When David Lynch appeared in a recurring role cameo role on the TV show Louie his character uttered a wonderful line, “You have to go away to come back”.
I think about that a lot.
I’m really happy for anyone who enjoyed seeing the Pixies in 2017 – especially, I guess, the people that had never seen them previously. I hated seeing the Pixies in 2010 – but of course I had hoped it would be great. I went along, paid my money, booked flights and accommodation – and ended up enjoying the Lady Gaga show the following night far more. That wasn’t even planned until the day of the show, a lucky email resulting in lucky tickets. I wasn’t a Gaga fan but wanted to check out the spectacle. I flew back to see a Harry Connick Jr show and that was better than the Pixies too.
Music isn’t a competition and there is no reason to compare Pixies with Lady Gaga and Harry Connick Jr. But I saw all three, three nights in a row. And in terms of the music meaning something to me, Pixies should have nailed it; should have totally nailed it – been the clear winner. But not a chance. They were the duds. Weird.
They would go on to release an EP and then another and then eventually a new album. All of it was horrible. Borderline-embarrassing. So now their shows include some of that garbage, though I know from seeing the setlists it’s obviously still about the hits. The new songs are not good. No way. Anyone saying so is operating under a weird loyalty-based delusion.
Also, when I saw the Pixies Kim Deal was the best bit. She’s gone now too. She walked a while ago. Knew that enough was enough. The Pixies-in-reunion have been together longer than the Pixies first time around. That’s always a worry.
The Sex Pistols admitted it when they reformed, calling it The Filthy Lucre Tour. A similar name should have been given to whatever it is the Pixies have been doing.
Even if there’s a solid reunion show it’s usually a worry when talk turns to the dreaded New Album.
Google best comeback albums and you’ll hear about the great return of Bob Dylan or U2 and a whole heap of other artists that never actually went away. People love talking about Johnny Cash’s comeback albums, his American Recordings series. But a lot of them conveniently forget that there were a heap of Cash albums even in the lead up to the first American Recordings album; they were just horrible, best forgotten. He didn’t stop making records at the end of the 1960s, he just –for the most part – stopped making good ones. A hook-up with Rick Rubin, some wise selections, a hint of timing – the idea, too that he had disappeared, failed, tucked his tail and wandered off – and suddenly boom: Hipster cache.
But let’s focus bands rather than solo artists. And let’s make it bands that did actually break up; groups that went away, went their separate ways, disappeared. We can’t count bands that renamed themselves either –you know how Joy Division became New Order and then even started releasing albums under the name Interpol.
It has to be the same people (or the majority) working under the same name.
It’s a very small list of reunion albums that are actually worthwhile, the lie that’s sold works because, as fans, we’ve decided to invest, we are in fact already invested in this – there’s goodwill, there’s a hope that it will be, in some way, a reminder of the band at its peak. It’s hardly ever the case that this works out.
But there are some exceptions.
The Go-Betweens had a great run of albums across the 1980s, dreamy, wistful pop music. And then the band’s two songwriters moved off to make solo records – they took the 1990s off, well, they spent the nineties as solo acts, the band was dead. Done. And then in the year 2000 they released The Friends of Rachel Worth. It’s not quite up there with the earlier great material but it does feature members of Sleater-Kinney (a bonus!) It has a couple of magical tracks on it. More importantly it set the stage for a lovely comeback – two further albums after Rachel Worth and with 2005’s Oceans Apart they did make something that rivals their strong early albums. Actually I’d plump for 2003’s Bright Yellow Bright Orange too. So, three good records from a band in its second phase. Nice work. When I’m feeling generous I’d say all three albums from the band’s second phase are worthy. But certainly the group’s swansong stands strong.
A handful of the post-punk bands returned with strong albums in the late 2000s, bands like Wire and Pere Ubu spring to mind – but they had carried on with only a little bit of a break; they had warmed-up into their comeback/reunion albums. The good records were noticed on the back of average/decent-enough ones that had trickled out across the last two decades.
In that sense Devo surprised with Something For Everybody. The title proving (fairly) accurate. It sounded like the same band that cut Freedom Of Choice 30 years earlier. It sounded like the same band. A great effort considering 20 years out between albums.
Same with Magazine and 2011’s No Thyself. A far better record than anyone could have ever expected after a 30-year hiatus.
Part of the problem is contextualising the comeback. In the case of the Pixies they have two whole new albums now, and that certainly counts as new material from a band that hadn’t released anything for two decades, that had at one time imploded.
But Nine Inch Nails receive regular notices about comeback albums, about a return. Here’s the thing though, Trent Reznor called time on the band for four years. In that time he released soundtrack albums, formed another band and Nine Inch Nails sometimes took five years out between records when they were active the first time around. Reznor is the brand, if not the band. And the crucial point there is he had a longer drinks-break between albums when the band was at its peak than during any “return”.
You Have To Go Away To Come Back.
Problem is we are too kind when something is even close to good. We suggest it to be a comeback even though they never went away or when they do come back, it’s open arms and kid-gloves.
What band do you consider had a worthwhile comeback that included a reunion album the equal of their prized earlier material?
Do you agree that it’s a case of a small handful of exceptions rather than the rule?
And what’s your pick for the best reunion album, the best comeback from a band that – at one time – broke up, only to return as strong as ever on record?