The history of music is littered with brave choices: Dylan plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival; Al Green turning his back on secular music; the person responsible for signing Mariah Carey to EMI.
What fascinates me is when the leader of a band decides to pack it all in and start anew. I’m not talking about going solo but forming a completely new band: new members, new name, new style.
It doesn’t often happen but when it does, rarely is it a success. Two men that have made the arduous decision and have lived to tell the tale are Paul Weller and Neil Finn.
Both had completely different reasons for dissolving their respective bands and starting again but I doubt that either made their choice lightly.
Finn’s choice was the easier and most logical of the two. He had inherited Split Enz when his elder brother Tim left so it made sense for Neil to strip it all back and start a smaller combo. The Enz never possessed a stable lineup or sound for that matter (From vaudevillian art rock to new wave) and by the time their last album was released (1984s See Ya ‘Round) they had exhausted their potential fan base. The clown make-up had not been sighted in a while either.
Their last hit song was a cracking pop tune called ‘I Walk Away’ which was loaded with connotations of leaving everything behind and starting something new and exciting.
In less than 18 months, Finn had his new band Crowded House and along with Paul Hester and Nick Seymour they cracked the US (something Split Enz never could) and finally the UK, becoming one of the world’s most loved groups. Interestingly enough, ‘I Walk Away’ was re-recorded for Crowded House’s self titled debut, with the new version taking on a more guitar driven sound that reflects Finn’s move to a three piece line-up.
It was a different kettle of fish for Paul Weller. The Jam were at their peak when Weller decided he had done all he could with the band (something Bruce Foxton, Rick Buckler and millions of Mods would disagree with). Weller’s interests in soul music was growing and slowly the punk in him waned. In hindsight, The Jam’s last single ‘Beat Surrender’ was like a snottier version of a song The Style Council (Weller’s next band) would soon release.
Going from sharp suits to sweaters draped over the shoulders, Paul Weller certainly took a hit in the credibility stakes. Yet for all their faults, The Style Council did produce some great music (‘Shout To The Top’ is a song) and Weller weathered the storm of the 80s to forge an acclaimed solo career.
Even though Weller survived, is such a ballsy move likely to ever happen again? Can one imagine Chris Martin leaving Coldplay to form a new venture with some other musicians? Thom Yorke ditching Radiohead? Such a notion is hard to believe but you tell that to fans of The Jam – they would disagree.