With a new My Bloody Valentine album, a new Replacements EP and a new David Bowie album, it became clear early on in 2013 that this was going to be a year full of comebacks. What’s followed has been a barrage of albums from artists you wouldn’t expect to see dominate 2013.
As somebody who isn’t particularly taken by nostalgia, comeback albums never excite as much as they do many other people. So many good new artists come out every year that it seems pointless to care about a new David Bowie album. At the same time, I don’t hold the view that comeback albums can never be good. One of the best albums of 2006 was New York Dolls’ “One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This,” which the group released after a thirty year absence.
So, here are my feelings on a few comeback albums that I haven’t gotten the chance to comment on yet.
My Bloody Valentine: “m b v” (Pickpocket) Timing in at just under 38 minutes, “Isn’t Anything” — the 1988 debut full-length from these shoegaze masters — remains their greatest studio LP, mainly because it says what little it has to say quickly and tunefully.
“Loveless,” their 1991 album, is often considered among the greatest albums of all time and, while I don’t agree with that, it is sonically breathtaking, as well as one of 1991’s essential listens. In between these two overrated albums, the group released two EPs, 1990’s “Glider” and 1991’s “Tremolo,” which both remain underrated. “m b v,” My Bloody Valentine’s long-awaited third album, is influenced too much by the LPs and not enough by the EPs, which isn’t just to say it’s longer than it should be. Here, the songs fail to stick, the music is dull and with nine songs in 46 minutes, it lags in a way that even “Loveless” — which was two minutes longer, albeit with 11 tracks — never did. Twenty-two years may be a long time to wait for a new album, but even the part of me that likes this band can’t see how bigger fans can view “m b v” as anything but a highly anticipated train wreck.
Grade: B MINUS
The Replacements: “Songs for Slim” (New West) In early 2012, former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap — who replaced founding member Bob Stinson in 1987 — suffered a stroke. So, for his benefit, the band got back together. Kind of. Basically, founding members Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson went into the studio with guitarist Kevin Bowe and drummer Peter Anderson to record four song covers. Meanwhile, original drummer Chris Mars, who still refuses to play with the group, contributed with the album art and a solo track. It’s hardly clean, but The Replacements were never really clean in the first place. Since “Songs for Slim” is only 14 minutes long and features no originals, it doesn’t fall into the common comeback album trap of trying to live up to the band’s older work. It seems like they’re just having fun and, as such, it’s actually fun to listen to. Two of the songs, “Bustin’ Up” and “Radio Hook Word Hit,” were written by Dunlap, and they both show him as a better songwriter than you’d think. It’s the other covers that are truly fantastic, though, including a Gordon Lightfoot cover that actually rocks and one of the finest covers of the most well-covered song of all time, Leon Payne’s “Lost Highway.”
Grade: A MINUS
David Bowie: “The Next Day” (Columbia) While “The Next Day” fails as a David Bowie album, it succeeds incredibly as a showcase for producer Tony Visconti. Visconti’s work on this record, which may be his best since Bowie’s own “Lodger,” at least makes the dully-written songs interesting and listenable. But, when interesting and listenable are enough to bring about the amount of praise that “The Next Day” has gotten, you have to wonder if people are hoping for another great Bowie album a little too hard.
Suede: “Bloodsports” (Suede Ltd.) Since I enjoy this band, and yet don’t love or hate them, I’m more inclined to take this album at face value. It’s a nice, hooky Britpop record that’s not quite as great as their self-titled debut but a lot better than their overrated sophomore release, “Dog Man Star.” That puts it at just about the same level as their third album, “Coming Up.” Since I’m around for it, “Bloodsports” will probably mean more to me than any of them in the long run. Some comeback albums put their energy into the sound, while others run purely on nostalgia. Suede instead puts it all into the songs, producing a strong album by any band’s standards. Sure, plenty of albums this year will have songs as enjoyable as “Snowblind,” “It Starts and Ends with You” or “Sabotage.” But very few will have all three, one after the other.
Grade: A MINUS
Fall Out Boy: “Save Rock and Roll” (Island) Ignore the self-important and overly confident title, and what you’re left with here is the pop record that these emos-by-label have always had in them. It opens with “The Phoenix,” a terrific track that knows the strings in “Thnks fr th Mmrs” were superior to any of their guitar tunes. This is followed by “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up),” their hookiest track ever—and surprisingly the album’s only excruciatingly long song title (they even put the catchiest part in parenthesis to make it easy for us). Unfortunately, the album runs out of steam at the end, culminating in two finishers with featuring credits from Courtney Love and Elton John that are about as bad as you’d expect. Of course, even if rock and roll were in need of saving, these guys wouldn’t be the ones to call on. But with this album’s first seven tracks, they at least make a fair amount of good rock and roll — which is as admirable a deed as saving it.
Daft Punk: “Random Access Memories” (Columbia) Well, you can’t say that 2013’s comeback artists lack ambition. Along with Fall Out Boy’s plan to save rock and roll, you have Daft Punk, opening their new album with a song called “Give Life Back to Music.” And, while music is still as alive as ever, they at least partially low up on their claim by creating an album full of life. Unlike other comebacks, “Random Access Memories” isn’t following a hiatus, but it’s been so hyped up that it might as well be. And surprisingly, it’s the most solid comeback this year has seen. It doesn’t match “Homework” or “Discovery” and it doesn’t have any tracks as memorable as “Digital Love” or “One More Time,” but with highlights like the Pharrell Williams features “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” and the Julian Casablancas feature “Instant Crush,” it makes “not as good as ‘Discovery’” seem like the minor criticism that it is.
Grade: A MINUS
Black Sabbath: “13” (Vertigo) Their first album since 1995, and their first with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978, “13” is a traditionalist metalhead’s dream come true. Not only is Ozzy back, but so are the seven-minute tracks. Five of the album’s eight tracks, in fact, are over seven minutes long. That’s the biggest problem with “13” — it leaves little room to breathe. I love Ozzy-era Sabbath as much as anyone, but what worked when they were twentysomethings recording “War Pigs” just isn’t the same coming from sixtysomethings recording “God is Dead?” Despite all that, this is their best album in a very long time, although I’m not planning on going through their atrocious ‘80s and ‘90s material to find out how long.
Grade: C PLUS