Bitchin’ Reunion Albums…and some that ain’t

So the ’80’s are back, in a big way, eh? That most ridiculed of decades is enjoying a bit of a critical renaissance, and I couldn’t be happier, ’cause it really was a great decade if you look deep enough.

Modern bands as of late have been ‘borrowing’, quite liberally in some cases, from some of the most underrated bands of the decade. Including: Destroyer (China Crisis, New Order), Radiohead (early Simple Minds, OMD), Muse (Ultravox), The Horrors (Psychedelic Furs), M83 (well, every ‘80’s band you can think of).

It’s been happening for years, ever since the phrase “Rock and Roll” was coined. Pop, indeed, eats itself over and over again, about once every 30 years or so. The Velvet Underground never sold any albums during their life, but virtually every band on the planet since have copped an idea or two (or three) from these guys, and that’s just the blatant and most obvious example. There are many more.

What usually happens is the original band sees that their ‘style’ is now back in vogue and usually resents the fact that these pretenders to the throne are benefiting, financially and critically, from their trailblazing sonics. Inevitably what happens next is that they reform and put out an album and, just like in the olden days, nobody cares. Yes, they have some success on the tour bus and usually make tons of money by parading the oldies circuit where old dudes like me dig out their crusty concert t-shirts from back in the day and dance like the silver haired fools trying to relive our childhood that we indubitably are. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind; it’s better than buying a Corvette, or getting divorced and shacking up with someone half our age. Right? It’s a harmless, if a little sad, pattern that is inevitable.  But that’s us fans. What about the bands? Do some succeed? Do some do it right, with integrity, and utilizing those same maverick creative standards that got them noticed in the first place. Sure, there are a few examples, and the Rolling Stones ain’t one of ‘em. Neither is The Who. Kraftwerk’s Tour De France was a good one. The Soft Boys put out “Nextdoorland”, which was decent. OMD’s “History Of Modern wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But the only real successes, in my eyes, was Madness’ “The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, released a couple of years ago. It not only exceeded my expectations it has eclipsed their entire back catalogue as my favorite Madness album. This year, PIL has released a damn fine one in “This Is PIL”. And even though I refuse to listen to a Stranglers album that doesn’t feature Hugh Cornwell on lead vocal duties, I hear this year’s “Giants” is pretty fantastic. Thomas Dolby did it right recently as well as Orbital.

One reunion album I am very interested in hearing is the new one from Ultravox, entitled “Brilliant”. Naming your reunion album “Brilliant” reeks of over confidence and is definitely setting the stage for some remarkably sarcastic Pitchfork reviews (think “The Second Coming” by the Stone Roses). But the reviews I have read rate it among the finest of the bands back catalogue. I feel it’s a decent practice to keep one’s expectations low for these kinds of albums, but also to retain a smidgeon of optimism. Ultravox featured very prominently in my formative years and Vienna, Sleepwalk and a host of other songs are still personal favorites.

I will remain cautiously optimistic about “Brilliant” and will let you know what I think in the coming months