Bands with New Frontmen (or women) New Blood Can't Quicken Bands' Pulses
"It's the singer, not the song," claims the familiar refrain, and that seems generally true. Despite such prominent exceptions as the Beatles, most rock groups are defined and dominated by a lead singer. That's why it's so hard for most bands to survive splits with their vocalists, as new albums by Genesis, 10,000 Maniacs and Talk Show illustrate.
If any musicians should know how to adapt to losing a prominent vocalist, they would be Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford of Genesis. This 30-year-old British band's original singer, Peter Gabriel, defected in 1975. Drummer Phil Collins took his place, and led the band in a much more commercial direction. Now Collins, who long maintained a successful parallel solo career, has also left. The new recruit is Ray Wilson, who arrived after most of the tracks for the new ". . . Calling All Stations . . ." (Atlantic) had been written. Though it's hardly a sprawling art-rock concept album in the manner of early Genesis, the album tentatively distances the band from the Top 40 style of Collins's tenure. Four of the 11 tracks are eight or nine minutes long, although not so baroque as the band's early work. Most of the songs are lushly textured mid-tempo rockers, frequently on the theme of disillusionment: The title song muses about "all the broken promises," while "Shipwrecked" announces that "I'm a million miles from anywhere." In an unfortunately colonialist turn of phrase, "Congo" uses "send me to the Congo" as a metaphor for being banished from a lover's affection. "Congo" samples African chanting, and several other songs have discreet non-Euro touches: a reggae-ish beat for "Alien Afternoon," Indo-Arabic rhythms and drones for "The Dividing Line." Such worldly accents, however, don't significantly alter the band's stately style. A potentially bigger force for change is Wilson, whose sound is grittier than Collins's. Two of the three songs he co-wrote, "Not About Us" and "Small Talk," have a bluesier edge than the rest of the album. ". . . Calling All Stations . . ." is fairly dull, but if Wilson becomes a full partner he might enable Genesis to redefine itself yet again. To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)
10,000 Maniacs did its best work when guitarist John Lombardo was still with the band; after his departure, he teamed with singer and viola player Mary Ramsey as John and Mary, who made two albums that strongly recalled the early Maniacs. So when Natalie Merchant, the Upstate New York band's singer, left for a solo career in 1994, bringing in Lombardo and Ramsey probably seemed like a brilliant move. The resulting "Love Among the Ruins" (Geffen), however, is less than brilliant. Like Genesis, the aging Maniacs have their regrets. "Seasons pass like sand inside a glass/ And nothing, nothing returns," broods Ramsey in "Even With My Eyes Closed." Certainly the band's early style, which deftly spiced Anglo-Celtic folk-rock with reggae rhythms and trippy noise, has not returned. Ramsey's soprano is luminous and the music is consistently pleasant, but most of these 12 songs are unremarkable. The principal exception is a cover of Roxy Music's "More Than This" that demonstrates what the septet can do when it gets a song equal to its skills. (To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8154.)
Although Talk Show's story resembles those of Genesis and 10,000 Maniacs, this band decided to abandon the name of its previous incarnation, Stone Temple Pilots. With Dave Coutts replacing drug-troubled STP singer Scott Weiland, the other three former Pilots continue on "Talk Show" (Atlantic). The new band's not-so-new style is melodic hard-rock -- sometimes reminiscent of the boogie side of John Lennon's late-Beatles output -- tempered with cocktail lounge balladry. Such tunes as "Everybody Loves My Car" and "Morning Girl" are agreeable but overfamiliar. In fact, they sound a lot like STP's last album, the post-grunge "Tiny Lights . . . Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop." After three albums with a group that was widely reviled as secondhand, the bailed-out Pilots of Talk Show are now in a band that's derivative of the derivative. (To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8155.)
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