Last week came promises of return of two names that haven’t been heard from for a while. All-girl neu-kraut four piece Electrelane brought their “indefinite hiatus” to a definite end after three and a half years, announcing that they are to play Field Day festival in London this summer, as well as “a few gigs” across the British Isles. And news for anyone who has been bemoaning the ‘X’ Factor-shaped gap in their Saturday evening entertainment schedule : the original ‘manufactured’ band, The Monkees, have released dates for a forthcoming UK tour, their first in over a decade.
Of course, these artists are just another pair in a long line of comebacks, both on stage and on record. Artists are forever deciding that they simply cannot live without us, their fans, or that we can’t live without them. But are such reformations always welcome? Or should artists learn to trust their instincts, and to recognise that their decision to disband was well justified?
Special festival appearances, like those Electrelane have planned, are often a way of keeping it sweet, reminding old fans of why they loved you in the first place, and giving new listeners the chance to attend the live show they thought they’d never see, without the overblown cash cow of eighteen month long reunion tour. Blur were welcomed back to Hyde Park with open arms, and Pulp look set to follow in their footsteps with a series of festival appearances planned for the summer – a shock turnaround from Jarvis Cocker’s statement, back in 2007, that Hell would freeze over before he and his ex-band mates “[saw] the point” in getting back together. Such appearances can be, for some, a celebration of an ever-increasing legacy. The US band Pavement, in headlining Coachella and curating ATP, showed that they are worthy of the cult status that their music has acquired since they originally split.
However, sometimes even these one-off performances carry with them a sense of futility. The Libertines returned to Reading and Leeds Festivals last summer, to the obvious delight of hard core devotees. Their Reading set was as shambolic as ever, but the fudging of solos was seen to be more down to Pete Doherty being “lost” on the immense stage than a peak of euphoria, and the PA was cut during ‘Time for Heroes’ due to crowd safety issues – a sure anti climax. The Libertines were a band that belonged to a specific time and place, any attempt to recreate this only serves to remind that they are no longer the bright-eyed boys of Albion that they once were, if Pete n’ Carl’s post-break up projects were not already enough. Arguably, they would have been better to leave fans with their memories, like The Stone Roses, who have kept their promise never to reform and thus maintained their legendary status.
If bands are keen to make a full-scale return, by recording as well as playing together, it’s important that, to give themselves a fighting chance at acquiring credibility, they offer the listening public a concrete forward development in their music. Though this is a potentially dangerous opinion to voice, Take That are a band who can be commended for achieving just that. Rather than offering no more than a re-jigged Greatest Hits CD and accompanying tour at £80-a-head to watch ex heroes look bored and old, Barlow and co. returned with a collection of tracks that, as far as mass-market radio-friendly pop hits go, are perfectly acceptable and, most importantly, with an attitude of gratefulness and humility for their welcome reception, which has ensured the success of their recreation.
The same is unlikely to be said of Beady Eye, AKA Oasis minus the oldest Gallagher. After Noel left the band, not known for their modesty, “for good” after a long series of tumultuous bust-ups, the remaining band members chose to start afresh, not wanting to rest “on the back of someone else’s songs” – anyone hoping to hear ‘Wonderwall’ at one of their upcoming shows will be sorely disappointed, then. If the poor charting of the ensemble’s first single is anything to go by (it only reached no.31), it seems that this was a development too far – cut yourself off from your glory days completely and people may cease to care.
Artistically viable or not, the queue of artists waiting to hop onto the bandwagon back to the past looks unlikely to start shrinking any time soon – if you were offered a million pounds to have a nice couple of evenings getting back together with old friends, it wouldn’t be surprising if you decided to forget differences. Though some reunions are more due than others, and this is evidently a matter of opinion, there is always going to an audience for nostalgia – and it shows in the revenues.