Thom Yorke’s Eraser, horrid as it is, gives me a certain sick delight. It represents a small mental victory for me. You see, I have a nagging and probably entirely misbegotten belief that British singer solo careers are overwhelmingly inferior to British guitarist solo careers, and Yorke racked up a point in favor of this prejudice. However, having formed this wild notion, it’s time to put it to the test in wildly unscientific fashion.
THE SOLO SINGERS:
Ian McCulloch: The Bunnymen’s crooning poodle comforted us with the most traditional and predictable of solo careers: the kind that sounds exactly like the singer’s former material, but with lame studio musicians filling the shoes of his old band. While 1989’s Candleland contained one or two tracks worth hearing, the majority of his non-Bunny oeuvre was a thundering snooze. Particularly avoid Slideling, featuring members of Coldplay (barf). 4 outta 10.
Morrissey: Undeniably, the modern rock solo career. The guy’s name is, like, practically a word that means something. And not like “Sting,” either, who just took some word that already existed and tried to swipe it: “Morrissey” is his own thing, and millions of confused teenagers lust after Morrissey’s own thing every day. 8 of 10, deducting two points simply because a lot of his music sucks (as if it matters).
Ian Brown: After being complicit in the shattered hopes of a million pallid English kids, Ian Brown disbanded the Stone Roses and embarked on an extended, zany electro-reggae traipse. Remember in that Marx Brothers movie when Groucho stops the proceedings and goes “Pardon me while I have a strange interlude”? And then he does? Ian Brown’s whole solo career is like that. 6 out of 10—better than anyone expected.
Richard Ashcroft: We could already see the cracks forming in The Verve on Urban Hymns, when Ashcroft shamefully reined in Nick McCabe’s psychedelic jams and put orchestration all over everything and started making Oasis hits. His solo career took all his trad-rock tendencies and supercollided them together into one giant, superdense block of shit-matter. 2 out of 10, the two points being awarded for the single “A Song for the Lovers” and a B-side called “(Could Be A) Country Thing, City Thing … ” both of which were uncharacteristically hyphy.
THE SOLO GUITARISTS:
Johnny Marr: For the sake of simplicity, we shall ignore Marr’s considerable post-Smiths work as a studio musician and look only at his work with Johnny Marr & the Healers. Verdict: He sounds lot like goddamn Steve Miller, of all people. What was he thinking? The second you utter a yowl into a microphone and hear “Fly Like an Eagle” zinging back out of those monitors, it’s time to call up Morrissey in a panicked tizzy and beg. 2 of 10. I hate to do it, Johnny, you were one of the best.
John Squire: First out of the gate with a Stone Roses solo album, Squire clumped together The Seahorses out of leftover bits of cocaine stuck in his nose hair and made one of the most detestable recordings of the ’90s. Years later, he halfway redeemed himself with two semi-decent, ego-free solo records, but I found out that one of them was a concept album about paintings. Gross! 3 out of 10.
Andy Bell: No, not the gay one from Erasure. The one from Ride, who could put blisters on your cheeks with his Rickenbacker from a thousand miles away. After Ride, he went on to form Hurricane #1, who made The Seahorses sound like the Beatles, and then he joined Oasis. As their bassist. Fuck you, Andy Bell; fuck you permanently. 1 outta 10.
Bernard Butler: The only Brit guitarist of the ’90s to give Johnny Marr a real run for his money, Butler quit Suede’s sophomore album sessions in a huff after ace producer Ed Buller decided to put just a little more reverb on the reverb. The rest of the band decided not to stomp out after him, since they all thought he was an asshole. Butler then recorded two middling Jackson Browne albums, showcasing his continuing guitar genius and his hilariously ugly little voice. 5 of 10. Start rocking again, dude.
Egads! The singers, amazingly, pulled out 20 points, while the ailing guitarists only managed a pathetic 11. And I don’t even have time to rewrite this column to change my hypothesis! I’m ruined! Hoisted by mine own petard!
But hey, Thom Yorke still sucks, so we all win.