Supergroups pt. 3

Welcome to the final 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.

So far I have looked at examples from rock and metal, but today I finally turn my attention to the world of progressive supergroups.

The Miserable: Emerson, Lake & Palmer (and associated permutations)

This is a controversial choice, but beyond ELP’s self-titled debut effort, and to a extent its successor Tarkus, their discography becomes increasingly self-indulgent to the point of alienation. ELP’s main emphasis seems to be on showcasing their talents, rather than on decent songwriting, meaning beyond the insincere radio-friendly tracks and handful of enjoyable passages, ELP serve no purpose, other than as a platform for the trio’s collective ego.

After ELP spilt in 1979, they soon reformed with a new drummer Cozy Powell, under the slightly changed name of Emerson, Lake & Powell and then carried on under a final permutation of Emerson, Berry & Palmer, under the name 3. With each successive album and lineup change, the initially promising progressive supergroup became more and more self-absorbed and after several more attempts to reunite and rekindle the ELP flames, they finally seem to have disappeared. Touch wood.

The Meh: OSI

OSI was formed in 2002 by Fates Warning guitarist Jim Matheos, who was joined by ex-Dream Theater keyboardist and Chroma Key vocalist Kevin Moore and serial collaborator Mike Portnoy. Originally the project was aiming for a progressive metal sound, but Moore altered this, sending OSI into the realm of keyboards and electronica. Not content with the already star-studded membership, OSI have had many guest contributions from the likes of Steven Wilson, Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Tim Bowness (No-Man) and Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree), who replaced Portnoy in the studio from 2009’s Blood.

Musically, OSI are extremely diverse, with Matheos able to provide both crunching riffs and mellow arpeggios to sit aside Moore’s light electronica influences. Sadly Moore’s vocals let the music down, as he too often falls into repetitive droning whispers and is unable to make the most of the superb musical platform beneath him. That being said OSI are still worth listening to, however you can’t help feeling this project could have been so much more with a wiser vocalist selection; guest contributions should never overshadow the permanent members.

The Magnificent: Steven Wilson

I was debating whether or not to use Steven Wilson as an example here, because initially his solo albums were intended to be just that; solo. However signs of a shift towards a proper band were beginning to show with his second release Grace for Drowning and eventually, on his third album, The Raven That Refused to Sing, Wilson was backed by a complete band which comprised of Marco Minnemann, Guthrie Govan, Nick Beggs, Adam Holzman and Theo Travis, all of whom are considered virtuosi of their respective instruments.

Regardless of whether or not you want to define Steven Wilson and his band as a supergroup, the music created by Wilson and then played by the group, manages to find a good contrast between exuberant musicianship and interesting song structures. Having such skilled musicians allows Wilson to write freely and produce tracks which his previous bands and collaborations would have struggled to pull off, meaning this supergroup is a medium for some of the best music any of the six have ever created. You may be able to doubt their place in the list as a supergroup, but you certainly can’t doubt their success.

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