I’m a very phasey kind of person. I’ve got two big cycles that dictate a lot of my recreational activity/spending. One is my crafting cycle. Because I get bored with repetitive actions, but am utterly dependent on them for my sanity (Bored Hands are Bad Hands), I flow through phases when one craft particularly seizes me, and I do it until it stops scratching the Busy Hands itch, then switch to another. It usually goes in this pattern: Cross-Stitching –> Crochet/Knitting –> Jewelrymaking.
The second is the Books –> Music –> Movies cycle. In each stage, my goal is to Open The Brainbox And Put All Of It In. I’ve been in Books phase for a few months, but I can feel myself sliding toward Music (perhaps checking out 15 CDs on my last library trip was a clue). Another good clue was producing 7 music-related lists on a 20 minute car ride last week. So, this is week 2 of my music jag here on Friday Night Lists. If you didn’t catch the 5 Vastly Overrated Bands (and 5 that aren’t), check that list out as well.
As always, I’m happy when people argue with me! But if my lists provide more of a “FINALLY! Someone who thinks that too!” kind of experience, that’s pretty cool too. In this list, as in others, these are all groups that I’m heavily invested in–the vast majority of them, I love. And now, in no particular order…
5 BANDS THAT WERE BETTER WITHOUT THEIR ORIGINAL FRONTMAN
- Genesis — Peter Gabriel is a phenomenal musician; you’ll get absolutely no argument from me there. But he’s clearly his best as a solo act, with complete creative control–his influences and personal tonal language come to life when not moderated by the group dynamic of a band. The best thing Genesis ever did was move the mike in front of Phil Collins, and set Gabriel free.
- Joy Division — Heartless, I know. Suicide is definitely NOT the best reason to look for a new frontman, and I really like Ian Curtis’ dark, earthy sound; after all, it was a big parcel of the seedbed for every goth/alternative artist that followed. But, after Curtis’ death–apocrypha says he put a noose around his neck and stood on an ice block until it melted–the group splintered into New Order, which rewrote the electronica field, and Love & Rockets, which helped build the bridge forward from punk to grunge. Two awesome bands for the price of one frontman–sorry, Ian, but the kids turned out okay.
- Chicago — I have this theory, you see. I believe certain voices are genetically keyed to appeal, no matter what kind of music/text they’re performing, no matter how much you want to hate them. Peter Cetera has one of those voices (so does Celine Dion. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong). He was one of the founding members of the band, and one of three singers–keyboardist Robert Lamm and guitarist Terry Kath also sang. Both have a more baritone range, but Cetera’s keen, clean tenor blends so much better with the horns that became part of their signature. Without him, it’s hard to recognize a “Chicago” sound. Besides, when I was in junior high, he said he would fight for my honor. What’s a girl to do?
- Depeche Mode — As with the first two bands on this list, I’m a fan through and through, but Vince Clarke, who provided vocals for DM’s initial offering Speak & Spell, just wasn’t the right voice for the gloomy, mournful, surprisingly danceable songs that defined them. And the fact that their first hit, “Just Can’t Get Enough,” sounds so much more like Vince Clarke’s later and longer project Erasure means he was onto something even then. But Dave Gahan’s deep, coffee-dark tone is what puts that naughty shiver into songs like “Master and Servant” and “World In My Eyes.” Martin Gore also provides vocals for DM; it’s his sweet, tremulous voice that gives a soul to songs like “Somebody.”
- Faith No More — I have a big soft spot for these guys, if only because Gus’ Pizza in my hometown had them on the jukebox as “Safe No More,” and as high schoolers, we found that hilarious. They only had one big hit under their belt with the original (at least, at point of first recording) frontman Chuck Mosley, “We Care A Lot,” most memorable now for its reference to the Garbage Pail Kids of yore. And the bass-slapping thrash-punk sound remained consistent, but the addition of Mike Patton on vocals gave their songs the kick in the teeth needed to match the instrumentals. Patton has extraordinary flexibility–for whatever reason, his voice reminds me of John Leguizamo’s, with all its chameleonesque range–and the songs he fronted with Faith No More (and later efforts like Mr. Bungle) are whiplash rides through a wide swath of emotions. Revisit “Epic” if you’ve forgotten.
And just for contrast, here are:
5 BANDS THAT WEREN’T
- Queen — I put this at Number One for a reason, for once. Queen, Queen, Queen. You were a great backup band for the Greatest Frontman Of All Time, Freddie Mercury. Be content with that.
- Van Halen — Sorry, Sammy, no dice. Your brand of caterwauling was a lame substitute for David Lee Roth’s sexy, rockin’ purr and shriek. Nice that the rest of the group finally came around on that, too.
- 10,000 Maniacs — I’m sure the woman who followed Natalie Merchant was very nice and all, but she was the sonic equivalent of watching paint dry, compared with Natalie’s sinusy, kittenesque, sort of Pre-Raphaelite melodic lyricism.
- Talking Heads — Are you kidding me? EVERYTHING is better with David Byrne in it! No Talking, Just Head sounded just like their name choice: poorly thought-out and missing the best part.
- INXS — With Michael Hutchence, they were all rowr. Without him, after his suicide in 1997, they were all over the place. They’ve had a variety of singers–one even chosen in a reality TV show–and a string of singles, but nothing that sticks the wall. They’re like the opposite of Joy Division: tragic loss of singer, but they just keep flogging away, instead of growing up and moving on.