The Burden of Swapping Musical Partners
Polyamory—the act of mutually swapping lovers, is generally perceived as taboo. Monogamy—being exclusive to a lover is publicly accepted as the norm.
This isn’t just true for romantic relationships, it’s a fact of life. At work, a successful worker can be chided for leaving to pursue something less lucrative yet more fun. In sports, an athlete can leave a town where they have devoted fans and join a team that will pay them more in another town—and then those fans excoriate them.
Change is inevitable. Feelings can evolve. Passion can dwindle. But stubbornness is a gateway to misery.
In music, bands have members depart, and styles that change over time. Usually, loud fans hate it. They treat the new member like a step-dad who hasn’t earned their spot in the family (or never will.)
This week, it was announced that Orange County rock group No Doubt would be moving on for a while without their blonde edgy front woman, Gwen Stefani. But it’s not like they are just replacing her with their guitar tech. Her bandmates are instead just collaborating with the wailing frontman of punk band AFI, Davey Havok.
And right away, there was backlash from fans of both No Doubt and AFI.
Fans don’t have to embrace whatever tunes No Doubt-Minus-Gwen-Plus-Davey produce. But they should respect that their favorite artists are still out there finding new ways to be creative, expressive, and entertaining.
There are purists that will never be happy with anything beyond the first album that brought them to love a particular band. Many fans go to the concert and sing hard for the old throwback breakout hits. And then they openly scoff at anything that was made since the last presidential election.
Another band that recently had a controversial line-up change was Blink 182. Guitarist Tom Delonge is currently taking indefinite time to write fantasy and supernatural books. He always had an obsession with aliens (hence the song, “Aliens Exist” on their breakthrough album Enema of the State). And now Tom has the time to explore another passion outside of punk rock. After all, he turned 40 last year. That’s over twenty-two years of doing the same job.
The ensuing public fallout between Delonge and the other Blink 182 members fractured Tom from many fans. Eventually, drummer Travis Barker and bassist Mark Hoppus took in Alkaline Trio guitarist Matt Skiba to replace Delonge. They toured. Fans sang, fans cheered. They are even recording an album together. But plenty of fans of both bands continue to Tweet and pout with their arms crossed, as if the music that brought them into fandom has somehow changed.
It hasn’t. The old music will sound exactly the same. And the new music will at least be interesting.
In the last 30 years, plenty of rock bands have had controversial lineup switches. After the outrage calmed down, they all kept on keeping on.
In 1995, following the departure of guitarist John Frusciante, the Red Hot Chili Peppers joined forces with Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. The sole album they produced, One Hot Minute, still gets airtime on the radio today. Frusciante eventually returned to the band in 1999 before leaving for good a decade later.
In 2000, Rage Against the Machine parted ways with singer Zach de La Rocha. The following year, the remaining three members formed a group called Audioslave with Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell. They toured the world and released an album together. Eventually, both singers went back to their respective bands.
Journey, the band that sang “Don’t Stop Believin’” replaced singer Steve Perry in 1998 with another singer named Steve—Steve Augeri. Eventually, Journey permanently replaced Augeri in 2007 with Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer from a Journey cover band.
Some bands don’t even have the option of having a reunion after parting with members.
At the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Nirvana was to be enshrined. Their lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain committed suicide 20 years prior, yet the band was slated to play some of their hits. So to help play their most famous song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic recruited Joan Jett to sing the vocals. The woman who is famous for singing “I Love Rock and Roll” proved that she indeed does. And anyone who also loves rock and roll should at the very least appreciate that epic collaboration and tribute.
While it is perfectly normal to not be thrilled by the new music by an evolving band, it is unreasonable to chide artists for veering off the path that has trained their original fans to love their art. The old material is still very much there.
But is an inevitable burden of the artist whose art evolves to face criticism for swinging with new band mates. And the fans that made them successful in the first place should relax and give the old music a listen if the thought of them cheating on their old band mates repulses them so much.
BRIAN FISHBACH is a music journalist based in Los Angeles.