Is it just me, or does anyone else struggle with bands that continue on when a key member is no longer able/willing to perform with them? In my mind, there are very few circumstances where this works.
Arnel Pineda, Journey’s lead singer for the past 10 years, works. But he works because he sounds exactly like Steve Perry. But this is the exception. The reason for this debate stemmed from the recent news that Axl Rose (yes, that Axl Rose) is going to be the new vocalist for AC/DC. That’s right, the signature sound of AC/DC, which has always been the pipes of Brian Johnson, has been replaced. Johnson and the band parted ways last year, mid tour. The band wanted to honor their obligations and brought in Axl to finish the tour. Now, they want to make new music, with the former Guns N’ Roses frontman behind the mic.
In most cases when you change a key member, particularly the vocalist, the sound changes. When you change the dynamic of a band, and you change the sound, at what point does it stop being the same band?
I take a look at one of my favorite bands, Three Days Grace. I love their signature style — they use driving bass lines with guitar riffs that mimic them. But the distinguishing factor was always the voice of Adam Gontier. When Gontier fell into a substance abuse problem in 2013, he was replaced by former My Darkest Days frontman, Matt Walst. I like Matt Walst — I liked him in My Darkest Days and I like him in Three Days Grace. But when I hear Matt Walst sing “High Road” or “Never Too Late”, it sounds like bad karaoke. The guy is good, but he’s starkly different than Grontier and I get lost in the translation.
Then I look at bands like Stone Temple Pilots or Alice in Chains that have lost their long-time vocalists. The bands have moved on, both creating new music today that sounds like the classic stuff the bands put out in the 90s. And the live shows are really good. But it is always “Stone Temple Pilots with Jeff Gutt” or “Alice in Chains with William DuVall” and there seems to be a distinction forced upon the era that the music was written. The “new guy” never really seems to fit in with the rest of the band, visually or in on-stage relationships. And at the end of the day it seems forced. Is it the gig of a lifetime for these guys to come into these bands? Or is it simply a job, where they make a lower salary than their coworkers and don’t quite have the creative control they’d have in another band?
Guns N’ Roses was TERRIBLE when Axl reformed the band without Slash and Duff. And when they all got back together two years ago for another run, the songs from Chinese Democracy were largely ignored. Maybe it was because they were really, really bad. Or maybe it’s because Guns N’ Roses fans wanted to see Guns N’ Roses, the band that they loved for so many years, not another group of guys essentially covering their songs. I understand that for these guys, music is their livelihood, and they have been playing these songs for years. I can appreciate wanting to hold on to them.
But there is success on the other side — after Pantera, *Vinnie Paul formed HellYeah, wrote new music, and kept his legacy going. Yeah, they play “Walk” from time to time to get a pop from the crowd, but Paul has closed that chapter of his life and found a way to keep his music going. Dave Grohl won’t even listen to a Nirvana song, let alone play one, because of all the emotions he still feels to this day. And that certainly hasn’t held him back any.
What are your thoughts on bands moving forward after a huge lineup change, Spinning Thoughts? Let me know on Twitter @JBoneBass!
*Since the writing of this article, Vinnie Paul has tragically and unexpectedly passed away. The crew here at Spinning Thoughts know that his legacy will live on in his music and wish the best for his family in this challenging time.
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