Sure, you may have the chops. You may have the swagger. But in this day and age, a successful frontman is a dime a dozen. He or she requires that certain oomph and charisma that makes his or her band lauded and unforgettable, and that leaves the listener undeniably hooked. But within this realm of talented songsters exists a specific brand of frontmen, a collective of sort-of-soloists whose bands primarily serve as a vehicle for showcasing their own talents. These singer-songwriters often work with a fluid line-up of collaborators, resulting in bands that would fail to exist without the frontman's presence and ingenuity. Here are some frontmen who have come to define their respective bands.
The Shins have undergone some pretty significant changes since the release of their 2007 album Wincing the Night Away, the most notable being that the band is no longer a band. Mercer, The Shin’s principal singer-songwriter, broke away from original members Jesse Sandoval, Marty Crandall and Dave Hernandez, choosing to work with a new cast of musicians instead. This subsequently caused a bit of backlash among fans. But let’s face it, Mercer has and always will be The Shins, and the band’s new line-up won’t change that. Regardless of The Shins’ other instrumentalists, Mercer has consistently released lush power-pop since 2001’s Oh, Inverted World. Mercer has long championed auteurs who present themselves under the monikers of their bands. It is only until the release of his recent album, Port of Morrow, that Mercer was willing to make that leap of independence himself. And the results have paid off. If you don’t believe me, slap on some Natalie Portman-sized headphones and listen for yourself.
If there is any songwriting auteur that deserves the praise of James Mercer, it is, without a doubt, Neutral Milk Hotel’s elusive frontman Jeff Mangum. The band’s work is as introspective and enigmatic as Mangum himself, covering topics as diverse and surreal as the life of Anne Frank and mutant two-headed children, to the tune of beautiful, albeit zany, instrumentation. But after the release of his 1998 masterpiece In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the indie stalwart and his comrades faded into obscurity. After years of being a recluse, Mangum stepped back into the limelight last year for a tour of solo performances, all of which were sold out. His return was treated as something of a second coming. His music may have been released under the name Neutral Milk Hotel, but it is Mangum’s songwriting abilities that keep his audience coming back for more nearly 15 years later.
Billy Corgan is a weird dude. But for all his bizarre antics, long overdue grudges, and decision to date the likes of Jessica Simpson (you heard me right), we can’t deny his brilliant musicianship as the frontman and driving force behind the Smashing Pumpkins. The release of albums like Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993), and Mellon Collie (1995) cemented Corgan as one of the leading figures of alt-rock in the 90s. Corgan, however, was somewhat infamous for his tumultuous relationship with his band members. The Pumpkins broke up in 2000, followed by Corgan’s short-lived band Zwan. After that, Corgan went solo, only to try and revive the Pumpkins in 2005 (oddly enough, by taking out a full-page ad in two of Chicago’s major newspapers). Sure, Billy Corgan may be bat-shit crazy, but one can’t deny his importance in shaping alternative rock; it is both his genius and his absurdity that make him a truly unforgettable frontman.