Now I’m not saying I’m getting old or anything, but I seem to have hit that age when all the songwriters from the bands you like decide to go solo. You know, stretch their wings creatively, as it were.
No, seriously. I think I’ve bought more solo / spin-off albums this year than any other year in my life.
Anyway, where there’s a theme, there’s a blog post, and so I now present to you: “So many solo albums!”
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Let’s be honest. Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) has been a solo act for a while now. I mean that’s why Graham Coxon ditched Blur (the first time) right? Gorillaz is collaborative in the sense that any song with “featuring” in the title is collaborative … which I guess is, sort of collaborative.
But I digress. Albarn brings his best creative juices to his first true solo album. This is classic Damon — happily sad (or is it sadly happy?) tunes with social commentary and intriguing bleeps and bloops. It’s not exactly the kind of music you’d blast out of your convertible in the summer, but cuts like “Mr Tembo” are sure to get your head pleasantly bobbing.
Dan Wilson – Love Without Fear
You know who Dan is. He wrote “Closing Time” for his old band Semisonic.
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” so after Semisonic, Dan began scooping up Grammy awards left and right for his writing with acclaimed acts like the Dixie Chicks and Adele (He wrote “Someone Like You”).
On his second solo album, Dan once again shows his songwriting chops. There are a bunch of a really solid songs on this one, including “Your Brighter Days” and “I Can Never Stay Mad at You.”
I must admit there’s nothing on the album quite as shout-along-fun as the best Semisonic tunes, but Dan Wilson is a guy who doesn’t write bad songs. Hell, even “Get a Grip” was catchy, and that was about masturbation.
Owl John (eponymous)
Okay, so that was two guys from the ’90s in a row. But here’s a more modern example — Singer Scott Hutchison from Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit released an album this year under the name Owl John.
I’ve got to say, while I’ve always liked Frightened Rabbit a bit, Owl John has fookin’ swooped out of the fookin’ sky and made that fookin’ bunny its fookin’ supper. (Sorry for all the cursing but that’s how they roll in Scotland. Just sayin’.)
Whereas Frightened Rabbit songs can sometimes get a bit rambly, the songs on Owl John are always tight and melodic. My only complaint is that the album ends too soon. Here’s hoping Owl John isn’t a one-off.
Grant Nicholas – Yorktown Heights
Right, so technically with the guy from Feeder we’re back to the ’90s, but the band’s best album Comfort in Sound came out in the mid 2000s, all right?
Feeder has lately seemed to be undergoing a sort of identity crisis, at one point even pretending to be a new punk-ish band called Renegades, before releasing that album under the name Feeder anyway. I think the problem is that they have three types of fans — the ones that like that hard and fast songs, the ones that like the more mid-tempo, orchestral epics, and the ones like me who like a balanced mix of each.
With his first solo endeavor, Welsh singer/guitarist Grant Nicholas has indulged in his more thoughtful acoustic side. For the most part, it works. These songs are full of hope, and on catchy single “Time Stands Still,” Grant sounds happier than he has in years.
My only worry is that Grant is going to start putting all his quiet songs on solo releases and all his more rocking songs on Feeder albums. Comfort in Sound struck the right balance of both and I’m hoping we’ll see another album like it in the future.
Tweedy – Sukierae
That’s Jeff Tweedy, from Wilco, and his son Spencer. And on his debut solo album, the Tweedys (Tweedies?) sounds pretty much like Wilco.
As he admits on Sukierae: “I’ve always been low key / Well, you know me.”
Now, I don’t like all of Wilco’s albums, but I was a big fan of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and their last album, The Whole Love. This solo album is much in the vein of those two releases — bluesy rock with a sprinkling of distortion, robotic blips and a little county twang for good measure.
With 20 songs and a runtime of over an hour, it’s not exactly the most focused release. But it’s all very listenable, perfect both for concentrated headphone sessions and those other times when you just want some nice background music.
I’m not exactly sure why Jeff Tweedy decided this couldn’t just be a Wilco release. Politics? Wanting to sound like a brand new act? But I can’t complain about the results.
Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Tyranny
They can’t all be winners. Spinoff albums often are about indulging a band member’s more out-there ideas, and on Tyranny the singer from the Strokes indulges.
For me, the worst Strokes songs are the ones where Julian screams a lot and — conversely — the ones where he’s awkwardly quiet. This unfortunately is a good summary of Tyranny.
There are a couple of songs with catchy riffs (“Crunch Punch”) and there are moments I would deem intriguingly ambitious (“Nintendo Blood”) — but mostly this is a weird and overlong album. It’s not anywhere near as “bad weird” as MGMT’s infinitely disappointing self-titled release last year, but I got nightmarish flashbacks all the same.
I mean, whatever happened to just sounding cool for three minutes?
Let’s hope Julian’s gotten the strangeness out of his system for the next Strokes LP.
That’s it for now, though a couple of weeks ago I learned that Tim Wheeler from Ash is preparing a solo album, too. Something tells me I’ve got to go find out what the kids are listening to these days.
By the way, if you agree or disagree on any of my reviews above, I’d love to hear it. Please leave a comment below!