Pass the mic


Swapping one vocalist for another can be the death knell for any band. Given how attuned we are to vocal melody as an anchor in modern pop, when a band breaks from their singer—be it from death or ego or even the occasional amicable parting—it usually signals at the very least a shift in tones, if not a total re-envisioning of sound.

Some manage to transition successfully; others find themselves crawling back to their previous front person. Here are a few that met with varied levels of success:

Joy Division

Before: Icy, depressive music that helped define Post Punk sound.
Departure: In May, 1980, under the pressures of mounting depression and the disintegration of his marriage, singer Ian Curtis killed himself on the eve of the band's first tour of the US, and just prior to the release of its second album, Closer.

Replacement: Rather than seeking out someone completely new, the band reorganized, letting keyboardist/guitarist Bernard Summer take over vocals and lyrics renaming themselves New Order.
Lasting Legacy: New Order channelled Joy Division's dreamy kinetics into crystaline, danceable pop (though with a depressive edge still, on singles like “Blue Monday”) The band last put out an album in 2005, Waiting For the Sirens' Call, but have since “officially” split.

Van Halen

Before the change: '80s power metal bolstered by the very definition of mind-melting solos. Plus, soaring vocals, although …
Departure: Which one? Van Halen's microphone stand is the veritable hot potato of '80s and '90s popular music, passing from David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar to Gary Cherone, before circling back and reuniting with both Roth and Hagar.
Replacement: See above.
Lasting Legacy: Gary Cherone's short-lived stint as frontman (Culminating with the release of Van Halen III in 1998) is perhaps the last time Halen tried anything new or interesting; cycling back through its most popular singers really shows how they've resigned themselves to playing the oldies. The band doesn't even list III as part of its discography on the official Van Halen website.

Mother Love Bone

Before: Seattle Washington's pre-Grunge Boom heroes. Wood was a charismatic frontman and Mother Love Bone had massive buzz behind them. 
Departure: Wood overdosed on heroin days before the release of the band's major label debut album Apple.
Replacement: After briefly forming Temple of the Dog with some guy named Chris Cornell, a few Love Bone members found this other frontman to get behind permanently. His name was Eddie Vedder.
Lasting Legacy: They transitioned into Pearl Jam, and, powered by Vedder's molar-grinding vocals, rocketed to the top of the '90s charts and built a lasting musical legacy that surpassed their first band's long shadow. That said, the four surviving members of Mother Love Bone played a reunion show in 2010 with Seattle musician Shawn Smith on vocals for a one-off tribute to their former band.

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