FEATURE: On the Comeback Trial… Are All Band Reunions a Battle Against Disappointment?



On the Comeback Trial…



Are All Band Reunions a Battle Against Disappointment?


WE all know how those big films end...



Whether it is Fight Club’s split-personality revelation; the bombshell that upset a generation of children watching Bambi; the exceptional twist that came with The Sixth Sense – all of us remember those epic-ending films and ask ourselves whether we really saw it coming or not. Now, in the age of full disclosure; we struggle to avoid spoilers and having our expectations shortened – it is hard to escape the assault from the media and how anyone can share anything online. Music suffers from the same problems. Albums do not contain twists or plot-turns: the sounds and sensations we witness can, though, flabbergast and excite. Reviews and teasers take some of that surprise and happenstance away. Whilst a lot of great music arrives unexpectedly; there is one angle and area of the game that is becoming more predictable: when famous bands reunite. I have been ‘compelled’ by those Pop bands of the 1990s/2000s that have come together, one suspects, to relive the magic and ecstasy of their heyday – one also suspects they are more motivated by money and flagging solo careers. I heard a story about S Club 7’s Paul Cattermole selling his BRIT Award – I guess life outside of music is not treating him so well! Other members of the long-gone band have forged careers (of varying fortunes). Rachel Stevens had a short-lived solo career before getting married and giving birth.

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I doubt she will record anything else in the future – she does various T.V. appearances but is limited to the role of ‘reality T.V. contestant’. Tina Barrett did some acting roles but she is back in a slim-lined S Club 3 – alongside Bradley McIntosh and Jo O’Meara. It is a bit sad seeing three-sevenths of a formerly okay-ish band trying to recapture their best days. I am not sure whether they are even recording new material – or playing their older songs on a rather ‘modest’ touring scale (small clubs and venues). I doubt the seven members will ever come together – few people care one way or the other. The band had some good hits back in the day, but now, it seems rather fallow and sallow. It is a pale and empty version of what they were: the commercial lure and value of nostalgia has brought other bygone artists back together. A lot of the bands from past days split because of faded fortunes and tensions. It seems there are lingering issues between former member Cattermole and current S Club 3 member O’Meara. The former claims the latter is a bully – someone too controlling and spiteful. Other Pop bands, like Blue and Five, have tried a reunion but have been limited to some rare performances and misjudged singles. I know the music industry has changed since, say, the 1990s but it does not seem to resonate with those who were successful back then.


IN THIS PHOTO: Spide Girls/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Why would anyone think a retooled S Club 7 or Spice Girls could succeed?! There has been endless chat about the Spice fivesome returning to the fold. They really only created one decent album (Spiceworld). The band formed in 1994 and started to flag once Geri Halliwell left – in 1998, the girls had to adapt to life as a foursome. There has been a poorly-received musical from Jennifer Saunders; endless rumours and big-money tease. I hope they never do reform as it would be a rather weak version of who they were. The fact the Pop bands like Spice Girls and S Club 7 were popular is because of when they were performing and what they represented. Now, the game has Little Mix and Fifth Harmony; Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift – updated versions of the Pop bands I was growing up around. It is a more modern and fresh scene and one defined by a crucial consistency: it is very much for the young. If the sight of once-famous Popstars gyrating around a stage appeals to those who cannot really hang onto the past – how will they fare if they make an honest attempt to fit into today’s mainstream?! Most of the hottest Popstars of the day are in their teens/twenties – maybe, you have some validity when you are in your thirties. The members of former bands are, largely, into their late-thirties and forties.



Unless you established bands like Foo Fighters and Coldplay, for example; there is little commercial validity (being in a band) when you are a certain age. That sounds all-sweeping but how many bands in their forties/late-thirties can you name? Most are younger and, in a scene dominated by solo artists; there is far less demand for the traditional group – far less those who have broken up and are reforming. New hopefuls like Shame and Yonaka are providing hope: if they broke up and returned a decade down the line; one feels they would not get a second glance! Steps formed back in 1997 and enjoyed a run of success during the decade – they recorded past the 1990s but critical focused waned following their debut, Step One. Many felt, when they split in 2001, that would be it. Claire Richard and Ian ‘H’ Watkins left on the final night of the band’s Gold: Greatest Hits tour. They might be one of the few bands who had a hard split and returned harmoniously after many years apart. Last year’s Tears on the Dancefloor was the second album from Steps 2.0. – the same members who last recorded together on the 2000 album, Buzz. 2012’s Light Up the World was mostly covers-based and did not fare well with critics. It was a departure from their previous work and was seen as alienating and weak. Last year’s follow-up was, by comparison, a finer effort.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The songs are original – albeit, with a writing a team penning the songs – and contain some of the glee and invention of their first incarnation – even though the members are all comfortably in their forties. I am not sure how they will sustain a career given the demands of the modern market: maybe they have another album in them before attention goes away. It is not only Pop bands reforming that shows there is more trial and diminished returns – inherent in a comeback – than success and a natural continuation. Other 1990s bands like Space (who reformed and split again in 2005) Blackstreet (they did not split but were A.W.O.L. for a long time!) have had mixed success: Reef, Cast and Shed Seven have come back from premature ends and reformed with success. Shed Seven, especially, are enjoying new recording and gig opportunities. Their music is not a repeat of where they were in the 1990s: last year’s Instant Pleasures was a critical hit and showed they could mix it with the best of the new breed. Whilst I argue there are some disastrous and ill-advised returns: there have been reunions that have actually worked and continue to foster great material.


IN THIS PHOTO: Shed Seven/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Eagles reunited and recorded for a while before Glen Frey’s death. Squeeze recorded new material after their split – although they have not been talked about for a few years. The more successful among the reunited include Blondie and Fleetwood Mac. Aside from big bands of the 1990s like James getting back into the studio and recording new stuff – some of those decades-old bands are enjoying a new lease. Blondie’s last first-phase ended with 1982’s flop, The Hunter. Many did not think they would return: 1999’s No Exit, with Maria as a stunning example of what they could capture, was a more successful and better-received L.P. It wasn’t until 2003’s The Curse of Blondie until critics were back on board. Led by the always-alluring and talented Debbie Harry; Clem Burke’s phenomenal percussion and Chris Stein’s epic guitars – the bond they shared, and mutual respect present, means the next phase lasted longer than many expected. Even after another eight-year gap; the band returned with Panic of Girls – an album that did not get a huge amount of love. Last year’s Pollinator was a stronger effort and, following such a long gap; many argue that time apart (since their previous record) did them good. Blondie are a band who has created some of the best albums ever – 1978’s Parallel Lines among them – but their modern versions have been a little mixed.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Pollinator suggests they are back on a solid foundation and have found writers/producers capable of keeping their fortunes and spirits alive for many years to come. I have not even mentioned bands of the 1980s like Spandau Ballet, ABC and Duran Duran who have reformed but, in a time that has forced them to adapt – and drop a member in the case of Spandau Ballet – they are changed and out-of-touch with today’s music. It all sounds a little middle-aged, lifeless and pointless. I admire a band that still has friendships and is keen to keep on recording. The material they produce, however, is always going to be compared to what made their famous -   they will never capture that magic and create anything as good as that. I wonder whether there is a point beyond money and trying to remain relevant. Fleetwood Mac are an usually exception of a band who have never really gone away. Their recording output is not as prolific as one would hope – Time was the last album before the band took a hiatus. 2003’s follow-up might not be considered a reformation record. Many claim the band never split: they have left gaps between albums and there was no acrimony. Tensions reached their peak around Rumours/Tusk (1977 – 1979) and, since then, they managed to keep on recording and going.


IN THIS PHOTO: Fleetwood Mac/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Clinch

I wonder whether they will ever get back into the studio and release another album. The band are performing - and on the road - so it is clear they still have affection and passion for what they do – Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie even recorded an album together last year. Stevie Nicks was the only band member not to appear on the record – maybe a sign she is not willing to get back into the studio quite yet. I know the band have overcome hurdles and survived some blow-ups. I wonder whether they will go from touring and gigs to getting another record together. It is always hard finding fresh inspiration that is going to get you into the minds of critics and fans – even if relationships are okay between the members. I think bands that reformed do it for a couple of reasons. Punk acts like The Pretenders (mostly Chrissie Hynde from the original line-up) do it because they love music and do not want to live in the past – unwilling to trade on past glories and cash-in regarding nostalgia. Some of the Pop bands I mentioned do not want to enter a new phase and produce great material: they are more concerned with trying to rekindle some of the fame and attention they had in their first phase; unable to produce anything significant, modern or relevant. It is, therefore, a mixed-bag when it comes to reunions.


IN THIS PHOTO: The Smiths/PHOTO CREDITPictorial Press Ltd./Alamy

Some of them can work – Blondie and Fleetwood Mac – but more of them fail and, at the very least, are not as exciting and quality-laden as you’d hope. Alongside those reunited bands are those many of us want to get together: The Smith, Oasis and Led Zeppelin among the most talked-about. There is a fear that the bands could not create material that justified the build-up; relationships are strained (Oasis and The Smiths unlikely to see their leaders on the same stage); whether they will do it for music or the money – cynics will jump on the fact these rumours are attached with multi-million-pound gig offers and recording contracts! I hope the bands do not get back together - as it will taint their legacies and, like The Stone Roses (and a couple of rare singles), it will not materialise into anything long-term and productive. The members are all getting on and many have their solo careers. We must accept bands break up for good reasons and it is always risky trying to relive the past. There have been some successful-ish reunions but most are seen as gossamer-thin compared to the heady days when they ruled music – fading and ageing members who seem out of touch with the current scene. I love looking back on great bands and artists that inspired me growing up: I do not want any of them to come back together and try to repeat what they did all that time ago! Maybe Oasis could pen a few good hits but it is not the 1990s anymore. Music is looking for fresh artists and something unexpected. Whilst it is tempting to imagine which bands could come back together; the reality is the finished result is a bit sad. I admire their reasons for coming back to music – even if it is just for cash – but, when all is said and done; sometimes it is better to leave these bands…



BACK in the past.