Side Projects: Entertaining Music, Or Unnecessary Vanity Experiments?
Recently I decided to turn on the radio in my car (my iPod was acting up.) The sound of Jack White’s voice immediately filled my speakers and flooded my car with noise. This was not the White Stripes. It was a side-act. I do not like side-projects. They are almost never as good as the genuine product, which is understandable, because their purpose is (mostly) experimental. Jack White is the perfect example for my thesis: Side projects are not good (or rather, not as good as the original act that they are replacing.)
Case-in-point: The White Stripes (a band consisting of Jack and Meg White.) They have released six (6) albums, which I will rank in order of best to worst (according to my opinion- not aggregate sales):
1. (Best): Elephant (Best Track: I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself)
2. Get Behind Me, Satan (Best Track: My Doorbell)
3. De Stijl (Best Track: Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise)
4. White Blood Cells (Best Track: Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground)
5. Icky Thump (Best Track: I’m Slowly Turning Into You)
6. (Worst): The White Stripes (Best Track: Do)
At some point, Jack White decided he wanted to make music with a full band, and not just his percussionist (Meg White.) Enter: The Raconteurs. The Raconteurs are the most commercially successful Jack White side-project, as well as the most critically acclaimed. I understand why Jack decided to make music with them (the universal desire to explore his range as a songwriter with the addition of a bassist, keyboardist, back-up vocalist and guitarist, and a banjo.) The Raconteurs are (arguably) better than the White Stripes in some schools of thought, as their hit singles have become just as popular (if not more) as most of the the White Stripes’ material.
For instance, the following songs kick (fucking) ass: Old Enough, Level, Steady as She Goes, Broken Boy Soldier, and Hands, among others.
My gripe is not with the Raconteurs.
In exploring his desire to create music with other artists, Jack White became addicted to side-projects (to the point where the White Stripes have almost become neglected and forgotten.) I should note that their seventh (7th) studio album is in production, however. So, at the expense of the White Stripes, Jack White decided to create music with the following acts:
The success of these side-projects is mixed, at best. As a fan, it’s hard to quantify the way I feel about this. Yes, I love Jack White as a musician, and was (at first) interested and pleased at this newfound musical endeavors, but as the side-projects and collaborations pile up, and the 7th White Stripes album gets delayed, I find myself growing increasingly frustrated and turned-off to all these distracting duets and bands Jack has been flirting with.
I have had these same feelings with Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade, and his subsequent side-acts:
I would much rather hear a new Wolf Parade album, then another bizarre Sunset Rubdown single.
Side projects are not always bad. Sometimes they are AMAZING, and better than the original act. The best example I can come up with off the top of my head is The Postal Service. Ben Gibbard’s by-mail collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello has held up over time, and is (arguably) better than any album ever released by Death Cab for Cutie.
The case can be made for and against side projects all day long, but at the end of the day, I think artists should go the route of Ben Gibbard. Make one, solitary album that completely knocks critics out of their chair(s), while also knowing when to call it quits. Because, ultimately, if an artists strays too far from his flock, he will alienate his fan base (and probably his band mates as well.) This is why the Postal Service remains so awesome. They released one (1) album (which was incredible, and loved by fans and critics alike), and then went right back to creating music with Death Cab. Despite the (overwhelming) demand for a follow-up album, Ben Gibbard hasn’t budged. This is what makes a great artist. He knows how to toy with his audience (without upsetting them.) Ultimately, will there be a follow-up to 2003’s Give Up? Probably, yes. But in making us (the fans) wait so long, and by focusing on his primary band, Ben Gibbard has succeeded where Jack White has not: He created something amazing, took a step back, and went back to doing what his fans wanted – creating more albums with Death Cab for Cutie. I should probably also mention that Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley joined Ben Gibbard on vocals for this album – another successful side-act.)
Now let’s just hope that Mr. White “gets it” and the White Stripes‘ 7th album is better than their last effort (the progressive, experimental, and mediocre Icky Thump.) Also, let’s hope that the side projects end. Because, let’s be honest, The Dead Weather sucks, and will probably motivate tired acts like the Kings of Leon (who are already far too commercial) to set out on the side-act expedition (something that no one [see: the real fans] want.)
Final Note: Some of the best side-acts come from Canada. Leslie Feist (of Feist and Kings of Convenience, and formerly of Broken Social Scene and Wilco) is incredible.