I’m sure the majority of music aficionados have known the heartbreak that comes when your favourite artists decide to call it a day. LCD Soundsystem, R.E.M., Vivian Girls, The Mars Volta, WU LYF: all heartbreakers. There will be no new music, no live shows, and no hope – to be blunt. Or so you would think.
It’s strange when a band comes back from the dead, but it seems they’re always welcome – perhaps more so than those that overstay their welcome. Reunions are a growing trend, and they seem to be coming thick and fast. What better than a new band, than an old one with a historic legacy? I’m sure indie-freaks everywhere rejoiced when everyone’s favourite introvert Jeff Mangum decided he was ready for the touring circuit again; shoegazers when My Bloody Valentine reformed in the late 2000s, and graced record shelves with their first album in 22 years. Both are agreeably notable examples, but let’s not forget Godflesh, The Dismemberment Plan, Swans, The Replacements, OutKast, The Afghan Whigs, Blink-182, Loop, Violent Femmes, Slowdive, Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction, The Smashing Pumpkins and the FLAG/Black Flag fiasco of ’13 too.
But the question remains, are these reunions quite what they seem? Are they for the fans, or simply exploitative?
I must admit, my opinion of band reunions had always been mixed. On the one hand, these bands – their records, history and significance – have all been cast in amber, glazed over, and viewed from rose-tinted spectacles. Like most things, we always want it more when we can’t have it. We’ve all seen it; bands that didn’t exactly shake the Earth upon their first time round have since been made into reverent beacons the world over, worshipped posthumously by old and new listeners alike.
But on the other hand, reunions are exciting for the precisely these reasons. It brings many of these bands in line with a twenty-first century critical opinion, with new listeners and technological advances breaking down the isolating borders that geographical location had originally placed upon them. It’s hardly surprising that during the Spotify generation, we have seen a rise in what is dubbed ‘nu gaze’, or a spawn of regressive, stripped back, bare-bones, garage rock revivalists in the form of The Horrors, Arctic Monkeys and Black Keys because of this.
Furthermore, reunions are beneficial to those who missed the bands first time round. I myself would have been much too young, or not even born, to witness many recently-reformed bands in their heyday. But, “what about exploitation?” I hear you cry. How could reunions possibly be a bad thing?
Call me a cynic, but I personally refuse to believe a band will reform on a simple whim – at least, not entirely. Somewhere along the line, money must enter into the equation. But then, why shouldn’t it? If fans are begging you to play the Roundhouse at £25 a pop, why not? If festival organisers are waiving a filthy great sum under your nose, it’s almost too much to resist. Add to this lavish record reissues and merchandise sales… it all totals up, and this is the price we pay as fans for one last glimpse of forgotten treasure.
It’d be wrong to say bands shouldn’t make money from reunions – in some cases, the shows they perform and the records they release are their entire lifeblood. It’s a very primitive and poorly summarised viewpoint to suggest that bands reform only to milk the cash cow, even though this is sometimes the clearly case.
In the case of the reformed Smashing Pumpkins – where lead vocalist Billy Corgan remains the only surviving member of the original line-up – it’s sometimes difficult to get on board with recent titles like ‘Oceania’ and the ‘Teargarden’ series, no matter what the quality – especially when relationships between its original and most popular members have frayed to such an extent that it becomes a stretch not to seem misleading and exploitative of loyal fans.
However, while there is a supply and demand scenario in play, I like to believe band integrity shines through more often than not. In the case of Smashing Pumpkins, it’d perhaps be more damaging to revive a line up that would ultimately be fraught with tension. The same applied to Sunny Day Real Estate, Pixies, and the fragile possibility of a Hole reunion. The longevity of a band relies solely upon the contentment of its members.
Ultimately, reunions are a novelty, but one which certainly has a place in the music industry today. People will always want to see bands from the past, long forgotten or faithfully remembered. Without reunions, the gig listings would be swamped with immeasurable obscurities, copycat bands and tribute acts… and who’d want to see that happen?