Five Welcome Alt-Rock Comebacks In The Aughts

It’s been said that music, particularly rock and roll, is a cyclical phenomenon.  What’s exciting audiences today will soon bore them.  But because of its ever mutating nature, old genres can be reborn when paired with fresh ideas and new applications.  And sometimes, the originators of those particular styles of music soon find themselves back in fashion almost overnight.

It’s also been said that everyone loves a good comeback story, the overdue return of a respected performer or band long out of the spotlight and the public consciousness.  The Aughts (2000-2009), like past decades, were a fertile period for such stories.  The Police, The Pixies, Love & Rockets and Bauhaus are just a small sample of those acts who reunited for either a tour, new album or both.

While some returns were not entirely well received (Spice Girls, New Kids On The Block), as far as alternative rock is concerned, the following five acts were certainly the most welcome comebacks in the last decade.

Morrissey

The former Smiths frontman began his criminally underappreciated solo career in 1988.  He was churning out albums and compilations at a nice clip right up until the middle of the 1990s.  Then, he got sued.

Two of his former bandmates felt shortchanged on the royalty front.  Morrissey disagreed.  While bassist Andy Rourke prematurely settled, drummer Mike Joyce proceeded with his lawsuit and won.  An appeal from The Mopey One was tossed out.  The singer channelled his bitterness in a song called Sorrow Will Come To Those In The End, easily the worst song on Maladjusted, the last album he would release in the 1990s.

Despite a 2002 tour, a 2003 BBC documentary and a couple of stop-gap compilations, Morrissey took a near-decade long recording hiatus after 1997.  When he re-emerged in 2004, he made the most successful album of his career, with or without The Smiths.

You Are The Quarry was easily his strongest collection of new material in a decade and all four British singles from it cracked the Top 10, a singular event in his career.  Since then, there have been two entertaining follow-ups, Ringleader Of The Tormentors and Years Of Refusal, a terrific B-Sides collection (Swords) and yet another solo compilation.  Now in his early 50s and completely disinterested in another go with The Smiths, The Mozzer appears unlikely to slow down anytime soon.  He continues to write new material and incredibly, considering his fiercely guarded privacy, is shopping around an autobiography to publishers.

Weezer

Named after frontman Rivers Cuomo’s childhood nickname (due to his bad asthma), this California quartet broke through rather quickly with their first self-titled album in 1994, thanks to crunchy pop songs like Buddy Holly and Say It Ain’t So.  But two years later, the band’s follow-up ran into some unfortunate bad luck.

Named after a character in Madame Butterfly, Pinkerton’s release was delayed after a California security company (also named Pinkerton) absurdly sued for copyright infringement.  Although Weezer and their label, DGC, ultimately prevailed, the temporary injunction and the lack of advertising greatly hurt initial sales.  Mixed reviews from critics and fans didn’t help, either.  Rolling Stone was particularly brutal.

Rather than continue onward, the band announced a hiatus.  Each member focused on side projects for the next year or so.  Despite reconvening in 1998, progress was stymied by a lack of band cohesion as well as personal problems and no new material would surface for the rest of the decade.

Then, in April 2001, Weezer’s second self-titled album suddenly dropped.  The first single, Hash Pipe, reminded fans and critics of their fuzzy, melodic strengths.  (Entertainment Weekly singled it out as one of the best singles of the year.)  Two more catchy singles followed.  The remarkably tight album (10 songs (all good) in less than 30 minutes) ultimately went platinum.

Rather than disappear for another long stretch, a new album surfaced in 2002.  Then another in 2005 (which spawned their biggest hit, Beverly Hills, which also earned them a Grammy).  Since 2008, Weezer have released a new studio record every year without fail, a rarity in today’s music scene.  Although they left DGC in 2010 for Epitaph (the label that gave us The Offspring and Rancid), their former home has kept fans happy with numerous releases like the rarities collection, Death To False Metal (short but consistently rocking), and expanded versions of their first two records.  And despite not getting the greatest of respect upon its debut in 1996, Pinkerton has since acquired a surprising amount of revisionistic kudos.  It’s often sited as one of the best albums of the 1990s.

Jane’s Addiction

Perry Farrell’s first big outfit has a funny habit of releasing one studio album per decade.  Nothing’s Shocking surfaced in 1988 followed by Ritual De La Habitual in 1990.  It would take almost 15 years for the third one.

Why such a long wait?  Let’s see.  Drugs, creative disagreements, physical fighting, conflicting outside projects.  In other words, the usual shit.

Although the band did produce a couple new songs for the rarities collection, Kettle Whistle, in 1997, a new studio album wouldn’t be ready for release for another 6 years.

When Strays was finally unveiled in 2003, it was the band’s best effort to date, thanks to killer hooks, confident vocals and no prog rock pretensions.  Just Because and Superhero (later used as the theme to Entourage) helped earn the album Gold status.

Not too long after the album’s release, the band broke up for a second time.  A greatest hits package and a box set finished off the decade.  Incredibly, since 2008, Jane’s Addiction have reassembled yet again and yes, a new record is coming sometime this August.  So, the once-a-decade streak continues.

Crowded House

For 10 years, this New Zealand trio (and later, quartet) crafted some of the prettiest rock arrangements in the 20th Century.  Best known for the bittersweet spine tingler, Don’t Dream It’s Over, they have so many other gems that unfortunately never came close to that early chart success.  Tracks like Into Temptation, It’s Only Natural and Locked Out, to name just three.

After their break-up in 1996, chief songwriter and singer Neil Finn went solo and occasionally recorded with brother Tim (they also fronted Split Enz pre-House) while the others worked on various music and TV projects.

Then came the sad news in 2005.  A depressed Paul Hester (the band’s good humoured and steady drummer) walked his dog into a local park and hung himself on a tree.  The tragedy devastated his former bandmates.

But a positive development came out of the misery.  After Finn asked Seymour to help him out with his latest solo record, the two agreed to turn it into a Crowded House release.  Mark Hart, who joined the original trio for Together Alone, returned to the fold, as well.  Former Beck drummer Matt Sherrod replaced the late Hester.

The finished result was Time On Earth, a surprisingly moving reunion album which garnered positive reviews and very strong sales support from fans in New Zealand and Australia.  (The record was certified Platinum and Gold, respectively.)

Three years later, Intriguer arrived in record shops.  It, too, generated many good critical notices.  Deservedly so, it’s another fine CH album.

With their reputation already made and no real need to compete with the Lady Gagas and Rihannas of the current music scene, here’s hoping Neil Finn and company continue to age gracefully through their ageless music.

The Stooges

In 1967, an ambitious blues singer recruited a couple of brothers and a bassist to form the most dangerous garage band in history.  Originally named The Psychedelic Stooges (partly because of the hippie era but mostly because they all bonded over a Three Stooges TV marathon), Danny Fields, their first manager who later represented The Ramones, convinced them to sign not only with him but the former folk label, Elektra Records, the following year.

Two overlooked albums later, the band broke up.  The good news for Iggy Pop, the outrageous frontman who would do anything on stage to keep an audience’s attention, was his friendship with David Bowie, a big fan of The Stooges.  Through Bowie, Iggy got a new solo deal with CBS Records.  The plan was to have the red hot Brit (Ziggy Stardust was all the rage in the UK) helm Iggy’s next record.  But as it was coming together, it was clear that he needed his bandmates back.  With the exception of bassist Dave Alexander (whose chronic alcoholism would play a major factor in his early death in 1975), who was replaced by James Williamson (who actually bumped guitarist Ron Asheton over to Alexander’s bass gig), everybody else returned to the fold.

The result was the third Stooges album, Raw Power, one of the loudest albums ever recorded.  (Seek out the superb and downright scary 1997 reissue.)  Like the others, it came and went without much mainstream fuss.  The subsequent tour ended in disaster.  During a radio interview, Iggy challenged a local biker to fight him at that night’s gig in Michigan.  He did and he brought a lot of his friends.  February 9, 1974 would mark the last Stooges show in the 20th Century.  (You can hear it on the Metallic K.O. CD.)

After his first serious attempt to clean up in 1975, Iggy would soon embark on a rocky, only occasionally commercially viable solo career for the next 28 years.  (Bowie would help him out in the 1980s by covering China Girl and some other late 70s tracks they co-wrote together as well as producing Blah Blah Blah which spawned the hit cover, Real Wild Child.)   By the time he was making preparations for Skull Ring, his 2003 release, he admittingly was running out of ideas.

He had learned secondhand that the Asheton brothers (guitarist/bassist Ron and drummer Scott) were playing the old Stooges tracks on tour and more importantly, they still had the chops.  Plans were made to recruit the two for a new song on the album.

They ended up writing and recording six.  Four ended up on Skull Ring (two of which used the exact same intro) and the rest were issued as B-Sides.  With Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE) recruited on bass, The Stooges were ready to tour again after a near 30-year absence from the stage.

Four years later, they made a new album.  Like The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power before it, The Weirdness was not a financial success.  Produced by Steve Albini (who famously worked on Nirvana’s In Utero), it was nonetheless a welcome return after so many years of inactivity.  Despite being grizzled, worn down, middle-aged malcontents, the album was proof that the band had lost none of their edge and none of their grumpiness.  (“My idea of fun/is killing everyone” goes one typical lyric.)

After almost ten tries, The Stooges were finally inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2010.  Sadly, Ron Asheton would never know it.  He died of a sudden heart attack in January of 2009.

With a once reluctant James Williamson back with the band to fill the void Ron left behind, Iggy has said the band will continue touring and make another record.  He’s planning another solo album for later this year.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 20, 2011
7:29 p.m.

CORRECTION:  The erroneous “Rhiannas” has been replaced with the more accurate “Rihannas” in the Crowded House section.  My apologies for the mistake.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2012
6:01 p.m.

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Published in: on June 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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