Super troopers: The rise of the Supergroup

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The world is awash with supergroups. Barely an hour goes by without some new, unforeseen alliance of musical talent being announced. Unforeseen, in many cases, because so ridiculously improbable.

Take the new project SuperHeavy, featuring Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley and AR Rahman. What on earth is that going to sound like, once the competing forces of rock, reggae, soul, pop, psychedelia and Indian film music have fought their way to an acceptable rapprochement? One problem for supergroups is reconciling the inevitable ego clashes between musicians who unsurprisingly consider themselves super. This is a conundrum that can be solved by the organisational abilities of a catalyst like Stewart. The Traveling Wilburys may have been a dream alliance of Beatle (George Harrison), Bob (Dylan) and Big "O" (Roy Orbison), as well as Tom Petty, but without Jeff Lynne to make everything sound right, would they have become anything more than a couch-bound jam session? Not that having a fixer/producer in the ranks guarantees success: the Thom Yorke/Flea project Atoms For Peace may have included the Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, but we have yet to hear any actual music.

In some cases, what appears to be a supergroup may turn out simply to be a vehicle for the creative overspill of a single member, whose sheer determination drives the project along. Currently, two such notables are making their whims reality on a frequent basis.

When the Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Verve guitarist Simon Tong and Afrobeat legend Tony Allen joined Damon Albarn for The Good, The Bad & The Queen, they must have been reassured that however tentative it appeared in theory, the project would yield listenable results.

Likewise, when Jack White gets an idea – whether for neo-prog-rock combo The Raconteurs or neo-Goth-rockers The Dead Weather – it is going to bear fruit whoever else is involved, even if Jack ends up just stuck behind the drums.

For others, it is impossible to discern the attraction that brings the members together: what, one wonders, could various members of Hanson, Cheap Trick, Smashing Pumpkins and Fountains of Wayne possibly have in common that might bring them together as Tinted Windows?

Sometimes, a supergroup arises from some ulterior motive: John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band was essentially a vehicle for his political activism, initially at least. More recently, the Mario Caldato-led Bottletop Band is intended to promote and help fund the Bottletop charity, promoting aid projects in the Third World.

The more successful recent supergroups, though, have been those whose members fit together stylistically. The alliance of Josh Homme, John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl in Them Crooked Vultures resulted in an album of focused rock power, while the intentions of Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, Jim James and M. Ward were well signalled in their chosen name, Monsters of Folk. The Scottish folk-pop supergroup The Burns Unit grew out of a workshop and conference celebrating the poet Robert Burns – which may account for the low-key but artistically potent success of the band's work.

It is well-known that the new band SuperHeavy came about largely through the geographical proximity of Jagger and Stewart's Jamaican residences, and Stewart's role as Stone's producer, with Marley drafted in to provide a touch of island spirit and Rahman involved for heaven only knows what reason. Maybe he was on holiday and bumped into Dave down the market. But what kind of supergroup is it where music seems to be a subsidiary consideration to socialising?

Comments