Potluck Jukebox: Musical Resurrections
Matt Pierce: Spring is gradually sprunging throughout the lands, with blossoms and bunnies and imagery of procreation and resurrection. So for this edition of Potluck, we’ll open up the patio and allow our guests to bring their favorite musical rebirth/return/career reinvention bid. Whether it’s Elvis in ’68 with his leathery “Comeback Special,” Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come getting his unretirement career off on the wrong foot, or any number of broken-up bands in our current festival era kissing and making up and cashing in, the re-emergence of a musical hero-at-rest teems with possibility, but is fraught with potential disaster.
So we’re asking our panel to shout out what they think were music’s most commendable second acts (or third acts, or fourth acts…) in this edition of Potluck Jukebox.
(We request that for the artists' sake, you please refrain from calling it "a comeback." They've been here for years.)
Patrick Julian: Let me take one out of left field for us and submit... Aerosmith. Yeah, classic rock radio makes us think that they had an unbroken string of hits from 74-94, but it’s just not true. After a run of classics (“Walk this Way”, “Dream On”, “Sweet Emotion”) from 74-76, the band pretty much spiraled downward in your classic rock n' roll booze and cocaine death orgy in the latter years of the 70s, ending in the ultimate indignity, an appearance in the Bee Gees' Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, the two guitarists, left the band, and Aerosmith stumbled along into the 80s to dwindling returns, becoming somewhat of a joke. It wasn’t until 1986, ten years after their last top-10 hit, that their resurrection took place, due to the confluence of two events: Steven Tyler went to rehab, and Run DMC recorded “Walk this Way” with Tyler and Perry. Boom.
Aerosmith’s next album, Permanent Vacation, sold 5 millions copies and spawned 3 top-20 hits ("Dude (Looks Like a Lady)", "Rag Doll", and "Angel"). The next album, Pump, sold 8 million units and produced 3 top-10 hits ("What It Takes", "Janie's Got a Gun", and "Love in an Elevator"). The 90s would see millions more records sold and the band become gleeful middle-aged purveyors of the power ballad. There are worse ways to get old…
Dan Behrendt: In the current musical climate, it seems like any artist that remains silent for longer than the standard 2-3 year album cycle is poised for a ‘comeback.’ So by today’s standards, when Portishead released their third album (aptly titled Third) in 2008 after an 11-year silence, it qualified more as a full-fledged resurrection. In many ways it was-- the band’s debut album Dummy practically launched the entire black-lit genre of trip-hop by itself. Three years later, the band followed it up with an album that was grittier and more cinematic, but stayed within the orbit of their established sonic blueprint. When there was no word of any forthcoming music for eight more years, many figured that the band had quietly gone their separate ways; but around the time that they re-convened to play the Tsunami Benefit Concert in Bristol in 2005, creative engine Geoff Barrow indicated that the writing process was underway for a new record. Speculation was rampant about the forthcoming album’s direction: by the mid-aughts, the legacy of trip-hop-- while an important chapter in the narrative of underground sounds achieving mainstream traction --didn’t seem to hold much relevance in the present tense.
Apparently the band agreed: when Third was finally released, three years after the initial mention of a new album, it bore little resemblance to the band’s previous material. While no one could mistake it for the work of any other band, Third was not only their most genre-agnostic offering to date--effortlessly incorporating elements of psych, krautrock and industrial -- but their darkest by a considerable margin. Crisp breakbeats and spy movie strings were largely supplanted by tougher, more brittle sounds such as de-tuned frequencies, diseased synths and militaristic drums. Beth Gibbons’s already vulnerable croon sounded worn-through and dangerously raw, before erupting into the frightening wails of a trapped and desperate spirit. Critics unanimously praised the effort and it found its’ way onto countless top ten lists by the year’s end. Alongside a successful headlining spot at Coachella, many wondered if Third would usher in a robust second act for the band. Alas, it was not to be--what we were greeted with instead was another decade of silence, and the faint hope that the band will emerge again to make their dark mark whenever the spirit moves them.
Aaron Stephenson: There has been no greater musical resurrection for me than the unimpeachable and highly anticipated reemergence of D’Angelo’s genius on 2014’s Black Messiah. This was an album nearly 15 years in the making. Questlove would drop hints about it practically once a month for years. D’Angelo is my favorite musician, and when I saw a poster advertising the new album’s release I literally cried. (It was hard to explain at work. “Aaron have you been crying?” “Yeah D’Angelo is putting out a new record.”) While his first record Brown Sugar set the standard for contemporary R&B, it was his 2000 effort Voodoo that made him into a mythical groove-based neo-soul god. Music heads knew whatever came next would drive the genre forward. A decade and change later, boy were they vindicated. Black Messiah was a sprawling double-LP master work. Primarily a keyboardist, D’Angelo spent a decade learning, mastering and writing on guitar. The grit of his Hendrix-inspiration shines throughout the work. His lyrics, largely inspired by the burgeoning #BlackLivesMatter movement, also saw significant growth from his previous two albums. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another decade for more. Play on, playa.
Andrew Bailes: With only one full-length released in 1999, math rock band American Football barely scratched the mainstream surface before breaking up the following year due to creative differences. Faithful fans continued to spread the album around like wildfire, however, and the eponymous LP catapulted the band to the heights of emo esteem. While lead singer Mike Kinsella went on to release solo albums under the moniker Owen – molding dreamy, melodic soundscapes that echoed his work in American Football – the LP went on to achieve cult status, topping nearly every ‘Best Of’ Emo List over the next couple of decades. Kinsella reunited the band for a string of tour dates in 2014, commencing with a surprise show in Chicago. I was at the Beat Kitchen that night in early August, the crowd assembling for what we thought would be an Owen performance. Shocked to see the full band take stage and play their first set in fifteen years, what followed was pure drunken bliss. Tears and tall-boys flowed like water. The band released a music video for opening track ‘Never Meant,’ shot in the house prominently featured on the cover of their LP. After touring the world in support of an album released nearly two decades ago, American Football entered the studio to record a second album, aptly called LP2. Now with two critically acclaimed records to their name and worldwide notoriety, no one knows just what the next few years have in store for these midwestern legends. Here’s hoping for more emo magic.
Matt: For my contribution, I considered multiple legendary ladies for their heroic returns--Robyn, Tina Turner, Dixie Chicks, and the Mother of Reinvention herself, Madonna--but I settled on my all-time favorite pop diva, Janet Jackson, at the moment she took complete Control of her destiny. As the calendar turned to 1986, Janet was still primarily known as “Penny from Good Times”, and two albums of generic teen pop/soul-by-committee had been greeted with little more than a shrug from the public, even as brother Michael was ascending to global King of Pop status with Thriller. So it took enormous chutzpah for the 20-year old Miss Jackson to extract herself from her family’s entertainment empire, all the while having her teenage-folly marriage to one of the DeBarge brothers annulled, and pack up for Minneapolis, where she teamed with The Time’s Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to develop a bold new sound for herself, combining proto-New Jack Swing grooves with industrial-laced noise and rhythms to create the breakthough Control LP, featuring massive empowerment anthems “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and “Nasty” as lead singles announcing the powerful new Janet to the world. She instantly provided young women everywhere with a no-shit-taking new role model, and the record rocketed to ten million copies sold worldwide, beginning a 15-year run of legendary pop singles and LPs--Rhythm Nation, janet., The Velvet Rope, All for You--seriously, can we please get this woman in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame already?!
Press play and revisit the moment she became a Pierce children favorite with the neck-rolling, Paula Abdul-ADRing “What Have You Done” video below, which in ‘86 received daily run on afterschool video showcase Nick Rocks. (It also further proves my maxim that pop songs with amazing bridges always stand the test of time.)
Join in the Potluck! In the Comments below, let us know which artists' returns to the scene were most audacious and impressive to you.