Queens of the Stone Age are re-releasing their self-titled debut album at the moment, 13 years after it introduced the new project for ex-Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme and ex-Dwarves bassist Nick Oliveri to the world. Since then, of course, QOTSA have gone on to global domination, even after Oliveri left in mysterious circumstances in 2004. The whole re-release has got us thinking about just how good QOTSA were when the Homme/Oliveri partnership was at its peak, and as a result, also about bands that haven’t been the same once the creative partnership that drove them came to its inevitable end. The history of rock’n’roll is littered with the fragments of such partnerships. Here are ten of our picks.
Queens of the Stone Age
Whatever the truth behind Nick Oliveri’s departure – Josh Homme has never really spoken about it – Queens of the Stone Age just aren’t the same without him. It’s not necessarily that his songwriting contributions were particularly great, although their anarchic sound definitely provided a counterpoint to Homme’s more considered output; it’s more that having him in the band somehow seemed to spur Homme to greater heights of creativity. With Oliveri gone, Homme seems to have settled into a comfort zone, with the result that neither Lullabies to Paralyze or Era Vulgaris have been nearly as good as the band’s first three records.
When Suede (known in the U.S. as The London Suede) emerged in the early ‘90s, spearheading a renascent British rock scene, their songwriting partnership of singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Bernard Butler looked to be one for the ages. Sadly, it wasn’t to last, mainly because Anderson wanted to be David Bowie and Butler wanted to be Neil Young. Butler quit in 1994, and while the band’s first record without him, 1996’s Coming Up , wasn’t half bad, it was downhill from there. By 1999’s Head Music , Anderson was so short on ideas that he was taking the unprecedented step of plagiarising his own lyrics – single “Savoir Faire” ripped an entire line from killer 1994 b-side “Killing of a Flash Boy.” Even then, Suede stuck it out a while longer, finally calling it quits after 2002’s New Morning . Unfortunately, Anderson and Butler’s reunion as The Tears in 2004 only went to show that once you lose the mojo, you don’t get it back easily.
Blur’s creative partnership of Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn lasted a lot longer than Suede’s did, but even so, it was clear by the mid-‘90s that they were pulling in different directions. The tension drove two great records – 1997’s Blur and 1999’s 13 – but the situation couldn’t last, especially with Coxon’s alcoholism exacerbating the problem. The guitarist left in 2002, and subsequent release Think Tank was comparatively lackluster. Soon after, Albarn found an alternative route to global domination (with cartoons!) in Gorillaz.
Guns N’ Roses
People tend to assume that it was Axl Rose and Slash who were the key duo in Guns N’ Roses, but it was actually rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin who was the band’s unsung creative force in their glory years, sharing songwriting duties with Rose. When Straddlin quit in 1991, newly sober and fed up with Rose (and particularly the frontman’s attempt to put Straddlin onto a salary rather than treat him as a songwriting equal), it left the singer in full control of the band. And that’s turned out well, hasn’t it?
There’s a school of thought that for all the commercial success that Bob Marley enjoyed, his finest moments came in the company of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The classic Wailers trio only recorded one album together – 1973’s Catch a Fire – but it was their partnership that catapulted Marley to global megastardom. Still, if they hadn’t broken up, the world may never have heard Tosh’s “Legalize It”: “It’s good for the asthma/Good for tuberculosis.” Um… No, it’s not.
At the Drive-In/The Mars Volta
A case of two bands, here – but essentially what made At the Drive-In so compelling was the tension between the experimental/prog leanings of Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez-López and the punk aesthetic of the band’s other members. When the band fractured, both sides of the equation were free to express their inclinations to the full, and the results weren’t nearly as interesting – be it The Mars Volta’s impenetrable records or the straight-out punk of Sparta.
There clearly wasn’t room for two personalities as big as Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno in the one band, but even so, the combination worked a treat for the band’s first two albums (their self-titled 1972 debut and its follow-up For Your Pleasure ). The tension between Ferry’s pop star ambitions and Eno’s avant garde was never going to be sustainable, though – by 1974, apparently the duo hated each other so much that they wouldn’t even pass on the stairs. The inevitable split ensued, and Roxy Music were never quite the same. Eno went off and released a series of mind-alteringly good solo records (taking the occasional stab at Ferry along the way – see Here Come The Warm Jets ’ “Dead Finks Don’t Talk”, for instance), and while the Eno-less Roxy Music garnered plenty of commercial success, they never approached the demented glory of their early days.
The Velvet Underground
Another case of a band too small for the egos it contained, especially when those egos had radically different musical ideas and king-size drug habits. Once Lou Reed won the band’s internal power struggle – replacing John Cale with malleable patsy Doug Yule – the magic largely disappeared. Even worse, the corpse of the band continued to twitch once Reed also left in 1971, with Yule on vocals and a series of ring-ins filling out the instrumentation.
And another. The Clash were at their commercial peak in 1983, but the rot had already set in – the departure of drummer Topper Headon and the return of nefarious manager Bernie Rhodes the year before had created plenty of tension between the key songwriting partnership of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, and in September 1983, Jones was unceremoniously fired. Strummer later spoke with regret of Jones’ treatment – “I stabbed him in the back” – and the god-awful Jones-less Cut the Crap album is rarely spoken of in polite company.
Billy Corgan has always been a songwriting autocrat, but at least in the first incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins there were the personalities to keep his dictatorial tendencies in some sort of check (and James Iha to contribute one song an album). As original members started dropping off, so did the quality of the Pumpkins’ output. Still, if you’re a female bassist looking for a gig, then Billy’s door is always open.