… And it feels so good
You could be forgiven for thinking a time-hole just opened up and sucked you back into the mid-90s. Headless Chickens have just played The Powerstation in Auckland and are set to appear at the Big Day Out. Supergroove, Head Like A Hole and Weta are on the comeback trail. Everywhere you turn at the moment, there’s another band reforming for one more bite of the cherry.
Why the upsurge? It used to be that a reformation was the exclusive domain of behemoth bands who had international fan bases and million–selling catalogues. However, like elsewhere in the music industry, size has become increasingly irrelevant. Multiply this with the diminished album market and audiences who are now not only more demographically diversified but also musically diversified and you have a stage for just about any act from 60 years of popular music to get a slice of the nostalgia pie, no matter how obscure. How obscure? I’ve just seen an ad for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin playing a 21st anniversary gig at London’s Astoria. I am so there.
We can broadly split reformation bands into two types. First, there are the ones that broke up because they hated the sight of each other (quaintly referred to as ‘musical differences’) which can be coupled with the additional rationale of any member’s subsequent solo career finally going tits-up and in need of some positive affirmation. It’s a case of reminding the public just exactly why you’re a superstar in the first place by trawling over the glory days one more time. Yes, I’m looking at you, Sting ...
The second reason for reformations, and unfortunately the one most common to our local acts, is that the bank balance doesn’t bear out the hard yakka put in over years of writing, recording and touring. Being critically acclaimed and having a cult following is all well and good but it doesn’t pay the rent, and ultimately not making a living out of it puts paid to many a band. Despite genuine advances in the business-savvy of bands, their management, labels and agents, being a musician is still one of the toughest ways to make a living.
There are some rules to this reunion malarkey, of course. Classic line-ups are preferred (nice work Headless Chickens, Supergroove and, ahem, Spice Girls). You can usually get away with a new drummer (Led Zeppelin), and just scrape by on a whole new rhythm section (The Who, pushing the boundaries of fair trading descriptions at a stadium near you). New guitarists will be tolerated under certain circumstances (ostensibly that they are better than the original) but sans lead singers is a definite no-no (Queen and The Doors: it’s over, give it up already). Taking this last point to the extreme is The Blue Brothers—a fictional band to begin with—which persists in gigging with the dead singer’s brother as understudy. He’s got the same surname! Who will know?
For a reunion when it’s not a reunion, try the Smashing Pumpkins route where Billy Corgan split up his band, started two new ones, only to come full circle and restart the original band minus the members he didn’t like. Ouch. Not so much a reunion as creative dismissal.
Simply reuniting the band doesn’t always guarantee success. There are plenty of instances where the cherished place in the heart is more desirable than a shameless cash-in that sullies the memory. The case for the prosecution here is the mighty, mind-blowing Jane’s Addiction. Since they called it a day, their creative engine room had shown an increasing tendency towards shameless self-promotion that evacuated all street-cred out of them, then foisted an entirely unwarranted album of commercially-polished new tracks on us. Been caught stealing? You can say that again.
Then there’s The Unnecessary Band Reunion: one-hit wonders from any decade (Flock of Seagulls, for instance) or those who, let’s face it, were a just a bit cräp to stärt with (Mötley Crüe). It’s like those people who crop up on social networking pages: “Hello, it’s Snotty Smith from primary school. Remember me? Let’s be web buddies!” Please, someone start a social un-networking site to get rid of these plonkers.
I digress. The current rash of local reunion gigs (and there’s a few more rumoured for next year) are highly enjoyable affairs that have reinstated some quite outstanding bands back to their top ranking in the memory banks. A pithy old saying says nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Quite the contrary—old gold polishes up just fine.