As news reaches us that former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante is recording an acid house album, we delve into the world of mid-career tangents, where, for better or worse, musicians dared to try something different.
Gregg Allman It was unlikely enough when the southern rock guitarist Gregg Allman married Cher, but unlikelier still when he ditched the country blues with which he made his name in order to make a pop album with her in 1977. Two The Hard Way – credited, in the enlightened days of the late ‘70s, to Allman and Woman – was a 24 carat turkey with Allman mashing southern rock against Cher’s pop aesthetic so ham fistedly that the record bombed in the spectacular style. The vinyl version went out of print in 1983 at which point, Billboard have reported, Cher took ownership of the masters and has steadfastly refused to let the thing be reissued on tape, CD or through iTunes ever since.
Freddie Mercury With Queen at a low ebb and on hiatus in 1985, Freddie Mercury took off on his own. What he wrote in the liner notes to his solo album Mr. Bad Guy was telling – he thanks his cats, cat lovers in general, then adds: “screw everybody else”. He also finds time to thank his Queen bandmates “Brian, John and Roger for not interfering”. Though perhaps they should have. Because the resulting synth-pop and disco album may have had the trademark over-exuberance, but in also reaching for new-wave influences it struggled for direction. Freddie hardly gave it a boost, saying the tracks were “love songs … to do with sadness torture and pain,” before realising that was hardly likely to get Queen fans going. “But at the same time, they’re frivolous and tonge-in-cheek,” he whooped, perhaps a little too late.
Mike Patton The Faith No More man is the undisputed king of the bizarro side project, a man perennially poking the idea of commercial success in the eye with a sharp stick. You could pick almost any of his solo efforts as evidence – Adult Themes For Voice was recorded in hotel rooms while on tour with Faith No More and largely consisted of him barking, shouting and clapping his hands; Pranzo Oltranzista was the same but added violins and saxophones; Mondo Cane consisted of orchestral cover versions of 1950s Italian pop songs. To choose just one, though, Patton’s collaboration with far-out Belgian contemporary jazz group The Ictus Ensemble to recreate avant-garde Italian composer Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II is up there. Sparse freeform jazz, mad classical flourishes and a crowd of Italian theatrical types talking meaningfully on tracks that last well over 10 minutes was something of a tester for his audience.
**Dee Dee Ramone **In 1989, Dee Dee Ramone was drying out in a drug rehab centre when some of his fellow residents introduced him to rap music. The punk rock legend immediately decided that hip hop was his true calling, so promptly started writing lyrics like: “I’m a funky man, I got funky bones, I’m a funky man, My name is Dee Dee Ramone!” Somewhat schizophrenically, he then changed his name to Dee Dee King yet he still remained funky enough to write an entire album of rap music that he should probably have called Mid Life Crisis. He actually called it Standing In The Spotlight, a record which remains one of the most disastrous left-turns in musical history. Problematically for The Ramones, he insisted on turning up to their gigs in his new rap clothes and was out of the band shortly thereafter.
Keith Moon Solo albums by drummers have never been a good idea: Ringo Starr, Don Henley, Phil effing Collins. For Two Sides Of The Moon, Keith Moon’s 1975 solo effort, he borrowed a song off John Lennon, got David Bowie, Ringo, Ricky Nelson, Harry Nilsson (and others) to help him out on vocal duties and, for utterly incomprehensible reasons, largely refused to do the one thing he was good at: play the drums. The album is at its most baffling when Moon covers an actual Who song – The Kids Are Alright – and makes it much worse, at least partly because he doesn’t play drums on it. He was dead within three years which, though tragic, at least spared anyone a follow-up.
Chris Cornell This one is unusual in that, with 2009’s Scream, the Soundgarden singer not only made an album that sounded completely at odds with Soundgarden but was also completely at odds with his other solo work. The grunge icon teamed up with the producer Timbaland to try his hand at R&B in a move that is most politely labelled ill advised. Booming his gigantic howl over jittery beats and electro bass led to the worst reviews of his career and, oddly enough, rumours that Soundgarden would be getting back together soon afterwards.
Fieldy Miffed that the rest of Korn were not taking his suggestions to incorporate more hip hop into their 1999 album Issues, the band’s bassist Fieldy decided he would show everyone by making a rap record. As Issues struggled on to sell 13 million records worldwide without Fieldy’s rap recommendations, he hit the studio to make Rock n Roll Gangster. Interestingly, the half-baked raps of a multi-millionaire rock star whining about being a bit sad, talking about how much he likes ladies and how he enjoys smoking a lot of weed failed to trouble the people who hand out platinum discs in quite the same way that Issues did.
Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. Though Norah Jones has previously successfully collaborated with the Foo Fighters, it seemed unlikely the Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong could make the same magic happen – especially since he was not tailoring songs for her, but instead asking her to duet with him on a series of songs originally written by and for The Everly Brothers. But the collaboration between pop-punk and jazz chanteuse is exceptional, the pair gelling over The Everly Brothers’ close harmonies and country-steel rock ‘n’ roll. Proof that unusual left turns can sometimes be a marvellous thing.
Chino Moreno Deftones have often been defined by the creative balance between guitarist Stephen Carpenter – always trying to make the band heavier – and singer Chino Moreno, who has long wanted them to be more ethereal. The ensuing blend is what makes the band work but occasionally Moreno feels the need to exercise that post-rock itch. Side projects Palms and Team Sleep have managed that, but it’s with Crosses that he has branched out further, creating an album of ‘witch house’. Darkly ambient and filled with ominous soundscapes and brooding beats, Crosses’s self-titled debut was remarkably good: another triumph for the abrupt left turn.
Chris Poland Known chiefly for his guitar work on Megadeth’s seminal Killing Is My Business … And Business Is Good and Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying?, Chris Poland is not the first person that springs to mind when you think of that most filthy of genres: jazz fusion. Noodley, widdly, and a challenge for anyone who is not a fully paid-up muso (it features a fretless bass), it is not entirely the music you might expect from a man partly responsible for the emergence of thrash metal.