As I sit here in my acid washed jeans, Doc Martin’s, oversized jumper and high peaked baseball cap I can’t help but think two things. One, my God I look like an insufferable prick and two, haven’t we seen this before...? The answer is yes. It was called the 90’s and it was a bleak time characterised by a Gulf War, a crippling recession and a relentless and out of touch conservative government. While the thought of this might seem beyond comprehension to us now in 2013, its influence is clear, especially with today’s music.
Regular readers will be aware that I am by no means a music fan and prefer New Balance to New Order, WH Smiths to the Smiths and Maoam to Duran Duran, however the never inaccurate Wikipedia reliably informs me that 90’s music was a time of convergent ‘alternative’ styles of music. From across the Atlantic we welcomed ‘grunge’; its pioneer Burt Cobain who was tragically lost during a gang related drive-by but his influence is far reaching and recognisable amongst popular acts such as the Foo Fighters. Meanwhile, the UK scene was exploding with a ‘Brit-pop’ shaped IED, Spearheaded by the likes of Oasis, Reef and Menswear, the 90’s were halcyon times cocaine on cornflakes, dating members of All-Saints and befriending Jimmy ‘five bellies’ all considered acceptable norms. But over time the ‘mod’ imitation haircuts grew out into ‘curtains’ and ‘undercuts’, and by the mid-point of the decade boy-bands were ten a penny. With music as infectious as their STI’s, young girls across the land were put into frenzies not seen since the Beatles, Slade or the Proclaimers. Such wholesomeness was characteristically followed by a full scale revolt and by the Coalchamber hoodie epidemic of ’99, nu-metal was all the rage. But these collective flames could only burn so brightly for so long and sadly the talent, momentum and most of all interest simply ran out.
Or so we thought…
History has been fairly consistent in reminding us that remakes, re-vamps and reunions have a tendency to be in the main, shit. Recent revisits to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, ITV’s ‘Catchphrase’ firmly back this up, and we can’t overlook the horrors of the Total Recall, Arthur, Italian Job, Halloween and Alfie remakes. But music is a different, somehow more personal and because of this some reunions don’t just damage the memory, but also the integrity and legacy which were once so precious. The past year saw Blur, Pulp and the inexplicably popular Primal Scream returning to the stage, but none came close the madness which accompanied the reunion of everyone’s default favourite band ‘The Stone Roses’ who come in fifth as my disappointing reunion. Fans flocked to catch a glimpse of the now literal ‘second coming’ and while I have no problem with them per sae, I also have no problem with magnolia, chicken korma or Nokia.
Reunions are big business and the Stone Roses were reported to make £10,000,000 for their recent live shows. Though not in the same league (but still obscene), the Libertines are also thought to have received a 1.5 million for their Reading and Leeds performances…which will buy you a hell of a lot of military jackets, Raybans and smack. The thing is, with falling CD sales, easy access to pirated material and streaming sites it’s easy to see why bands continue to return to now the densely populated scene. I mean, how else are these stars going to afford to put rocket fuel in their space ships…? But while money must be a motivating factor, it can’t be the only reason and we are often told that new tiurs and albums are ‘for the fans’. Indeed the recent Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath comebacks both proved incredibly popular with their huge international fan base as well as being tasteful and respectful to their catalogue. Therefore, with ‘metal’ in mind, the fourth most disappointing reunion has to go ‘Limp Bizkit’.
While their return has been ultimately successful, it does somewhat undermine their very public and acrimonious split which culminated in guitarist Borlan going as far as to call his next musical output ‘Big dumb face’ - no doubt related the vast, stupid face of man-boy frontman, Fred Durst. While da Bizkit’s albums are certified meccas to cringiness, fans say that to fully appreciate their brutality they must be witnessed live, but then the same could be said for a murder.
But the ‘real’ bands weren't the only ones enjoying the nostalgia-wagon and after the surprise success of professional waist-coast wearers ‘Take-That’, it was the time for other defunct manufactured bands to prove their worth. Fueled by a passion to be taken seriously, what better way to solidify integrity was there than to appear in ITV2’s reality show, ‘The Big Reunion’? The series saw many of the 1990’s ‘stars’ compete for a second chance at stardom and collectively they make up third position in my disappointment run down. Amongst the quagmire of double denim and repressed homosexuality was ‘Blue’, best remembered for their hit singles ‘All Rise’, ‘One Love’ and ‘Butchered at Birth’, as well as their unparalleled stupidity. But I guess it’s easy to be cynical about Blue, so long as no elephants are being harmed, eh? Self-styled boy-bands’ bad-boys ‘5ive’ added to the murky mix. Undeterred by the fact that the one who rapped decided not to join in, the band soldiered on as a 4 piece thereby entirely undermining their USP and indeed name. The aptly named disaster that was ‘911’ also featured, singing like angels but looking more like drug dealers and dog fighters than we remembered. It’s hard to say who the winner of the ‘Big Reunion’ is, both because I don’t know and as such a term seems a bit sarcastic.
Perhaps most controversial (by people who think that what bands choose to do of their own free will is news) surrounded the return of fair weather anarchists Rage Against the Machine. The 90’s was a time where ‘Rage’ ruled, and their idealistic world view and social commentary frequently found themselves tip-ex’d on many a 90’s teenagers’ ruck sack. However the 2008 X-Factor winners were heavily criticised, whether this was due to their lacklustre live sets or the fact that the nihilism of 20 years ago just felt forced or wasn’t relevant anymore, frankly I can’t say. I do however understand that similar feelings were evoked by the surprise reformations of At the Drive-in and Refused, who had both maintained that reunifications were ‘off the table’. This station is now profitable I suppose.
But no run down of crushing musical disappointment would be complete without mentioning the big ‘guns’. Fronted by archetypal rock blueprint Axl Rose, Guns ‘n Roses dominated the 80’s and 90’s and the band came to embody the spirit of very spirit of rock and roll. Axl (whose name is an anagram of Roal’s Ex) was such a badass that he had been known to go as far objectify women as well as use full four letter swear words in his lyrics. But after 2 top 10 singles and inclusion in the ‘One’s to watch’ 1986 things fell apart after Axl unceremoniously fell out with the other members of the band while on a Strepsil fueled temper tantrum. After a wilderness of seventeen years the much anticipated ‘Chinese Democracy’ was released, costing $10 million as well as every single other member of the band. The album, which universally uninspired, was supported by a vigorous and relentless touring schedule and Axl (who now resembling something between Mickey Rourke and a hot meat pie) promised that their live return would be every bit as exhilarating as the new album. He was right. Llive performances also came under fire for Axl’s aggression towards the audiences and consistent lateness, clearly unlike Rihanna and Justin Bieber the world’s greatest rock band just weren't ‘cool’ not cool enough to pull this off this level of tardiness. It’s not like people had waited 17 years or anything.
Perhaps I sound bitter, but not every comeback is ‘bad’. As I write I’ve just read that the ‘Through the Keyhole’ is to be remake and presented by one man 18-30’s holiday, Keith Lemmon. Also get excited kids, Shed 7 are said to be discussing their imminent return and while we’re at it I imagine it’s time to wheel out Dirty Den, Harold Bishop and Hulk Hogan. This said, while there’s life in some old dogs yet, I think the lesson here is that sometimes the memory of things are a better than the real thing. Others are simply best left in the past. Forgotten. Buried. Like Noel Edmunds.