10 Excellent Solo Albums by Famous Rock Frontmen
There are plenty of great bands with talented frontmen at the helm. Singers, acting as the “voice” of their musical collectives, often garner more attention than their bandmates, with the notable exception of the occasional demigod virtuoso guitarist taking center stage. Since lead singers are in the limelight to such a degree, it’s only natural for some to release solo albums. Sometimes, there’s friction within the band, and the vocalist simply needs a breather from the group dynamic. Other times, a solo project provides a chance for a singer to play around with different styles or do something his usual cohorts might not be into.
Whatever the reasons behind their creation, these breakaway records vary in quality and run the gamut from disappointing to brilliant. Focusing on the latter, we created this list: 10 Excellent Solo Albums by Rock Frontmen.
‘Regions of Light and Sound of God’
Jim James, the main songwriting force behind My Morning Jacket, plays almost every instrument on his first solo album, ‘Regions of Light and Sound of God.’ This is an all-James affair, in other words, and it hasn’t been watered down in the slightest. The music might not be as vibrant or riveting as some of his work with MMJ, but there’s much beauty to be had. James expresses himself in a pared-down fashion, without the aid of outsiders, and the result is a haunting, emotive and deeply personal collection of songs.
Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth delivers a barrage (if one can call it that) of acoustic-based songs with the go-it-alone record ‘Demolished Thoughts.’ With Beck in the producer’s chair guiding him through his paces, Moore offers something of a departure from the harder-edged fare you might expect from a SY outing. It’s a surprisingly beautiful album by a journeyman songwriter, and it’s well worth a listen.
If you’re a fan of Radiohead, Yorke‘s main gig, it should be an easy transition into ‘The Eraser.’ While his lyrics tend to be a bit on the moody side, to say the least, this album is a joy for fans of Yorke’s ethereal voice, not to mention his rather bleak worldview and fondness for digitized beats. Those who crave generous helpings of hefty guitar might be a little disappointed, but they’d do well to forget the lack of six-string, embrace the electronics and give this quirky album a spin.
Christopher Owens, former frontman of the band Girls, tackles the sonic universe with his first solo offering. ‘Lysandre’ centers on a relationship (often long distance) Owens had with a woman named — you guessed it — Lysandre. While the record generally met with mixed reviews, its stripped-down nature and solid songwriting suggests that Owens has plenty of great stuff in store, now that he’s left Girls (the band, not the gender) behind.
‘Of Whales and Woe’
Primus leader Les Claypool — the man with the golden thumb and penchant for excessive herbal relaxation — is a performer capable of wearing many musical hats. Funk tunes, experimental songs and jam-band music are just some of the ways Les lets the muses and demons living inside his skull out. On his solo album ‘Of Whales and Woe,’ he gives fans of his wild bass playing a real treat. Claypool is an acquired taste, but this one finds him at his very best and really ought to be enjoyed by the masses.
While Peeping Tom, a collaborative side project for Faith No More lead singer Mike Patton, might not be a traditional solo album, there’s no question who the driving force is behind the music. Whether he’s singing a duet with Nora Jones (and getting her to use her potty mouth) or blasting full throttle with the Dub Trio, Patton creates amazing music. The record is surprisingly rife with catchy pop riffs, which come mixed in with beat-boxing, crooning, programmed rhythms tracks and the occasional primordial scream, of course.
Joe Strummer’s posthumous solo swan song, ‘Streetcore,’ came to life with the help of his faithful backup band the Mescaleros. The album surfaced less than a year after the former lead singer of the iconic punk group the Clash died from a previously undiagnosed heart defect, and blending rock ‘n’ roll and a bit of hard reggae, it marks the return of Strummer to his roots. This is a simple yet classic rock album from a pioneering artist, and the powerful music and lyrics made for a fitting farewell.
Eddie Vedder’s voice needs no introduction. It has been the defining sound of Pearl Jam for more than two decades. But if you’d like a bit of Vedder’s commanding baritone shrouded in a different sort of ambiance, check out ‘Ukulele Songs.’ Instead of rock tunes, this album offers up what the title suggests: sweet, ukulele-based numbers that make fine use of Vedder’s pipes. And folks who aren’t exactly enthralled with the ukulele need not worry: The tracks are mercifully short, as is the record itself, which can be enjoyed in short bursts of tender four-string goodness.
Brandon Flowers, the anything-but-shy frontman of the the Killers, released his first solo album in 2010, and while ‘Flamingo’ isn’t a great departure from the sonic niche he’s carved out with his Vegas bandmates, it remains a solid piece of work. It’s bound to please both Killers fans and folks who simply appreciate Flowers’ simultaneously flamboyant and religious (as far as the lyrics are concerned) sensibilities, which shine brightly.
‘Face the Truth’
The former lead singer of Pavement often performs and releases records as Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, but his album ‘Face the Truth’ is a true solo effort, despite the presence of Jicks musicians on most of the tracks. Here, we get a bit of the classic Pavement sound, along with plenty of experimental tunes. Critics generally gave this album high marks while pointing out the weirdness of the songs, and that makes perfect sense. The last thing we want or need from Malkmus is a straight-up singer-songwriter set.