The supergroup is one of rock & roll's best innovations. Taking established talent and combining it with another acknowledged talent is a no-brainer. It should be money in the bank, the kind of sure thing that keeps careers rolling and transforms the sycophantic blurbs of press kits from puff pieces into astute reporting. When the supergroup works, it is a force of nature. Fugazi, everyone's favorite idealists, are a supergroup (part Minor Threat and part Rites of Spring), and an ass-kicking one at that. Can anyone deny the power of Rapeman, which was one part Big Black (the Steve Albini part) and two parts Scratch Acid (the David Wm. Sims and Rey Washam parts)? Is there a band alive that can compete with the herculean strength of Fantômas (Melvins/Mr. Bungle/Slayer members) coming together as one to wreak havoc? These are supergroups a mother could be proud of. They combine the various strengths of the members to create vital, new music, and they avoid rehashing the past success of their old bands. And in the case of Fantômas, they occasionally play their other bands' stuff live, which is an added bonus.
But when it doesn't work, the supergroup is an abomination that makes fans look the other way out of respect for the past and shame at the present. Who can remember the Last Hard Men, wherein the junkie members of the Breeders and Smashing Pumpkins joined forces with Sebastian Bach of Skid Row and Jimmy Flemion of the Frogs? (So strange it could only be true!) Has anyone ever successfully sold One Hot Minute back to a record store? The union of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Navarro was unwanted even by the guilty parties, who wisely opted for a do-over with previous guitarist John Frusciante. And even now, supergroup-that-should-not-be-named Guns N' Roses is attempting to tour, with a veritable constellation of has-beens and never-wases, including Buckethead, one of the Replacements, a former Nine Inch Nail and old bald Axl himself. This is the kind of dreck only a moron such as Jimmy Fallon could get excited about, which he actually did at this year's Video Music Awards (proving that shit finds its own level).
And so the stage is now set for Audioslave. On paper, this is a supergroup to get excited about: Rage Against the Machine jettisons its most annoying feature, nasal rapper Zack de la Rocha, and replaces him with the talented Chris Cornell, late of Soundgarden. Unfortunately, Audioslave didn't get as excited as their built-in army of fans did. Their eponymous album starts off with the bang of "Cochise" but then quickly peters out with a host of midtempo alternative-rock songs. If you make it nine tracks, to "Exploder," you'll hear Chris Cornell do a bitchin' Steven Tyler impersonation with his "dat-un-dah-dah" fade out, which is the last interesting thing to happen before the CD ends and the next one in your changer wakes you back up -- which is a shame, because Audioslave seemed like a sure thing. Tom Morello's mutant guitar, a solid rhythm section and a singer who can sing should have been better than this.
It gets a man thinking: What should be that next CD in your changer that wakes you up? What sort of supergroup could revive you after Audioslave lulls you into a coma? It would take a group so powerful, or at least bizarre, that you open one eye and mumble, "What the frick?" if not stand up in bed and shout, "I am reborn in the glory of rock!" Here are some supergroup suggestions that should be taken seriously by the bands in question if they want to keep the money train rollin'.
Tatsuya Yoshida Joins Mötley Crüe: The Crüe hasn't been the same since man-mountain drummer Tommy Lee went overboard, and things won't get any better for them unless they can recruit the one-man percussive whirlwind Tatsuya Yoshida, of Tokyo-based legends the Ruins. Yoshida is lightning fast and dead heavy and has the additional skill of singing in his secret made-up-language (wait for it) falsetto. This would render weakest link Vince Neil positively useless, and the Crüe could become a raging power trio with a shrieking drummer/vocalist. And let's be honest: "Blimmguass sommvless" repeated over and over doesn't make any less sense than "There's a problem with the girls here on Earth, they stopped actin' dizzy." Mötley Crüe, look to the East.
John Cale Joins Metallica: Metallica have lost another bassist, through no fault of their own. Last time they went for an unknown to replace the irreplaceable Cliff Burton, but they briefly entertained the idea of adding weirdo Les Claypool to the mix. This time they should cast further afield than Lester and try to score avant-chameleon John Cale. His bass playing is granite (listen to the Velvet Underground's "I Heard Her Call My Name" ), and should the Bay Area Thrashers ever return to their Paganini-on-steroids roots, Cale is more than capable of mixing it up all classical-like. Besides, Cale once hacked a live chicken to death with a machete before a horrified crowd, and Metallica could use a little terrifyin' these days. Another Cale trick was shooting at his unsuspecting backup singers with blanks, and should Metallica opt to do another album with a philharmonic, maybe someone would be kind enough to slip Mr. Cale a clip of hollow-points.
Greg Ginn Joins Van Halen: Eddie Van Halen is drinking himself to death for the same reason Brando got fat: no more challenges. There hasn't been a personality strong enough to stand up to him since David Lee Roth wandered off, and so Eddie is a knight without a dragon. Greg Ginn is Eddie's dark reflection: just as talented, just as headstrong and floundering just as much since he removed thorn in his side Henry Rollins (the anti-DLR) from his life. But if Eddie and Greg had each other as foils, the resulting band (Gone Halen?) would be an instrumental juggernaut. Greg and Eddie would drive each other to new heights, trying to vibe one another out of the band and trying to outdo each other's solos. Imagine the breakdown in "Panama" replaced by the cascade of noise from "Three Nights." Fuckin' goosebumps.
Nick Cave Joins 'N Sync: Even the staunchest Nick Cave fan has to admit there was something wrong with Cave's last album. It seems the pressure of writing all the material is getting to Nick, and he is coming dangerously close to parodying himself, what with all the melancholy and maudlin hand-wringing. Maybe Nick should just focus on the singing for a while and let other people do the writing. Imagine Nick taking Justin Timberlake's spot in 'N Sync: The boy band would immediately be taken more seriously, and Cave could learn to enjoy himself. All the disturbed, dark teenage girls (you know, the hot ones) would have a pin-up to call their own, and Cave would finally have a video played on MTV. (Because that's a goal of his? Just go with us on this.) Imagine Carson Daly having to interview a ridiculously coiffed and dolled-up Nick Cave. Live. While Cave is suffering through the worst year of his life. It could only be ruled justifiable homicide on Cave's part. One album and a flashy tour, and Cave could return to his piano refreshed, refocused and revitalized -- and he would never write anything as cheesy as "God Is in the House" again, which is still a better listen than Audioslave.