Going It Alone - 10 Essential Solo Albums


The Smiths’ nimble guitarist, Johnny Marr, recently announced a new solo album, Playland, for release Oct. 7 on Warner Bros. His majestic work in and out of the confines of the marvelous mod group the Smiths is testament to the wide-ranging talents of many a musician. Sometimes an artist usually amid the ranks of his famous band might feel stifled by the requisite sound that outlet is best known for. So when he or she flies solo, unbridled magic can happen.

Here are 10 magnificent solo albums for you to expand your palate:


George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (1970)

The “quiet” Beatle penned some of the Fab Four’s most gorgeous tunes (“Something” especially), but he was relegated to John Lennon’s and Paul McCartney’s long shadows during the 1960s. But with such an oceanic array of influences – from Indian mysticism to girl groups – Harrison was brimming with ideas once his primary band broke up. The triple-player All Things Must Pass was a treasure chest of his practically hidden talent, featuring his understated but confident vocals— not to mention a who’s who of guests (Eric Clapton, Badfinger and Ringo Starr).


Listen to “What Is Life.”


Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

Hip-hop trio the Fugees took the scene by storm in the 1990s, with their rapid-fire lyrics and infectious beats. Their star was undeniably Lauryn Hill, and she further proved her superiority with her 1998 solo debut. Her throwback single “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” enthralled audiences and catapulted her into diva status. Her concurrent swagger and vulnerability earned Miseducation top honors at the Grammys, taking home Album of the Year in 1999. Outside of an “MTV Unplugged” record and sporadic solo and Fugees gigs, Hill has all but disappeared from the music world. Alas.


Listen to and watch “Doo Wop (That Thing)”


Morrissey – You Are the Quarry (2004)

You can’t mention the Smiths without also mentioning their outspoken, petulant front man, Steven Morrissey. And his output beyond his widely worshipped former band is just as stellar. It was a challenge to choose one of his solo releases to include here, but You Are the Quarry wins out by decree of the brazen “I Have Forgiven Jesus.” You can beat on the brat all you want, but with political tirades like “Irish Blood, English Heart” and “America Is Not the World,” you can’t silence the Moz. Drama is in his bones and in the sad strains of his bleak pop.


Listen to and watch “Irish Blood, English Heart.”


Cerys Matthews – Cockahoop (2003)

One of the most unique voices in Britpop shifted her musical vision to bluegrass and more traditional fare with this solo album. The songs run the gamut from Welsh-language hymns (“Arglwydd Dyma Fi”) to laments for atrocities committed against Native Americans (“Weightless Again”). Matthews took her melodic tendencies in Catatonia to this folksy collection, creating an engaging hodgepodge not unlike Joanna Newsom. Comfortable sing-along structures might have been the springboard for Matthews, but it’s the rural delight of Cockahoop where she finds her home.


Listen to and watch a live version of “Caught in the Middle.”


Bob Mould – Beauty & Ruin (2014)

Eleven solo albums under his belt, and college-rock god Bob Mould shows no signs of slowing down. This year’s punchy Beauty & Ruin is classic Bob, all bright choruses and harmonious guitar flicks. The deceivingly bubbly “I Don’t Know You Anymore” is straight out of a dream of the ’90s. Frenetic single “Hey Mr. Grey” pokes fun at a formerly stoic personality (“I used to be so hard,” he croaks as a rubbery six-string runs amok). The record cover superimposes the 53-year-old Mould over a younger version of himself, visualizing this superb meshing of maturity and the exuberance of his influential bands, Husker Du and Sugar.


Listen to and watch “I Don’t Know You Anymore.”


Bjork – Post (1995)

By no means were the Sugarcubes a by-the-book band. But once the mercurial vocalist Bjork Guðmundsdóttir went solo, she was exploring different galaxies. For Post (Elektra), she landed on a planet where Yoko Ono and Deee-Lite were deities. Scattered percussion, blazing trumpets, cinematic accents and her one-of-a-kind non-melodic freeform storytelling illuminate this exquisite oddity. From the industrial, complex “Army of Me” to the big band standard “It’s Oh So Quiet,” Post is pure Bjork.


Listen to and watch “Army of Me.”


Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (2013)

It takes a real woman to proclaim, “I’m a man/That’s what you raised me to be.” But Neko Case has never been shy about letting ballsy, lyrical non-sequiturs fly. The New Pornographer has enjoyed a career of lush country-fried and critically hailed solo music, but it’s The Worse Things Get (Anti) that best encompasses all her strengths. Her woodsy alto, sinewy instrumentation and wild heart make for gorgeous pensiveness. The haunting a cappella number “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” puts Case in the shoes of an unloved child, daring to confront the sting of neglect. She’s an unconventional weaver of tales and aims for the jugular.


Listen to “Man.”


Jonsi – Go (2010)

The Icelandic legends Sigur Ros have made many spellbinding records, but they often creep at a glacial pace. So when the angelically voiced Jonsi released his solo album, Go (XL Recordings), it was nearly shocking that it was such an upbeat affair. Here, he embraced excitable instruments, quick turns of verse and a more joyous vibe. What’s more, he tried his hand at singing in English— something he’d only done once on a Sigur Ros song (“All Alright,” off 2008’s Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust). Consider the experiment a success.


Listen to and watch “Go Do.”


Iggy Pop – Lust for Life (1977)

You really can’t go wrong with David Bowie on your team. The second collaboration between the Stooge and Ziggy Stardust, Lust for Life (RCA) was in-your-face fun. The chugging, whining title track gained steam and a revival in 1996 thanks to its inclusion on the Trainspotting soundtrack. Like Iggy himself, the album whips, zips and shimmies. It’s a droll take on a world that was getting too glitzy for punks like him. So he and Bowie used glam overtones to combat disco and spit beer in the faces of the mainstream. Talk about raw power.


Listen to and watch “Lust for Life.”


Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis (2006)                                                             

A taut and wizened offering from the Pulp front man. His first foray into solo territory moved from the dance floor to the easy chair with a comforting cuppa at his side. A mostly mid-tempo excursion, Jarvis doled out advice to the lovelorn (“Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time”) and took cues from AM radio ballads (“I Will Kill Again”). He didn’t completely soften his edge— the politely titled “Cunts Are Still Running the World” appeared as a hidden track on the otherwise polished bounty. A sharp collection from an even sharper lad.


Listen to and watch “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time.”

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