An idea that came to me as I explored old favorites uncovered in the course of my voyage of musical discovery it forced me to reflect on those projects that showed musicians of talent that truly excelled themselves when given hold of the reigns; projects that they aren’t known for, that wasn’t expected of them, and somehow ended up stronger as a result of that. You can learn a surprising amount about an artist and their influences by listening to the members hammer it out in other work. For example…
The Band: Slipknot
Now I’d never confess to being the greatest fan of this artist, but I will concede on three points.
After enjoying Stone Sour’s debut album, I suspect that much of my issue stems from the fact they’re complacent and unadventurous in the approach to their composition. They have no need to not be; they’re at a stage in their careers where they could release just about anything and have it garner critical acclaim. It’s only when they have to apply themselves in a new direction, ‘go back the drawing board’ as it were, that things get interesting, like in the side-project...
The Surprise: Dirty Little Rabbits - Dirty Little Rabbits ( 2010)
Formed by Shawn Crahan, better known as “Clown” or ‘that man who sometimes bangs on a beer keg on stage’, and a band member I had to research before coming to the conclusion that he may just be the most talented member in the band. But let me quickly gloss over the fact that the masks was his idea, he was the first to refer to his fans as “like maggots, feeding from their musical body” (paraphrasing), his film directorial work, and the “To My Surprise” side-project in order to get right onto the project he refers to as “the band he's been waiting his whole life for”, because whatever you’re expecting from it, you’re almost certainly wrong.
Crahan has openly admitted he’s not much of a metal fan and has largely followed his friends in their musical pursuits, but few would expect him to form this alt-rock outfit fronted by this unhinged blend of Julie Christmas (ex-Battle of Mice, ex-Made out of Babies) and Gwen Stefani (ex-No-Doubt). She can be found rapping, rasping, wailing and whining—there are times I swear I can hear her pouting—and proves more than capable of going from a quiet spoken passage to roaring like a demon, only to return to a seductive croon. If ever the idiom “bitches be crazy” applied to music, lead single “Professional Hit” is the perfect example, and whilst this psychotic little Harley Quinn provides the most obvious draw, there’s so much else on offer that it’s hard not to be impressed.
In fact there’s more diversity and creativity in this little known forty minute album than there is in Slipknot’s entire discography. There are gentle moments of ambience that brings to mind Massive Attack, leaving piano lines bare for her to perform over, and there are tracks that go into jazz/funk overdrive, layering on the mellotron, grooving like Rage Against the Machine, genre-hopping like Faith No More and tearing bass lines straight out of Herbie Hancock’s funkmaster playbook; bouncy and bombastic circus tracks and poppy hooks somehow delightfully out of place amongst the competent and complex instrumentation behind it. Since Made out of Babies disbanded in 2012, this side project is the closest I’ve encountered to an attempt to steal the crown of crazy.