Two weeks ago, Alice in Chains released their fifth album, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, their second in nearly 20 years and second since singer Layne Staley died. Dealbreaker or beautiful dark twisted fantasy? Because so many of their vocal lines were doubled or sung wholesale by co-frontman Jerry Cantrell, they were able to experiment with a Staley soundalike, William DuVall, to eerily perfunctory results on 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue. Dinosaurs is better, now over the hump of worrying whether fans will embrace a non-Staley Alice in Chains and unafraid that an acoustic-driven pop song like “Voices” will be seen as an affront to Staley’s grave. But is the stigma a bad thing?
Hard rock, a male-dominated genre historically not known for its tastefulness or restraint, is where a lot of hypotheticals get answered surrounding a new singer. A few weeks back, former Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland found out at the same time as any of us that his ex-bandmates hired Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington to front them at KROQ’s Weenie Roast festival, to sing Weiland’s songs and use the STP name. Weiland, somewhat understandably, didn’t have any reason to believe their recent spat was one of permanence, considering the band’s past history of breaking up and making up. But in a missive on his website, he described being hurt and looking at legal options about the band using the Pilots mantle for the Bennington stint. Wide-ranging speculation that he can no longer hit the notes on their best-known songs likely doesn’t help. That said, fans are far more likely to take to an already-established frontman like Bennington than a total stranger fronting their beloved band.
Weiland is no stranger to fronting a beloved band himself, as the frontman of Velvet Revolver, which is otherwise made up of classic-era Guns N’ Roses members. But he’d probably argue that they had the decency to change their name, whether Axl controls it or not. When Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell fronted three ex-Rage Against the Machine members in Audioslave, there was no sign of bad blood, and they even took to covering Soundgarden and Rage tunes in concert, an especially generous move considering Cornell is not known for rapping. (One of the Audioslave remakes, “Killing in the Name,” is more a collection of chanted mantras than a rap song anyway.)
AC/DC, Black Flag and VanHalen are three more examples of bands having weathered the loss of a lead singer. How have they been able to do it?