At The Drive-In

Throughout music history there are numerous tales of bands that teetered on the verge of separation until a sudden burst of success made the grueling tours, creative disagreements, and personality clashes seem worth it all. Less frequent—but more fascinating—are cases like the following 11 bands, which split soon after their biggest breakthroughs due to unforeseen circumstances, shifting artistic temperaments, or working relationships in stages of decay too advanced to be repaired by one hit record. While some of them pulled it together long enough to see short-lived comebacks, none was able to recapture the momentum they surrendered.

1. The Verve (1990-1999)

Up until 1997’s Urban Hymns, The Verve was a mainstream music outlier—too psychedelic and subtle for Brit-pop’s cheeky cool kids and not accessible enough for laddish Oasis fans. Of course, it didn’t help that the band itself felt unstable; in fact, the then-quartet actually broke up after the release of 1995’s A Northern Soul. However, frontman Richard Ashcroft managed to rally the troops (and convince guitarist Nick McCabe to come back to the band) for Urban Hymns. The decision was sound: Arriving in a post-Brit-pop musical climate that was far more open to weirder sounds, the LP ended up becoming a massive global hit, including in the U.S., where it hit No. 23 on the Billboard album charts. Of course, it helps that the album’s first single was “Bittersweet Symphony,” a cinematic, string-driven song that sampled a snippet of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” as performed by The Andrew Oldham Orchestra. “Bittersweet Symphony” reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for a Grammy. It was all downhill from there: Although Urban Hymns spawned a few more hits, The Verve imploded again in the subsequent two years, plagued by more internal turmoil and stress, and officially split in April 1999. [Annie Zaleski]

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2. MARRS (1987)

In fairness, Colourbox and A.R. Kane, the bands whose members formed the sample-driven side experiment MARRS, didn’t intend for the group to become a going concern. MARRS was planned as a one-off project with the sole purpose of releasing its 1987 single “Pump Up The Volume,” but that didn’t make its swift demise any less surprising. The controlling mantra in show business is, “If it makes money, make more,” and “Pump Up The Volume” was massively successful. It came just a few slots shy of landing in the Billboard Hot 100 and garnered a Grammy nomination. (It also lent its title to a terrible Christian Slater movie, but the less said about that, the better.) It’s the kind of auspicious debut that turns side projects into full-time projects, but that was not to be for MARRS, which remained dormant for two years after the release of “Pump Up The Volume,” then announced it wouldn’t release any more music. The decision was informed in part by the legal trouble MARRS encountered as a result of its then-unprecedented use of samples. [Joshua Alston]

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3. Sunny Day Real Estate (1992-1995)

The first Sunny Day Real Estate album, 1994’s Diary, surpassed almost everyone’s expectations from both a commercial and influential standpoint. It spawned a legion of emo bands with cryptic lyrics and swirling guitars, and it also sold shockingly well for its time. But internal and external pressure (a religious coming-out for singer Jeremy Enigk and too many diehard fans, respectively) ended up splitting the band while it was in the process of recording a follow-up. The band turned in album number two with no artwork and no title, leaving Sub Pop to present it with a plain pink cover and a generic title, LP2. (There’s also a picture of a fly on it, for some reason.) It could’ve been the band’s big breakthrough, but instead it was its first breakup. Sunny Day Real Estate would subsequently re-form and split again, but never captured the zeitgeist the way it might have. [Josh Modell]

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4. Lush (1987-1998)

After a pair of critically embraced, commercially ignored albums, English dream-pop quartet Lush appeared destined to top out at a fervent cult following. For 1996’s Lovelife, the band hired its live sound engineer Pete Bartlett to produce, hoping Bartlett could coax out the muscular rock sound that often startled fans seeing Lush on stage for the first time. The result was a readily accessible power-pop sound, the perfect vessel for more direct lyrics about how irritating men can be. At a time when the “women in rock” dialogue was cresting, Lush was perfectly positioned for success with dual frontwomen Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, who split songwriting duties. Berenyi’s scathing “Ladykillers” and Anderson’s earworm “Single Girl” were the biggest hits of Lush’s career, and Lovelife became the band’s first album to crack the bottom of the Billboard 200. The rally screeched to a halt when, just six months after Lovelife’s release, founding drummer Chris Acland hanged himself. The band never recorded again and quietly disbanded two years later. [Joshua Alston]

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5. Jane’s Addiction (1985-1991)

Jane’s Addiction got off to a slow start when most retailers refused to carry the band’s first album, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking, because of its cover artwork—a sculpture that singer Perry Farrell had made of nude female conjoined twins. MTV refused to air the video for the band’s first single, “Mountain Song,” also because of nudity. But three years later, the band was poised to be one of the biggest success stories of the nebulously defined “alternative rock” scene, as follow-up album Ritual De Lo Habitual broke into Billboard’s top 20, with singles “Stop!” and “Been Caught Stealing” topping the Modern Rock chart with frequent MTV airplay. Biggest of all, the band triumphantly headlined the first Lollapalooza, the package tour they helped mastermind. But internal tensions had been brewing all along, as Farrell demanded (and got) the lion’s share of royalties during the recording of Nothing’s Shocking, which the rest of the band resented. And while drug use featured heavily in the band’s early days, by ’91, bassist Eric Avery and guitarist Dave Navarro were both sober, which made touring with hard-partying Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins a minefield of temptation. By the end of 1991, Avery quit the band, Navarro followed, and various side projects and reunions failed to recapture any of the band’s creative or commercial success. [Mike Vago]

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6. 4 Non Blondes (1989-1994)

The career path of San Francisco’s 4 Non Blondes changed dramatically when singer Linda Perry joined their ranks in 1989. Thanks to her memorable look and voice, she soon raised the band’s profile to the point where, in July 1991, they opened for Primus at the Gavin Convention and were promptly signed to Interscope Records. Unfortunately, Perry was also quickly determined by Interscope to be the only non-expendable member of the Blondes, as guitarist Shaunna Hall and drummer Wanda Day, both founding members, were gone from the lineup by the time the Blondes’ lone album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, was released in October 1992. Although they hit No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their 1993 single “What’s Up?” and never charted again in the U.S., the band soldiered on for a bit longer, but in the process of attempting to record their sophomore album, 4 Non Blondes fell apart. The breakup likely didn’t bother Perry that much, though: In addition to forging a substantial career as a songwriter, she also admitted to Rolling Stone in 2011 that she “wasn’t really a big fan of my band,” adding that she “hated the production” of their album to the point that, “When I heard our record for the first time I cried.” [Will Harris]

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7. Jawbreaker (1986-1996)

In 1995, before the release of its major label debut, Jawbreaker seemed poised for Green Day-level crossover success. The band had just released its most accessible record to date, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, following a spotlight-grabbing opening slot with Nirvana. But, as if predicting its own eventual fate, enigmatic lead singer Blake Schwarzenbach spoke of the fickleness of the San Francisco punk scene that had embraced the band as indie heroes. As Schwarzenbach memorably sang on “Boxcar,” one of the standout tracks on Therapy, “You’re not punk / And I’m telling everyone / Save your breath, I never was one.” After signing a $1 million contract with major label DGC and the release of Dear You in 1995, the band was done one year later. While Dear You has aged well, at the time, Jawbreaker’s core audience rejected the slick production, and wrote them off as sellouts. Schwarzenbach’s throaty rasp, cleaner than on any previous record, still sounded slightly menacing, and without a breakout single, failed to achieve mainstream success. Thankfully, the band remains relevant, with many citing Jawbreaker as hugely influential to the emo movement. [Drew Fortune]

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8. New Radicals (1997-1999)

Gregg Alexander was scooped up by the music industry in the 1980s when he was still a teenager, and he spent nearly a decade “in development,” releasing a couple of go-nowhere solo albums and working with various major labels to find the proper way to frame his upbeat, lavishly produced alt-pop songs. Then in 1997, Alexander took another shot at the big time with MCA, under the name New Radicals. His makeshift band’s debut album Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too came out in 1998, and offered a more radio-friendly, up-to-date version of the old-fashioned AM Gold that artists like Jon Brion and Rufus Wainwright were recording around the same time. New Radicals’ first single “You Get What You Give,” with its optimistic vibe and sing-song verses, charted around the world. But just as Alexander’s label was getting ready to make a push to vault him to superstardom, he abruptly retired from performing. At the time, the decision to quit after only a few months in the spotlight seemed premature (and kind of crazy), but for Alexander it had been over a decade of work, and he wasn’t enjoying success any more than he had obscurity. He’s since moved into producing and writing for other artists—including penning the Oscar-nominated “Lost Stars,” along with the rest of the Begin Again soundtrack—and has shown little interest in getting his fake band back together. [Noel Murray]

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9. The Blood Brothers (1997-2007)

For Pacific Northwest post-hardcore shit-stirrers The Blood Brothers, their career was a slow and steady ascent. Early releases on Second Nature and 31G led to a major label deal and Ross Robinson production, 2003’s Burn, Piano Island, Burn. That album eventually begat 2006’s electro-tweaked, Guy Picciotto co-produced Young Machetes, which debuted at No. 92 on the Billboard album charts and sold 11,000 copies its first week of release. The album’s more streamlined sound—and the fact it was released into an underground music community that more and more embraced such chaotic sounds—signaled an even brighter future for the band. But after high-profile tours (including one with …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead), The Blood Brothers broke up in 2007, citing the usual (amicable) creative differences. In 2014, the band reunited for a series of live shows. [Annie Zaleski]

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10. The Power Station (1984-1985)

No one really expects a side project to turn into a major success, even when the project in question comes to fruition in the mid-1980s and features a couple of members of Duran Duran (Andy Taylor and John Taylor), but The Power Station surpassed all expectations, with its 1985 self-titled album delivering three top-40 hits: “Some Like It Hot” (No. 6), “Get It On (Bang a Gong)” (No. 9), and “Communication” (No. 34). It also served to raise the profile of the band’s lead singer, Robert Palmer, who’d never before found himself in the Top 10 in the U.S., to a level that convinced him it was time to record another solo album. Unfortunately, this plan caused grumblings among the rest of his bandmates, because The Power Station had just locked in a headlining tour with Paul Young, Nik Kershaw, and OMD, which Palmer promptly bailed on. In an attempt to salvage the situation, The Power Station brought in Michael Des Barres and not only completed the tour but also performed at Live Aid and recorded an EP’s worth of new material. The label opted to shelve the songs, though, which doubtlessly served as one of the reasons for their demise by the end of ’85. [Will Harris]

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11. At The Drive-In (1993-2001)

For the first five years of its existence, El Paso post-hardcore band At The Drive-In was notable in the same way its contemporaries were. Its recordings were lo-fi by necessity, but live shows saw the band come alive in a way few others could. When the quintet released In/Casino/Out in 1998 it was the first sign that the band’s frenetic energy could translate onto record, and when it released the Vaya EP a year later it was proof that At The Drive-In’s artistry superseded its legendary live antics. This grabbed the attention of the Capitol Records subsidiary Grand Royal, who would release the band’s third album Relationship Of Command just before the band’s implosion. The record holds the designation of being both At The Drive-In’s most accomplished and its most popular, with people outside the underground punk scenes taking notice thanks to the presence of “One Armed Scissor” on radio and MTV2, leading to a string of chaotic late-night appearances. The record would go to No. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, and the band would make the move from basement show heroes to headliner of rooms that could hold thousands above street level. This would be short-lived, as the band canceled tour dates and went on an indefinite hiatus in 2001. At The Drive-In would reunite briefly in 2011, but as no future plans have been announced, At The Drive-In has stalled out once again. [David Anthony]

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