Comeback Kids or Comeback Kidding Themselves?


Posted by in April's Magazine

There’s a big market for nostalgia in music these days, with pretty much anyone that had even a glimmer of success in decades gone by making their ‘long awaited’ comeback with varying degrees of success (you didn’t know Toploader reformed? Shame on you!). Usually this takes the form of a tour and maybe greatest hits album, the group/artist recording a new album is much rarer, and successfully resuming a recording career is rarer still but I’ve cherry-picked a few.

I love 80s swashbuckling, bombastic cock rock heroes Van Halen, specifically the group’s original line-up with the irrepressible ‘Diamond’ David Lee Roth on vocals. I saw Dave live back in ‘91 but the dream for over two decades has been the whole group back together. After numerous false starts over the years, including an ill fated tour only a few years ago, I thought that this was a pipe-dream, with pill poppin’ noodler Eddie Van Halen and Diamond Dave unable to spend any time in the same room together. This time they didn’t make a hoo-ha until their new album was pretty much in the bag and tour rehearsals well under way. At the start of 2012, after a whopping 28 years, Roth finally made his comeback with Van Halen.  The album is definitely a grower, not a return to the peak of their powers but much better than one could realistically have hoped for (Motley Crue take note), will it last…

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Music’s Greta Garbo
In British music the great comeback story has to be that of boy/man band Take That. The group amassed a shed load of hits but after Robbie Williams left to become pop royalty the writing was on the wall. A gap of ten years saw their return welcomed by most, and armed with chart friendly crackers such as Shine they emerged as the biggest group in the country. Addressing their issues on a TV documentary (as is the way these days) a musically treading water Robbie was welcomed back into the fold and cute wee Mark’s drunken philandering instantly forgotten. Their album Progress was critically acclaimed and the subsequent tour was box office busting, hoorah!

On the other end of the musical spectrum is the eccentric enigma Kate Bush. She burst onto the scene with the utterly unique Wuthering Heights and by constantly pushing the boundaries would become the key British female artist of the 1980s. By taking an extended break to raise her family, Kate Bush became music’s Greta Garbo in the eyes of many. After a gap of twelve years she released the typically distinctive Aerial to both commercial and critical success. Never one for rushing her art, it would be another six years before her follow up release, the reworkings album Director’s Cut in 2011. Untypically for Kate Bush she released another album, 50 Words for Snow only 6 months later, making this one of the most prolific periods of her career.

Battles with drugs
The angelic voiced Terry Callier was one of the pioneers of the folk-jazz scene with a succession of albums in the late 60s and early 70s, including the classic single Ordinary Joe. In the early 1980s as a single parent he retired from music and took a job in computer programming at Chicago University. Rediscovered by the acid-jazz heads in Britain, Callier started playing gigs in his time off work (his Glasgow comeback mid 90s was stunning), finally recording a new album in 1998. His work colleagues eventually learned of his moonlighting, and he’s since become a full time musical elder statesman.

Gil Scott Heron called himself a ‘bluesologist’ and his socially aware spoken word/singing of the 70s and 80s was a direct influence on numerous rappers that followed, with tracks such as The Revolution Will Not Be Televised paving the path. Well-documented battles with drugs, including jail time, took over his life, but in 2010 he came back with the critically lauded I’m New Here. The following year’s remix companion piece We’re New Here was a revelation. Sadly ill health got the better of him in 2011.

Why they split
What’s much more common that a fully-fledged comeback is the hugely lucrative reunion tour and obligatory accompanying greatest hits album. Sometimes these reunion shows go so well that the band go into the studio, and maybe a single is recorded but after the honeymoon ends they remember why they split up in the first place.

Comeback shows by rock titans Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin were triumphant and there was talk of something more coming from them, but this was never really going to happen. Blur did record a new song last year but they also have a frontman already plotting his next new project before the encore is over.

We now have the ‘it’ll never happen’ Stone Roses comeback shows imminent, and the band has claimed that they’re back together full time. Whether that’ll happen we’ll have to wait and see, but for every Stone Roses there’s a Eurovision flops Blue or worse still the new East 17 single, there are some groups we wish wouldn’t stay another day…

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