In the music world, something incredible has been happening since the dawn of the 2010’s; beloved bands from the 70’s, 80’s and now 90’s – you know, the kind who typically milk their aging catalog on the nostalgia circuit – came roaring back with amazing albums that are not only rank among their career best – but are also way better than a lot of the new music that clogs homogenized playlists on conglomerate-owned radio stations worldwide.
Earlier this year, POPDOSE welcomed The Godfathers, Animotion, Modern English and, kid you not, Right Said Fred into the Comeback Club. In previous years, Devo, Duran Duran, The Wild Swans, the Ocean Blue and Thomas Dolby have all been celebrated. As 2017 draws to a close, we further expand the ranks.
POPDOSE Comeback Club Qualifications:
- Had to have had an original good run (a string of notable albums or singles)
- Followed by either a breakup, one or more greatest hits albums, nostalgia touring, and possibly a few sub par “hey, who want’s to hear a new song?” releases
- A reunion with key original members (preferred)
- New Music that holds up to, or tops, the classics (mandatory)
Here are this year’s second round of inductions to the Comeback Club:
CHEAP TRICK • We’re All Alright!
We get by with a little help from our friends. Just like Rick Rubin helped bring about a Johnny Cash renaissance near the end of his life, we thank Scott Borchetta for believing that a still in their prime Cheap Trick has WAY more to offer the world than simply being one of the world’s greatest live acts. You might not know the name, but Borchetta runs a bitty little country label, Big Machine, that only has one other pop act on its roster, a young lady with tremendous promise named Taylor Swift. We’re All Alright! is packed with 13 blistering rock tracks that capture the energy of early classic Cheap Trick albums like In Color and Dream Police.
We’re All Alright! (like the Blondie record we discuss below) debuted and peaked at #63 on the Billboard 200 – the only way I can explain such dismal results is because both albums got trampled in a sea of new releases. Thankfully, both acts and albums will hold up to the test of time, so hopefully they can steadily build their fan bases in 2018 and beyond. And speaking of great stocking stuffers, Cheap Trick even more recently dropped Christmas Christmas – one of the rare holiday albums that doesn’t suck and actually rocks.
GOLDFINGER • The Knife
Fun facts you might not know about John Feldmann, lead singer of 90’s ska/punk/pop darlings, Goldfinger – in addition to a kickass Goldfinger catalog, he’s one of the top producers and songwriters in the genre – working with the likes of 5 Seconds of Summer, Blink 182 and The Used. I was obsessed with the band’s first three albums – from their first hit “Here in your Bedroom” through the must-have 4-track 7-inch “gold” single featuring “Car Dog” and “FTN” – a 20-year old song that sounds like a prophecy of the dark age we live in today…
Fuck Ted Nugent he’s a fucking jerk / I wish that he’d be gone / Chauvinistic Republican, kills animals / He forgot how to write a song / He’s a dick! Fuck him! Asshole! Fuck him! / Fuck Ted Nugent, and fuck the NRA / And fuck their attitude / He thinks riding a buffalo and wearing Oakleys / Will make him look real cool…
Goldfinger’s ‘Ted Nugent’ follow-up, an animal rights-centric, Open Your Eyes, was heavy-handed even by Morrissey standards and that’s when I gave up on the band – until now.
With Blink 182’s Travis Barker sitting in on drums, Goldfinger delivers what could be their best-ever album and one of the top platters ever in the pop punk arena, The Knife. Not to be left out, Blink’s Mark Hoppus guests on ‘See You Around’. On ‘Get What I Need’, Feldmann fronts a high-energy horn section all while lamenting “Watch the days, the months, the years turn to rust… watch the memories I made turn to dust.” On ‘Am I Deaf’, he sings “Sometimes I feel so old, yeah am I deaf, or just a little left of what they listen to today?” Thing is, he could still just as easily mop the stage with just about any young punk band on the planet.
GENE LOVES JEZEBEL • Dance Underwater
If you thought the quarreling Gallagher brothers of Oasis fame were a handful, they hold nothing to the dueling Ashtons of Gene Loves Jezebel. I adored the band during their original run – they blew the roof off the Phantasy Theater in Cleveland during a late 80’s tour with Flesh For Lulu – but I gave up on them soon after their album 1993 Heavenly Bodies, which according to Wikipedia, “did well in Portugal.” They were the last band I’d ever guess would make the Comeback Club, primarily because each of the twins fronts their own version of the band. Once again, according to the Wiki page, Jay gets to use the name in the UK and has to tack on “Jay Ashton’s…” in the US; the reverse is true with Michael’s rights to the name. If nothing else, their parents taught them that sharing is caring…
To muddy the waters, Dance Underwater, Jay’s band’s latest album came out in the states under the name Gene Loves Jezebel, perhaps on a technicality as all available CD pressings appear to be imports. The album, is by far the “brand’s” best since 1990’s The Kiss of Life (which was also a Jay joint). Breathtaking cover art photography by Kaya Fesci under the design direction of Adrian Wear welcomes you back into the world of GLJ (quick aside, here’s an option, why can’t Michael use GLJ as a name?). If you can move past the annoying vocal effects in the otherwise stunning album opener, ‘Charmed Life (Never Give In)’, the band lets loose with signature guitar riffs, waves of dreamy keyboards and haunting vocals. Jay’s Gene marries post punk atmospherics to genuinely great pop songs – highlighted by immediate ear worm ‘Summertime’. ‘How Do You Say Goodbye (To Someone You Love)?’ is the emotional highlight of the record and it’s followed by the truly awesome ‘Izitme’ which brings a little Love-era Cult to the proceedings.
Enthusiasm for this album encouraged me to subsequently pick up the 5-disc box set of Gene Loves Jezebel’s first 5 albums, complete with bonus tracks, which turned out to be more glorious than I imagined. I had most of these albums on cassette so the upgrade takes my appreciation of the band to a whole new level.
BLANCMANGE • Unfurnished Rooms / FADER • First Light
POPDOSE welcomed Neil Arthur into the Comeback Club when his Blancmange album, Semi Detached, topped my overall, retro-heavy Best Albums of 2015 list. But then he had his membership suspended by releasing two interesting, but off brand albums in their wake. The instrumental Nil by Mouth and mostly instrumental Commuter 23 were perfectly fine, weird, minimalist, experimental electronic records – they just didn’t have the wit, tightness or pop ambitions of Blancmange’s seminal work when they were a duo (Happy Families through Blanc Burn) or as an Arthur-fronted solo act (Semi Detached and the inessential remake Happy Families Too). If released as solo records or under different names, they would have been cherished additions to any completist’s Neil Arthur collection.
Well, in 2017 – both Arthur and the Blancmange brand came roaring back in fine form, releasing 11 CDs of essential music between June and September. First up came First Light from Fader, a new partnership between Arthur and electronic music artist, Benge (Ben Edwards). First Light is a tight and stellar post punk record that would satiate fans of The Fall, Joy Division and Interpol. ‘I Prefer Solitude’ is also one of Arthur’s most anthemic vocal performances since ‘Waves’ (see below). Arthur and Benge released a second album a few months later, but under the Blancmange brand. Unfurnished Rooms is the follow-up Semi-Detached truly deserved, with guitarist David Rhodes back in the fold. Rhodes has appeared on just about every Blancmange record plus, when he found the time, I think just about every Peter Gabriel album.
In between the two releases, Edsel released The Blanc Tapes, a 9-disc box set spotlighting Arthur’s first three Blancmange albums with Rhodes and keyboardist Stephen Luscombe. Most of the b-sides and rarities were previously released on earlier reissues of Happy Families, Mange Tout and Believe You Me – this set adds fresh liner notes, BBC radio sessions and concert recordings. Each of these albums are also sold separately as 3-disc reissues.
OMD • The Punishment of Luxury
One would think with an album title like The Punishment of Luxury, the LAST thing a band would do is hawk a $100 special edition that features a bonus CD of demos, colored vinyl and lavish packaging – but they did, and I bought it (I am such a sucker). While the box set doesn’t provide a return on investment like Debbie Gibson’s mega box set We Could Be Together, the album continues OMD’s comeback streak that began two albums prior with History of Modern in 2010 and continued with English Electric in 2013. The album, a dissection of “first world problems” pushes OMD back towards their stripped down electronics and sciencey nerd themes of their early records.
OMD releases The Punishment of Luxury: B-Sides & Bonus Material in the UK on 12/15 and in the US on 12/22.
Buckingham McVie is much more like a Stevie Nicks-less Fleetwood Mac record and much less like a Stevie Nicks-less Buckingham Nicks. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are all over this record; it bridges the gap between Mirage and Tango in the Night and is way better than any Mac album from 1990 onward, including their last formal outing, a Christine McVie-free Extended Play EP in 2013 (a release so instantly forgettable they didn’t even bother to name it).
SPARKS • Hippopotamus
If Sparks never released anything except for ‘Cool Places’ with Jane Wiedlin or the Roy Moore survival guide ‘Tips for Teens’, they would forever have a place in my heart. But they’ve been back with a vengeance since teaming with Franz Ferdinand to form the supergroup FFS in 2015. This year, the brothers Ron and Russell Mael returned with Hippopotamus, an utterly ridiculous, giddily joyful, over the top new wave pop opera. ‘Probably Nothing’ begins the show with all the cheeky grandeur of a Broadway opening salvo. ‘Missionary Position’ follows; finally someone has the balls to admit there’s nothing wrong with it: “The tried and true is good enough for me and you…”. The same thought might apply to Sparks brand of pop – there’s nothing else like it and that’s good enough.
At 15 songs in length, taking in this album in a single sitting is like trying to eat a 15 scoop banana split sundae in a single setting. Split it in half and it’s a delicious escape from the dreariness of the real world.
BLONDIE • Pollinator
Blondie used to be one of the world’s sexiest, most dangerous bands. They married new wave synths to edgy guitar post punk, dabbled in reggae and disco, and brought rap to the top of the charts. Just like it took an outsider, Mark Ronson, to plug long the wayward Duran Duran back into their original mojo (2009’s All You Need is Now), it took a village of today’s biggest songwriters to take “safe Blondie” (post 1997-reunion) back to the grit of Warhol-era New York, complete with graffiti-laden subway cars, porn in Times Square and a still-standing CBGBs. Pollinator is an exhilarating ride, a cohesive masterpiece born out of dozens of imaginations.
Joan Jett kicks off the collaborations, and Laurie Anderson (in a hidden track on the CD) ends it. In between, cool kids like Charli XCX, Blood Orange (Dev Hynes), Johnny Marr, Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio), Nick Valensi (The Strokes) and Sia create music on-par with Parallel Lines that also sounds modern or ahead of its time in 2017. Debbie Harry’s voice has never sounded better. Chris Stein and the band play with the vigor of scrappy young upstarts. Blondie is sexier and more dangerous than ever, plus they can use their AARP cards on the road for tremendous savings with gas, food and lodging.
BOB SEGER • I Knew You When
While most members of the Comeback Club are new wave artists, we were thrilled beyond words to induct Bob Seger this year. After watching Steve Miller’s post Rock Hall induction tirade, I was fearful Seger was going to fall into the same old “grumpy old man” trap. My fears were dashed the instant I heard his tribute to the late Glenn Frey. Seger gave away ‘Glenn’s Song’ on the anniversary of the Eagles frontman’s passing – such a fitting tribute since Frey’s passing sort of got lost amidst the monumental deaths of Bowie and Prince.
Long before I ventured left of the dial to discover punk, post punk and new wave via Cleveland’s top college stations WRUW and WCSB, Seger was among my favorite artists and a staple on WMMS, the flame-throwing buzzard. In the 1970’s, Detroit and Cleveland were the epicenters of industry and culture; Seger’s songs were anthems of the people who lived all around me. For most artists, live records were contract fillers; for Seger, Live Bullet and Nine Tonight rank among his most important work and remain on par with fellow classics Cheap Trick At Budokan and Frampton Comes Alive.
I Knew You When (available in a 13 track deluxe powerhouse affair) is a total return to the classic sound of Night Moves, Stranger in Town and The Distance. It’s hard to imagine Seger’s last huge album, Like a Rock, is now 31 years old. You’d never know it from Seger circa 2017, his voice is as resonant as ever, the songs as urgent, the stories are as deep. The track list includes two flawless and very timely covers: Lou Reed’s ‘Busload of Faith’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Democracy’. With this album, Seger regains his title as king of Motor City blues infused rock – Jack White held the title for a few years before heading south to Nashville.
I Knew You When debuted and peaked at #25 and in week #3 is close to plummeting off the Billboard 200. The cover art, which depicts a very young Seger, might confuse buyers who might think this album is a reissue of one of his late 1960s records. Hopefully with the prestigious recognition of this Comeback Club induction, the record will catch fire and find the audience it deserves.
And finally, a few HONORABLE MENTIONS
Charter members of the Comeback Club, The Wonder Stuff, were somewhat back in 2017; We Came Here to Work is the latest sideshow from frontman Miles Hunt and violinist Erica Nockalls. Depeche Mode was back with Sprit, but they never stopped releasing awesome records, so they’re (so far) ineligible for the Comeback Club. And finally, it was such a divine honor to hear the late, great, Comeback Club ineligible Chuck Berry end his career on the highest note imaginable with the amazing album, Chuck. More on these records in upcoming year-end recaps.