Welcome to the second installment of this three part blog series, in which I explore supergroups and the three categories in which they tend to fall into. Firstly, we have the (extremely rare) superb ones; where every member lives up to the excellence for which they are known. Most supergroups seem to fall into the ‘meh’ category; these are bands whose music, although satisfactory, wouldn’t grab your attention if it wasn’t for the high profile of its members. Lastly, we have the failures; the bands who forgot that to be a supergroup requires more than just a headline-grabbing lineup.
On Monday I looked at examples from the world of metal, but today I am moving onto rock, before rounding off the series next Friday with prog.
The Miserable: Zwan
Zwan are definitely contenders for being one of the worst supergroups in modern memory. Billy Corgan is known best for his role as grand dictator in 90s alternative rock band The Smashing Pumpkins. His falling outs and difficulty to work with is well documented and after The Smashing Pumpkins ended, his new project Zwan, which featured David Pajo, Matt Sweeney, Jimmy Chamberlin and later Paz Lenchantin, would be more of the same. However, this time it would be worse. Much worse.
Not only did their debut album completely flop, both commercially and critically, but the band ended in spectacular style, with Corgan stating his “detest” for his band mates. Zwan sounds similar to post-2000 Pumpkins, but inner turmoil, the lingering shadow of The Pumpkin’s breakup and the early 2000s nu metal music scene, meant the supergroup never made any impression and was quickly abandoned. Their only album, Mary Star of the Sea, was a watered down version of Pumpkins’ weaker songs, which didn’t let anyone else but Corgan shine. It’s a shame Zwan folded, because there was true potential hidden deep within that record and as we now know, great albums, like 2012’s Oceania, are still definitely within Corgan’s reaches.
The Meh: Angels & Airwaves
Angels & Airwaves was created in 2005 by Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge, after the pop-punk band went on hiatus. He quickly enlisted the help of Box Car Racer guitarist, David Kennedy, The Distillers bassist, Ryan Sinn and The Offspring drummer, Atom Willard. The lineup would then go on to change to include serial-band swapper and multi-instrumentalist Ilan Rubin on drums and 30 Second To Mars bassist, Matt Wachter.
Their debut album We Don’t Need To Whisper and follow-up I-Empire combined space rock and ambient influences, to produce tracks that bordered on art-rock. DeLonge and co. managed to pull-off the ambitious sound and despite many songs coming off as insincere (see Everything’s Magic), the results were fairly impressive for the four-piece that critics had initially laughed-off.
However, it all went down hill when they returned to the studio to produce Love. The double album that aimed to be a grandiose concept record and that promised Pink Floyd-esque moments, unfortunately came out sounding like a space-themed pop-punk record that lacked creativity. Suddenly the band had managed to rack up a discography that was now tipping the scales towards ‘disappointing’ and all the promise of their initial albums ultimately stopped there.
The Magnificent: A Perfect Circle
A Perfect Circle was created in 1999 by guitarist Billy Howerdel and Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan. The rest of the band would become a revolving door of well-known and session musicians, including Paz Lenchantin, James Iha, Troy Van Leeuwen, Tim Alexander, Josh Freese and Jeordie White. The challenge was always going to be handling Keenan’s instantly recognisable vocals, so that A Perfect Circle was kept distinct from Tool, but Howerdel’s supreme art-rock compositions meant all comparisons quickly vanished. The results were so fresh and surprising, that it caught everyone off-guard and even though the band have only released two studio albums of original compositions (their third album eMOTIVe was a collection of war inspired covers), and have only released one new track in the last decade, A Perfect Circle remain one of the most original and successful rock supergroups in recent history.
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