Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Peter Gabriel - That Voice Again

Reunited, and it feels so good?

This article from Paste reminded me of a thought I had on Saturday while listening to a Peter Gabriel song. The article posted a list of ten bands they'd really love to see reunited. Personally, I only agree with two of them, but it's a very subjective topic.

Which leads me to today's question: When is a band getting back together a good thing?

Let's look at Peter Gabriel. About a year or two ago there were rumors of Peter Gabriel thawing to the idea of reforming with the remaining three members of Genesis (and by other three members, I mean Phil Collins, the Mike and the Mechanics guy and the other guy who kinda looks like Tony Blair. Not Ray Wilson, who was their lead singer for what felt like ten minutes in 1997). It never happened, but it would have been an interesting "What if?", especially considering that the Peter Gabriel-fronted Genesis was so drastically different musically from the more commercially popular Phil Collins-fronted version. From a music logistics standpoint, I can't fathom what a Peter Gabriel and Genesis reunion concert would sound like. Invisible Touch meets Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? Shudder!

With that, let's look at how a few bands did and didn't reunite and their reasons for doing so or not doing so:

The Eagles - The Very Long Run: Ah yes, the prototype for the band that breaks up and declares that they'll get back together when hell freezes over. True to their word, they did get back together under the "Hell Freezes Over Tour" banner. In fact, they've been together longer as a reunited act than their first version. Formed in 1972, broke up in 1980 and then reformed in 1994 and are still together today. The only problem, and it's probably not a problem for them since they're rolling in reunion tour money, is that none of what they recording post-reunion was close in quality to their earlier stuff. The Dude has a much stronger opinion on The Eagles...whatever the incarnation:

The Beatles - Possibly one of the biggest "what ifs?" out there, and no, the 1995 Anthology reunion of Paul, George and Ringo to basically pump up two of John Lennon's voicemail messages doesn't count. They broke up in 1970 at the top of their game, never to reform. Their music defined a decade and an era and although there were mythical stories of John and Paul pondering bringing the boys back together, it didn't happen. One of my favorite Beatles reunion stories involves Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live. Apparently Paul was hanging out with John in New York watching Saturday Night Live when this aired and seriously pondered taking the offer.

The Police - When I was growing up, The Police were one of my favorite bands. I'd still put Ghost in the Machine as one of my favorite albums, and if you told 1988 me that Sting would deign to get The Police back together for a tour, I would have been one of the first on line for tickets (yes, on line, not online... one couldn't buy a major concert ticket in 1988 without having to wait in line. In fact, I remember waiting in a very long and cold line for Sting concert tickets in Syracuse in 1988). When Sting, Stewart and Andy got back together a couple of years ago, I couldn't care less. Too much time had passed and they were bringing nothing new to the scene...the love was gone and it felt like an Eagles-esque cash grab.

Yaz/Yazoo - Sometimes even a cash grab is a positive. Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke made some great early-80s synth pop on two very good albums...and then split without a word. While very similar to The Police, Yaz (or Yazoo, as they're known outside the US) reformed in 2008 for a mini-reunion tour...no new music, yet it felt more sincere (I shudder typing that word, but that's what it felt like). I saw one of their reunion shows in Oakland and it was great.

Duran Duran - (I wear my bias on my sleeve writing this one, as I am one of the biggest Duran Duran fans out there) Some bands break up, disappear, reform and continue. Others, like Duran Duran, only seem to disappear. That's what happened to them for most people after the 80s. Here's the short version of what happened: At the top of their popularity (1985), Duran Duran took a break to form two splinter groups (Arcadia and The Power Station), with the intention of getting back together after those one-offs energized and ready to ride into the 90s. That didn't happen. Of the original five (Simon, Nick, John, Andy and Roger), only Simon, Nick and John stayed on to make records through 2000 (although John did leave briefly, but came back). After an 18-year absence, in 2003, the original five members of Duran Duran got back together for a tour and new record. I'm not sure it was the best way of doing things, but they went on tour and put out an album (Astronaut) that sounded like a band evolved, but were in touch with their core sound. It only lasted for one album/tour and the album didn't sell well, but from one fan's perspective, it was a welcome and rewarding comeback.

A reunion so great, it deserved its own cake!

Pink Floyd/Led Zeppelin - Both fall in the dinosaur category of reunions: They're both talked about, but like what happened in Jurassic Park, maybe bringing them back isn't the brightest idea in the world. Let's take Pink Floyd, for example. I remember when Pink Floyd (without Roger Waters), got back together to record Momentary Lapse of Reason, which is actually a pretty good album. It's missing Roger's classic storylines, but it brought what the Eagles didn't - a trademark sound fans could identify with. On the other hand, Led Zeppelin will never have what fans will consider a proper reunion (unless they pull a Beatles and find some lost Bonham tapes to record over). The best they can hope for is the occasional Plant and Page collaboration, which seems to happen every few year. Maybe Zeppelin has the formula right...never actually reform, but put out Zeppelin-like projects out there to keep the flame alive. And in the end...that's what Floyd is doing too: Roger Waters and David Gilmour put their differences aside every few years to put on a Pink Floyd cameo.

INXS - INXS took an approach I was hoping would take off. Since they couldn't exist in their original form (because of Michael Hutchence's death), let's put on a reality show to find a new singer! For those of you who watched Rockstar INXS, it was a good format and a great way for a band to air out its back catalog. The other strong point about the show was that the contestants were talented, road-tested singers - some of them had already had recording contracts. The person who won, JD Fortune was a respectable facsimile...he brought some new blood to the band while being faithful to Michael's songs.

JD Fortune in action, live in Singapore with INXS
The Beat/English Beat - For those of you who don't know The Beat (or The English Beat as they're known in the US), they were wedged in between the punk and the new wave eras. They had a unique sound that blended pop, early rap, ska and reggae all with some great vocals and jangly guitars. They broke up to form several groups, most notably General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. Seek out one of their greatest hits albums...it's worth having in your collection. What The English Beat is doing today can't really be called a reunion...it's more of the lead singer (Dave Wakeling) touring under the band name with new members. Normally I'd label this a cash grab, but Dave was (and is) the heart and soul of The English Beat, and if you attend one of their live shows (they're based in California, and play at least 10 concerts a year in the Bay Area), you'll see how much he loves playing and loves the music. The crowd has the same reaction.

The Monkees - On the low end of the spectrum, we have The Monkees. Back in 1986, inspired by an MTV revival of old episodes of The Monkees' TV series, they released their first single since 1971 titled That Was Then, This is Now. It was horrible...weak production, didn't sound like them and was basically a watered down version of Grateful Dead's Touch of Gray meets The Beach Boys' Kokomo. Normally I'd embed the video for you to see here, but I'll spare you. And I'm a huge fan of The Monkees!

So besides examples of bands that have reformed...here are a few I'd love to see get back together just for mostly trivial or comic value.... Wham!, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Howard Jones and the mime guy in chains:

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on reunions. Any you've seen and liked? Any you'd like to see? Any that you wish didn't happen?

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