Saturday, June 13, 2009

Completely Overrated Frontmen

In the realm of rock & roll, a lot of bands get along just fine without a lead singer that possesses a dynamic stage presence. As long as they're talented musicians who make good music and the singer's talent is at least equal to that of the others and his or her voice fits the music well, a definitive "frontman" isn't required. And there are plenty of vocalists who don't really have that reputation but I certainly believe to be plenty dynamic and have lots of stage presence.

But today's list is based on those vocalists who are always described by the aforementioned label. Except this list isn't going to single out those frontmen who definitely deserve their titles and reputations - a great frontman who comes to mind is Queen's Freddie Mercury - no, this list is going to point out those who fall far, far short of the mark someone like Mr. Mercury established and yet have developed reputations as stellar frontmen anyway. It's time to take them down a notch and there's no one better for the job than I.

5. Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones

Don't worry, I'm not going to pick on him too much. I realize that Mick is a good frontman and has done the job quite well for a long time. He makes this list simply because he is so often referred to as the ultimate frontman and I just can't buy into that. I know he struts around and has a signature style that has been imitated many, many times over the years. I know that even at his advanced age, he still displays a wild energy on stage that truly comes from his love of music and performing. I know the clothes he wears for concerts suit him well and have only sometimes strayed into the territory of ridiculous, which is quite impressive considering he performed throughout the seventies and eighties. I know all this and I am not trying to argue that he isn't a good frontman. I can only state that he is an overrated frontman whose style only really works because of the kind of music the Stones make.

I see the trappings in a statement such as that - of course it's the Stones' music that his style should fit. I only mean that it really wouldn't work outside of the band's repertoire. Again, who the hell should care? They're THE ROLLING STONES not some lame cover band. I get that. So it's funny. It looks like all I've done here is made an argument for why he should be considered a great frontman. All I can say is he's not that great. If you're smart, you'll agree.

4. Bono, U2
I've never been into U2 and I've never understood their collosal fame, really. I've listened to The Joshua Tree and it's never blown my mind. I don't think it ever will. But anyway, on to Bono. He's such an egomaniac that not only is he one of those annoying rock stars who wants to be only known by one name as if he's a unique and beautiful snowflake amongst this mass of humanity that makes up the rest of us lame, normal people, he's also given himself a name that translates into "good voice". Well, bravo.

As far as stage presence goes, I will make the shocking and radical claim that Bono actually possesses NONE. Not only am I calling him overrated as a frontman, I am saying he is subpar. Although it's true he doesn't make any huge effort to stand out from the other members on the band and that's something I respect, I also will contend that if he tried to, he would fail miserably. There's really nothing that memorable about the man when he performs. No trademark moves or habits. Again I feel the very best frontmen don't need such gimmicks but in Bono's case, maybe a gimmick or two wouldn't hurt. As far as his "good voice" goes, I can take it or leave it. He's never sang a line that sent shivers up my spine.

3. Chris Martin, Coldplay
For years I've considered Coldplay to be a pretty good band. I simply thought of them as yet another 4-piece group with a lead vocalist that would ocassionally strap on a guitar or sit in front of a piano. These parts were always simple and it was understood his job was foremost to sing. And he sings well enough.

But somewhere over the past few years as Coldplay's fame has grown and grown to the point that they are riduclously huge, Martin started to buy into some of that hype and perhaps believe he was the major reason for the group's success. That Coldplay was essentially Chris Martin. The other members were replaceable but take away Chris Martin and there is no Coldplay. He might even be right about that.

But another curious thing that happened as the band's fame mounted was that he started to earn the reputation of a dynamic frontman. And once again, he bought into it. Suddenly he was wandering all over the place during performances, sometimes leaving the stage to allow his adoring fans to put their hands on him as he sang - something a lot of rock stars have done and will continue to do. But is it just me who thinks this doesn't suit Martin at all? I even saw him do this once during a TODAY SHOW PERFORMANCE which was on some street at about eleven in the morning. He must have been disappointed that no one was waving lighters.

Coldplay are an alright band and Chris Martin is an alright vocalist but a frontman he is not.

2. Steven Tyler, Aerosmith

A lot of the reasons I have for criticizing Jagger as a frontman also apply to Tyler. But he's higher on the list because in many ways he is less unique, even imitating Jagger in some ways. Like Jagger, Tyler's vocal style and stage presence work well with the type of music his band makes but if you drop him outside of that, he's quite silly. A lot of people thought it was really cool when Aerosmith produced a version of "Walk This Way" featuring Run/DMC and while I'll admit it sounds pretty good, the video for it is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen. It's pretty bad when Tyler's movements look dated and lame in 1987. What about nowadays?

What can I say? Having huge lips and tying a bandanna around every part of your body and your mic stand does not translate into being a great frontman.

1. Scott Weiland, Stone Temple Pilots, Revolver
I can't begin to tell you just how sick I am of reading about and hearing about how amazing Weiland is as a frontman. He's there on all the lists in Spin and Rolling Stone or on MuchMoreMusic or VH1. And they're wrong. Plain and simple.

Weiland is so convinced that he is unique, powerful and sexy that he's created a whole stage persona based on it. And a lot of people buy it for some reason. All I see is an emaciated fool trying to rip off the likes of Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop while performing music that ranges from mediocre to damn awful. The guy spends almost as much time shirtless as Anthony Kiedis and constantly insists on wearing leather pants despite the fact that very, very few frontmen have actually pulled that off well over the decades. Jim Morrison and maybe one or two others. But Jim Morrison he is not, even if he did get to play around with surviving members of The Doors on a few occasions (and shame on them for encouraging him).

I love rock and roll and there are many iconic images associated with rock and roll that remain forever burned in my brain. But a dead-eyed drug-addict flouncing around with a pink feather boa around his neck while he whines out cookie-cutter rock songs is one I only conjur up to fuel my outrage as I write this list.


Concert Fan said...

One of the best is Roger Daultry of the Who, still sounds great.

Shane said...

Cool list, though I would have placed Bono higher. That man acts like he's saving people with his music (like in a religious sense). What a narcissistic knob.

Bruce Burns said...

Not that I mean to brag about being smart, but I agree with your Jagger assessment.

Cole D'Arc said...

you can never do anything smarter than agree with me.