This week, Blur bring their reunion full circle by releasing their first album in 12 years. Recorded on a whim, in the midst of a 40-hour jam session during a stopover Hong Kong at the end of 2013 as the once-fragmented band finished up their international reunion tour, The Magic Whip does something that not every musical comeback achieves: it moves beyond nostalgia.
By the most cynical estimation, the recent rash of band reunions is, in some part, driven by the payday of nostalgia-driven touring — a rare bright spot in the music industry. Legacy bands who are willing to play their big hits and most iconic albums in full after years away stand to make a lot of money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a different kind of reunion than the bands who want to exist again in a creative sense, adding something new to their discographies. The fundamental differences between these two approaches to band reunions are one thing, but when you factor in how shamelessly money-focused the former can become, you start to get a wide range when you talk about “band reunions.” It’s the taste level of Sleater-Kinney’s return to music earlier this year versus, say, the Pixies’ most recent incarnation of their decade-plus reunion efforts involving multiple tours playing classic albums, a documentary, the replacement of a key founding member, and an elaborate roll-out for a new album.
In light of Blur doing it right, we’re taking a look at those who also did, and those whose thirst and shamelessness is downright palpable. They’re ranked from most to least egregious.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Stop milking it, Pixies, you’re ruining your legacy. Any reunion that can be described as a band’s second in less than a decade is officially thirsty. But you know what’s even more shameless? Feuding with a key original bandmate (Kim Deal) over the very existence of a comeback record, letting her quit and making the album anyway, then selling it as three separate (and poorly received) EPs over an extended period of time before compiling it into the album they knew they were going to make in the first place. Even among hardcore fans, the Pixies reunion seemed troubled when Black Francis, David Lovering, and Joey Santiago replaced their replacement for Kim Deal, Kim Shattuck, with little explanation. It really puts in perspective the not-wanting-to-hear-new-songs-over-Surfer-Rosa-live problem.
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ reunion tour in 2012 started off as well as could be expected of a tour involving a troubled pop genius and the man who’s made a career capitalizing on the genius’s iconic songs. After decades of touring under the Beach Boys name (and legally blocking bandmate Al Jardine from doing the same thing), Mike Love saw the benefit of having all the Beach Boys’ surviving members involved for a 73-date tour celebrating their half-decade anniversary. But the band — who did a bevy of press that invariably pointed out Love and Wilson’s differing approaches to the reunion — were never a permanent state as far as Love was concerned. After the tour was over and the reunion album was out, Love went back to the regularly scheduled programming with his own band under The Beach Boys name. Brian Wilson, meanwhile, felt like he was fired from the band.
Andre 3000 will be the first to admit that the Outkast reunion tour, which kicked off at Coachella 2014 and spanned more than 40 massive music festivals worldwide, was motivated by money. “I’m 39, I got a 17-year-old kid and I gotta support certain things,” he told The Fader. “And my partner Big Boi is like, ‘This is a great thing for all of us.’ So I felt like there was a certain sell-out in a way, because I didn’t wanna do it — I knew I was doing it for a reason. So maybe if I’m telling people, ‘I am selling out,’ then it’s not as bad as pretending. It’s being honest about it like, ‘Shit, I did these songs when I was 17 and I’m out here peddling them now.’ But it’s the honest thing, that’s what it is.” Factor in how obvious it was by the looks of his stage behavior — back turned to the crowd, little if any interaction with Big Boi — that Andre had little interest in being there, and it’s fair to deem the Outkast reunion something of a low point for the hip-hop visionaries.
The second reunion of Black Sabbath’s original lineup — Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, and Bill Ward — started off well enough with an announcement in 2011, but by the time the shows started in 2012, Ward was not only out, he was writing lengthy open letters as to why (I’ll save you a read: money). The rest of the group responded curtly, to say the least; not even Iommi’s cancer battle stopped them from playing dates and making a new album, 2013’s 13. Ozzy, Tony, and Geezer are expected to release one last album this year and embark on a final tour — well, they say it’s the last, anyway.
The Wu-Tang Clan
To celebrate 20 years of their classic album 36 Chambers in 2013, one of rap’s most legendary (and largest) collectives played Coachella, followed by more festivals around the globe. For more than a year afterwards, they were said to be working on a new album under the wrangling of RZA. Clearly tensions ran high, even as A Better Tomorrow and Wu’s $5 million, gold-encased second reunion record, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, were announced. Raekwon and RZA criticized each other in the press, while Ghostface Killah announced a solo album to drop just a week after A Better Tomorrow. At the end of the whole ordeal, it’s hard to imagine Wu-Tang repeating the process anytime soon — and that’s probably for the best.
The Jesus and Mary Chain
The Jesus and Mary Chain played the reunion game in the late ’00s, starting with Coachella 2007, spiking back up in 2012 with a massive international tour, and continuing in 2014 and 2015 with shows to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their seminal debut, Psychocandy. For a band that’s had three times as many members as its current lineup at any given moment, the personnel changes are less important than with most bands on this list, so long as the brothers Jim and William Reid remain intact. They’re not at each other’s throats as it stands currently, continually telling the press that new music is on its way (“We’re trying to get our shit together and hopefully it’ll happen,” William told Uncut last year). “It is strange to be playing Psychocandy again,” he added. “But hopefully we can do it justice. I want to make records and show people we’re not a ‘heritage act.’ What a fucking horrible term.”
Neutral Milk Hotel
Fifteen years after they went into recluse mode following the release of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the members of Neutral Milk Hotel embarked on a tour that ended up spanning two years longer than anyone would have expected — which is to say that, after two years on and off, Neutral Milk Hotel are just now wrapping up their international touring this June. The tour will be their last for “the foreseeable future,” with no plans to record music probably, well, ever. But with NMH leader Jeff Mangum having hit the acoustic touring circuit hard throughout 2011 and 2012 behind a Neutral Milk Hotel box set, and NMH playing many big cities multiple times throughout the band’s current reformation, it’s fair to say that anyone who needed to cry along with “Oh Comely” got their tears out already.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their classic album Last Splash in 2013, The Breeders got their 1992-1994 lineup (Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, and Jim Macpherson) back together for a two-month international tour of mid-sized venues and European festivals where they played the album in full. Last Splash also got the deluxe reissue treatment. But then the band did something a little different: they announced another brief tour late last year, where they road-tested their first new music in five years.
Fleetwood Mac as a band has broken up and reunited more times the former couples within the group. Just in the last six years, the Mac has embarked on three major world tours, but it’s their current one — On With the Show — that feels like a true and complete reunion. For the first time since 1998, vocalist Christine McVie is touring with the band again, instead of laying low in her 17th-Century English country mansion. “She also had to understand that if she was coming back that, basically, she has to stay,” Lindsey Buckingham told Rolling Stone of McVie’s rejoining. In addition to the 14-month, 130-show jaunt ending in November, Fleetwood Mac have been recording a new album to be released following the tour.
After Paul Westerberg released what was intended to be his first solo album, All Shook Down, as a Replacements album in 1990, rock’s favorite antiheroes found themselves even more at odds. A Chicago show in 1991 marked the end of the band’s initial run, but even as ‘Mats moved on with new projects, Westerberg remained certain that the group was not done for good. 2006 saw the recording of two news songs for a Replacements’ best-of; Westerberg, guitarist Tommy Stinson, and drummer Chris Mars reunited in 2012 for a covers EP titled Songs for Slim, with the proceeds going to ‘Mats guitarist Slim Dunlap, who’d suffered a stroke.
But things really came to fruition on the reunion front in 2013, when Westerberg and Stinson reunited The Replacements for Riot Fest shows in Toronto, Chicago, and Denver. 2014 saw a handful of reunion shows in giant venues, while the band’s current tour sees them playing more intimate shows. Meanwhile, they’re working on new music — which they’re previewing on the road — as well as a biography, two vinyl box sets, and a documentary. It’s hard to begrudge a band like The Replacements, who never got all their due during their heyday, for going big and bold now.
The world was not satisfied when Blur’s first attempt to record a follow-up to 2003’s Think Tank crashed and burned in 2012. Since 2008, frontman Damon Albarn and guitarist Graham Coxon, who wasn’t present at the end of Blur’s initial run, had been getting on well enough for high-profile gigs including London’s Hyde Park, Glastonbury, and the 2012 Olympics. Blur gigs amped up again in 2013, when they headlined Coachella and played a big international tour. All was quiet until earlier this year, when — surprise — it turns out Blur did make a new album together, more than a year ago with some time to kill in Hong Kong. As the world found out this week, the new album — The Magic Whip — is a solid entry in Blur’s eclectic catalogue. The Britpop boys are effectively back.
Leave it to Sleater-Kinney to pull off a comeback without losing any relevance; in fact, they left us wondering how we ever survived without their singular voices, together again, in music. “We’re all friends, so we respected that we had other things going on in our lives,” vocalist/guitarist Corin Tucker told Pitchfork. “We really waited until it was like, ‘Is the opportunity going to pass us by if we don’t do it again?’”
The band’s first new release in a decade, No Cities to Love, is not only one of the year’s best albums so far, it represents a whole new musical phase for the Olympia trio, who show no signs of stopping again soon. Likewise, S-K’s reunion tour — which kicked off in January and ends after a handful of festival appearances this summer — was barely nostalgic at all, with as many new songs as old favorites making the setlist.