as much as James Corden loves them. But I’m definitely a “Thatter.”

That being said, I had a feeling the band’s latest album, Wonderland was going to suck. Lead single “Giants” did nothing for me (although the parts where they sing “We are giants!” made me laugh – it reminded me of the scene in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” where the evil nerd trio imagine themselves as Gods), and the few songs I had heard in advance of Wonderland’s release didn’t fill me with a whole lot of optimism. The band has seemed to be on downward trajectory ever since the end of the “Progress” tour, what with Robbie Williams’s decision to re-start his solo career and Jason Orange’s decision to take his dancing shoes home. 2014’s III had a few good songs on it, but the other songs on the album, to say nothing of sales, were lackluster.

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So, I Guess I’m a “Thatter” Then…

When I was in London covering Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary, I could have gone to see Take That at the O2 Arena, but decided not to. I had several reasons that sounded good to me at the time. The tickets were really expensive. My wife would have killed me for going without her. It’s not the same band without Robbie (and Jason, I guess).

Oh, who am I kidding? I should have gone. Anyway, I saw this in the Manchester Evening News after I got back. According to a study (yeah, people study this kind of stuff), Thatters are more likely to be married (check!), own their own home (check!) and drink wine (well, two out of three ain’t bad).

They’re also more likely to be female. I guess Take That’s original fanbase is still upset about the band turning its backs on them all those years ago…

Album Review: “Sucker” by Charli XCX

Charli XCX was in danger of becoming the millennial version of Nate Dogg- an artist known more for being featured on (and often, the best part of) other people’s songs. Her work singing the catchy hooks on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It” was so good that she actually overshadowed the lead artists.

With the release of “Sucker,” Charli XCX should finally get some attention as a solo artist. “Sucker,” the England native’s third album, is an entertaining affair that proves her ability to come up with catchy hooks that will stay in your head for days is no fluke. It’s an album full of potential radio hits and should turn Charli XCX into a gigantic pop star. I enjoyed this album thoroughly and was happy to see it get lots of love from music critics (Rolling Stone had it as the sixth-best album of 2014 – “Songs of Innocence” was #1 – I actually think “Sucker” was a lot better and I am a huge U2 fan). To paraphrase- remember her name, it’s about to blow.

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Not So Bitter, Definitely Sweet – A Concert Review of The Verve at MSG

This is an old favorite of mine. I originally wrote it for my Livejournal blog and decided it was time to import it over here. Still holds up, except for the fact that the Verve broke up shortly afterwards. That and the Robbie Williams line about not wanting to rejoin Take That.

Concert Review:

The Verve

April 29, 2008

WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden

When the Verve released “Urban Hymns” in 1997, they seemed poised to become the biggest of all the British pop bands that were invading America from across the Atlantic during the mid-90’s. Oasis had great hooks, but they were about as likeable as smallpox. Blur couldn’t escape from the shadows of their biggest U.S. hit, the ubiquitous “Song 2” (currently playing at some sporting event somewhere in this country). Radiohead were too esoteric and were about as interested in promoting themselves as Robbie Williams was in rejoining Take That. The Verve, however, had great songs, a unique psychedelic/rock sound, a loyal and devoted fan base, and a charismatic frontman in Richard Ashcroft.

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