Until today, that time in my audiophile, stoner, Talking Heads-loving friend’s room was also the last time I heard The Red and The Black. The thing I remember about that single spin of the album in 1981 is that it was both surprisingly great and surprisingly disappointing because it sounded exactly like outtakes from Remain in Light, with a less interesting singer and rhythm section. Listening to the album today, I had the same reaction. It feels like Harrison’s first foray as a solo artist is completely riding on the coattails of his band’s sound and success.
I didn’t know it at the time, but there were already tensions within the band. To Harrison, maybe it felt like the end of the line and he figured, “Why not take some of the contributing musicians from my band’s biggest-selling album – Adrian Belew, Nona Hendryx, Bernie Worrell – and show the world that I am a stronger contributor to our sound than Byrne and Eno would have anyone believe?”
At the time, though, it felt like the band was in its prime and, rather than show the world who Jerry Harrison was, what made him tick, he blatantly aped the unique sound of his meal ticket. Even Phil Collins, who was at the helm of ABACAB-era Genesis, did something different on his concurrent debut solo album.
Excluding band members who step out and make solo albums while their roots or pub rock band (or reggae, country, or some other codified genre) are in mid-flight, are there other examples of band members from stylistically distinct bands going solo and releasing what I’ll call a coattails album, like Jerry Harrison’s The Red and The Black?
I guess the solo albums that Steve Howe and Chris Squire put out while Yes were at their peak qualify. Maybe some of those solo KISS albums, too. Tom Petty somehow managed to ride his own coattails and unnecessarily blatantly copy himself when he went from making solo albums backed by his band to what were simply billed as solo albums. He must have really hated Stan Lynch!
To be fair, by the time Talking Heads expired and Harrison put out another solo album, he was still doing a Blues Hammer take on funky Talking Heads.