How do you like my new direction | Virgin Media
How do you like my new direction?

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‘Musical differences’ is the classic pop-biz excuse for bands imploding, and sometimes it’s actually true. Take Zayn Malik, who quit One Direction last year because they wouldn’t let him “experiment creatively,” he said. And, yes, his first two solo singles are a little bit saucier – but is it really a bold new direction? Here are 10 band members whose solo stuff moved to a whole different record-store rack. 

Scott Walker

“Make it eeeeeasy on yourself,” crooned the Walker Brothers’ heartthrob frontman in 1965, before making life really difficult for himself, and his fans. Scott went solo in 1967 and initially mixed radio pop with quirkier material, but got proper experimental from the 1980s-on. Exploring dark themes and weirder noises, his 2006 album The Drift famously featured the sound of someone punching a dead pig.

Michelle Williams

Girl, we didn’t know you could get down like that. Clearly wary of competing with Destiny’s Child colleague/mighty pop behemoth Beyoncé (Kelly Rowland: not so much), Williams laced up her boots, went back to her roots and made several successful gospel albums in the early noughties. Since then she’s manoeuvred smartly between gospel, pop and musical theatre, and sang for the Obamas at the White House last year. 

Brian Eno

Now an enormo-selling mainstream producer (U2/Coldplay), Eno looked pretty radical while manning Roxy Music’s keyboards in the early 1970s – that bold, balding mullet – and went on to launch whole genres. His 1978 album Music for Airports was an ambient chill-out zone after Roxy’s sax-heavy stomps, then he popularised sampling on My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, an arty 1981 collaboration with…

David Byrne

That album, featuring found-sounds and African/Arabic vocals, was recorded during downtime from Byrne’s own outfit, Talking Heads. The New York new-wavers experimented with exotic rhythms too, and Byrne went fully ‘world’ after their acrimonious 1989 split, even founding a label, Luaka Bop. His new direction bewildered fans, though, and unsuspecting festival promoters, whose 1990 line-ups boasted lots of guitar bands and one slightly incongruous merengue/samba/mambo combo.

Siobhan Donaghy

The first Sugababe to suga-bail, Siobhan Donaghy blamed bandmate Keisha Buchanan for forcing her out, which was handy fuel for the new material, at least. Donaghy switched to edgier songwriting and the 2007 album Ghosts garnered great reviews, but not massive sales. So in 2011 the three original Sugababes reformed as, er, Mutya Keisha Siobhan. Well, Buena Buchanan Donaghy sounds like a company who build housing estates.

Andy Burrows

Razorlight are up there with Sugababes when it comes to long-term staff satisfaction; only singer Johnny Borrell remains. Their old drummer, Burrows, has definitely moved on: eclectic solo records (one including reworked poetry), a Christmas album with Editors’ Tom Smith, songs for The Snowman and The Snowdog, and he’s now working on David Brent’s spoof rockumentary. No doubt the Razorlight years will come in handy there.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Hefty sections of Sophie’s still-avid fanbase are probably blissfully unaware that she started out in indie-rock. The daughter of a TV presenter and producer, Ellis-Bextor fronted an awkwardly-named band called theaudience and recorded with the Manic Street Preachers, but switched to modelling when theaudience’s label dropped them in 1999. A year later she guested on Spiller’s dance single Groovejet, sold millions and turned disco queen. The audience? Much bigger.

Charlie Simpson

Growing up in public, guitar style. Increasingly frustrated by Busted’s bouncy punk-pop, Simpson formed the harder-rocking Fightstar with two fellahs he met at a party. Then as the parties lessened and fatherhood beckoned, he turned singer-songwriter, and embraced a more mature, melancholy sound: definitely the way forward. Except that he’s now re-joining Busted for a reunion tour. Bit early for a mid-life crisis, Charles.

Andrew Ridgeley

Wham! That’s the sound of an album flopping hard. George Michael was already a global megastar by the time his old partner Ridgeley finally released his first – and last – solo effort, Son Of Albert, in 1990. An unlikely leather-jacketed soft-rock affair, it didn’t go down well. Still, he tried, and now lives a contentedly critic-free life in an old Cornish farmhouse, with Keren Woodward from Bananarama. 

Jonny Greenwood 

Radiohead’s floppy-haired guitarist has become, perhaps surprisingly, their most productive solo performer, streets ahead of Thom Yorke (awkward electronica) and drummer Phil Selway (intimate folktronica). Greenwood is a much sought-after composer these days, having scored several fine Paul Thomas Anderson films: There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice, The Master. He’s also the BBC Concert Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. No wonder Radiohead’s new album is taking ages.