“Whatever you do, don’t call it a comeback baby.” So said that facile idiot playing Kate Moss’ agent in those heinous mobile phone ads.
But, it’s a salient point. Whatever you do, don’t admit that you’ve been sunk without a trace, waiting for – in fact, needing – this lucky break.
Of course, for some it’s all too obvious; I mean, you’ve been away for too long for it to be a ‘hiatus’, so you’ll have to suck it in, stick the fluffy bunnies up on the table at the press conference and call it a ‘reunion’. Accordingly, the reasons for a return are never too pure.
Three cases in point were announced officially in the last few weeks. Billy Corgan has responded to the immense lack of interest in anything he does that isn’t suffixed by the word ‘Pumpkins’ by reforming his erstwhile band (though admittedly only with ex-junkie tub thumper Jimmy Chamberlain in tow; rumoured current ill-behaviourist D’Arcy Wretzky and long-suffering James Iha are presently nowhere to be seen). Sting has finally thrown a bone to those who are said to despise him most by announcing a 30th Anniversary tour of The Police with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers (appearing at this week’s oh-so-in-touch Grammy Awards). And, perhaps most-intriguingly of all, the morally untouchable Rage Against The Machine (Zach, Timmy, Tom and the drummer) have torched their legacy by announcing they will play 2007’s Coachella Festival.
Most bands usually offer a shit-poor excuse for their return: ‘unfinished business’ and ‘I-just-woke-up-one-day-and-thought-why-the-hell-not?’ are usually the most proffered, whereas ‘I need the money’ and ‘I don’t want to play to 200 people when I used to play to 20,000’ are probably the most honest, if the least aired.
At least credit The Eagles with some temerity. After refusing to speak to each other for a long, long time, they named their lucrative reunion ten years ago the ‘Hell Freezes Over Tour’. And they at least don’t pretend to be friends. Unlike Sting, who during the press conference announcing the return of The Police denied that they ever disliked each other in the first place: “The nature of the arguments were all about music... also hairstyles”, claimed Sting with a cheeky grin and flex of a middle-aged bicep, whilst Stewart Copeland added: “We never hated each other. We fought tooth and nails over the music, but as human beings, we always liked each other.” That. Is. Bullshit.
But why should we care? The Police were the ultimate sell-out band anyway, posing as punks whilst plotting to take over the stadiums of America with their awful cod reggae and songs about walking on the frigging moon.
More interestingly, Copeland on his own website dropped the line, “Over the next month, while Sting finishes off his lute commitments, I'll try to get a few impressions onto the [website] for you.” Barbed comments flying around already, anyone? At least this comeback will be interesting to watch from afar.
This despite Sting asserting, “I woke up one morning about three months ago and this light bulb went off in my head: I'm going to call Andy and Stewart and tell them we should tour”. Probably closer to the real truth is that the Geordie wants to put the band back together for one last victory tour, claiming all the plaudits that he feels the press owe him and all the retrospective awards he/they will inevitably collect.
And in response to the claims that they only argued about the music – well, what are they planning to play on tour? Nothing after the first two LPs? I bet you the $100 that tickets will cost that they’ll drop in ‘De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da’ anyway… Spot the grin on Sting’s face, and the grimaces on the other two.
Which, of course, will probably be only half the grimace on head Pumpkin Billy’s face. This is a different sort of comeback in many ways, with Corgan promising a new future for the band he’d turned his back on. Seasoned observers may argue this is the worst case scenario: despite the last couple of Pumpkins releases (Adore and Machina…) being of reasonable-to-enjoyable quality, they were nowhere near as good as the first three. Corgan’s infamously large ego dictates that this will be no Greatest Hits tour – Jimmy Chamberlain said as much last year, claiming in reference to the band’s return that, “We don’t want your money”. This means, barring a stunning new album from the Pumpkins, we’ll be subject to an hour-plus of indeterminate guitar wrangling and obtuse drumming with a few non-loved previous album tracks thrown in for good measure. The swelling of dread, loathing and tear-stained fear can be read on multitudes of blogs and fansites already.
With only half the SPs confirmed for the band’s return, it also poses the question: when is a return a comeback? Or more saliently, when is a return an individual abusing their band’s previous glories for their own personal gain?
Look at the lesser-loved venues in more provincial areas of Britain. Between visits by the Stereophonics and probably Reef, the days are filled by individual musicians cashing in on their former band’s name (especially Christmas – we all enjoy a piss-up to a live Seventies jukebox), with little or no genuine link to the past that made the band’s name what it is. Take, for example, the long-touring Al Jardine’s Beach Boys, rattling out the £4 compilation hits at cheesy dilapidated seaside venues across the world whilst Brian Wilson gamely struggles on trying to adapt and fill in the gaps of the legacy only he truly created (Dennis Wilson obsessives, feel free to complain below). On a D’Arcy Wretzky fansite, Jimmy Chamberlin was reported as saying that contact had been made with the two estranged former-Pumpkins via e-mail, but that Corgan and he were awaiting confirmation as to their participation. He also said that the tour would probably go ahead regardless of whether Iha and D'arcy are involved… call that a reunion?
You can argue the comparison is taken too far in Corgan’s case, but is there truly a difference between Billy Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins and Bob Tiddlywinks’ Original Mud? Give or take 50,000 people at Reading, I’m not so sure. And at least at Bob’s Mud show you’ll get to hear ‘Tiger Feet’.
In terms of Corgan’s happy campers, another reunion that quickly comes to mind is the disastrous Velvet Underground reformation of the Nineties. Shorn of Nico (deceased), reports were largely unfavourable, and the whole thing collapsed under the weight of its leading protagonist’s long-held animosity and egotism. Fortunately, the Pumpkins suffer none of those problems… Or, The Stone Roses at Reading ‘96, anyone?
If, however, James, D’Arcy, Jimmy and Billy all got together one last time just to slay a nightly crowd with a canon of undeniable, influential and caustic alt-rock classics, they might be lucky enough to draw comparison with the beautifully unsanitised Pixies shows of the last few years. And even when Frank Black and company were tempted to write another LP, they quickly realized that it was a totally bullshit idea. Discounting, of course, the stillborn ‘Bwam Thwok’ that materialized on iTunes at some point along the way.
The most captivating return of all is that by LA rap-metal pioneers Rage Against The Machine. Given their almost water-tight reputation and history, it’s tempting to believe that they’re in it for ‘the music, man’. Indeed, when recently asked about it, pint-sized six-string detonator Tom Morello asked the question we’ve all been wondering: “Is it a coincidence that in the seven years that Rage Against The Machine has been away that the country has slid into right-wing purgatory? I think not.
“It occurred to all of us that the times were right to see if we can knock the Bush administration out in one fell swoop, and we hope to do that job well.” Like a cross between Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and a giant nuclear warhead, then.
Embarrassingly, that almost seems feasible as the truth behind their comeback. The cynical amongst us though, knows the true reasons are always debatable, and in RATM’s case, the altruistic/immoral reasons take up a lot of paper space. It’s a complex moral and ideological maze. Here’s a few points though:
Reforming for good reasons:
a) The band have always been overtly political to the point of righteousness/cringe-worthiness.
b) It has been a bad few years in America; there’s enough to talk about and a big enough platform to make some very pointed statements.
c) Rage were fucking awesome.
d) Linkin Park are returning. We need a saviour.
Bad reasons to return:
a) Three-quarters of RATM formed Audioslave. There isn’t a decent bone in the majority’s body. As one DiS messageboarder put it ever so poignantly, that band were “fucking Hard Rock Cafe bullshit”. Good point.
b) Rage and the aforementioned musical abortion that were Audioslave were signed to Sony/Epic/Columbia/Universal etc from start to finish. Sleep now in the fire? Fuck off.
c) Years of (c)rap-metal like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit et al is enough to inflate anyone’s angry ego into demanding props that weren’t shoved their way in enough sizeable shovels at the time.
d) Rage were fucking awesome when you were 15. We’ve discovered Sufjan Stevens since.
e) RATM concerts were filled with body slamming dickheads.
See? The waters are infinitely more muddied than in the case of the Pumpkins and The Police.
Before we sip into our coffee cups of despondency, let’s gather some hope by naming a few comebacks that were, in fact, brilliant. There was the aforementioned Pixies shows, proving that an increase in girth doesn’t equate to a diminishing in quality. Pink Floyd’s return at Live 8 was something magical (perhaps because they then vowed never to play again, making it truly a one-off). Oh, and Queen, The Doors and INXS get points for somehow returning without their iconic frontmen and managing to be just as brilliant as they once were. Oh hang on…
Comebacks we’re scared of? How about the surely-soon Libertines reformation? It seems ever-distant that we’ll be depressed by a reunited The Smiths though, thank God. However, our favourite return of the week is the long-awaited recollection of The Jam… without Paul Weller. Good going, guys.
DiScuss: What’s your dream comeback? Are they ever any good? Really? Who’s going to be the most embarrassing return this year? And are you going to see The Jam?