Two reunions of different kinds hit the news last week, although interestingly the return of Steps seemed to be rather overshadowed by The Stone Roses. The NME in particular are treating the latter like the, er, Resurrection, the most important music news, well, ever. Which in some respects kinda shows them for what they and most of the music industry are about nowadays – obsessed by nostalgia and perhaps no longer all that interested in new music – which, as the papers full title suggests, should really be their focus.
But it got me thinking – there have been a hell of a lot of band reunions, for better or worse, in recent years – and here are ten of them. (Note: I’m not including the recent announcement of the return of Marion in this list – as I’d rather see how that works out first, as welcome as it is).
Probably the most popular reunion this year was, to be honest, one that was a little unexpected. Jarvis and his band always seemed a bit above the whole idea of revisiting the past, really – especially with the stampede of other Britpop bands desperately trying to gain a slice of the revival money (and those that never seemed to go away – *cough* Shed Seven and The Bluetones). And crucially, they didn’t waste any time bringing new songs to the big shows they played, either – well aware that most of those who attended the shows were wanting the classic old songs. And making every single set different was a rather nice surprise, too. And you know what? It was awesome fun, a nice bit of nostalgia, and also proving just how much Pulp’s songs have stood the test of time. Well, with the exception of Something Changed, anyway.
The other big reunion of the past year – from the same era – was of the band who have a pretty good claim to being the band we can thank/blame for kicking off Britpop in the first place. Like Pulp, their career kinda petered out the first time around, by releasing one album too many (both of their final albums are Not Good). But both careers were reappraised somewhat by the release of best-ofs and then re-releases (as in the current style of “deluxe” versions), and the albums stood up well. Suede went one step further, though, and were confident enough to play each of their albums on seperate nights last May. I missed these, of course, by virtue of being in Canada for Kinetik, but saw two of the shows, and was gleefully reporting how awesome they were. Another one, though, that I’d rather that there wasn’t a new album. Leave the past unblemished, eh?
Moving stateside, losing your lead singer to a drug overdose would normally mean curtains for a band for good. Not so Alice In Chains, who upset all the odds by not only recruiting a new singer who was a perfect fit for their sound, but was also a catalyst in providing possibly the greatest comeback album I’ve ever heard (Black Gives Way To Blue). No, really. Their return to live shows in the UK (at Sonisphere in 2009) was an emotional show, and the following tour was just amazing. It isn’t often you go to a gig and find every single fan there knows every single word – and that included all the new songs, too. If another album comes, I’m not exactly sure they could ever top this, but really, I think they deserve another shot after that.
Back in the nineties, the Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most thrilling, and out-there, of all of the bands associated with grunge. Only tenuously a grunge band – and from Chicago, not the Pacific North West – they took their sound into totally alien realms to their peers, and while I can’t say that I was a fan of everything they did, at least for some time they took some risks instead of ploughing the same old furrow. So it felt fitting when they finished off things in December 2000 in a truly epic way – with a four encore, thirty-eight song set that appeared to cover just about everything.
And if that was that, I would have been happy. But no, Billy Corgan just couldn’t let it rest, and he exhumed the corpse a few years later for a “reunion”, that was actually only Billy, Jimmy and a few hired hands – and Jimmy jumped ship a few years later. Wisely, perhaps, D’arcy and James stayed well away, the bad blood occasionally surfacing in the press (again – they hated each other by Siamese Dream), and somehow the band stagger on in name only. So that is Billy Corgan and yet more hired hands, with another album to come. Oh dear. I’ll be passing on the current tour. I’ve never seen the ‘Pumpkins, to my eternal regret, but I am not seeing this poor facsimile of the real thing.
Bizarrely, I found this week that the “reunion” of the Poppies, despite also only being one original member, was actually rather better than I feared it might be. The crucial difference to the ‘Pumpkins, though, is that the new band appeared onstage to be as much of a “gang” as the old incarnation were. And that the new songs fitted in nicely with the old ones, as well as new vocalist Mary Byker actually sounding an awful lot like Clint, at points. But above all, it was *fun*. Not deadly serious, going through the motions stuff just to bring in the cash, but a band who genuinely still gave a shit and didn’t want to shortchange their fans.
Perhaps unique in this list for splitting up and reforming twice, they perhaps should have left it at the once. It always felt like a little bit of unfinished business when they split the first time around – A Northern Soul was a gloriously rich, spaced out album that perhaps was just a little too, um, out there for mass consumption…Although History should have ended up as their first song at number one. But as a comeback, Urban Hymns was extraordinary. The band managed to overcome their differences for long enough to release a amazingly focussed album, that was stuffed with potential and actual anthems. And despite being as spacey and proggy as its predecessor, clicked with the public to spectacular effect and just for a while made them one of the biggest bands in the UK. Shame the second reunion just wasn’t quite the same, and aside from one or two songs, is best forgotten.
Talking of number ones, was Killing In The Name one of the most unexpected number ones ever? In fact, the first time and the last time in a while that the number one has actually mattered? Other than that, though, the reunion did seem to go against their initial principles. You know, anti-capitalist sentiment and all that. But perhaps getting their share of the massive success some bands got since they split – and before as rap metal/nu-metal boomed (you know the names, of which more in a moment) – was difficult to begrudge them. And once again, no new material was a good thing.
One of the most redundant reunions was this. A band who long since outlived their welcome a long time before they split up, it was difficult to know why they reformed. Well, except for the money, of course. And when you see them live – at Sonisphere (I sure as hell didn’t pay for it) – and Fred Durst is clearly using an autocue to “remember” the words. There was no chemistry, no real sense of them doing for anything other than the money. And, the big comeback album seemed to be greeted with a great shrug of indifference. Can they go away again now?
Another unexpected reunion was this. Michael Gira announced it out of nowhere at the close of 2009, with a solo album that was effectively early versions of the songs that became the new Swans album. What was remarkable was that it was simply picking up where he left off when Swans were finished the first time around in 1997. Still as uncompromising, still looking at the darker side of humanity, and still as brilliant.
Finally, lets include one that you might not expect me to. I don’t care for the bands music (pre-split or post-reformation), but I think it is fair to say that this has been a successful and well-received reunion. In sales terms alone, their post-reunion sales far outstrip their original success, and it is also notable that the band chose to go for a more, er, mature sound, rather than the rather camp pop music of their original incarnation. But of all of the recent reformations they are certainly the most successful overall. Rather better than their “rivals” of the nineties, East 17, who had the odd bit of misfortune along the way…