The Stone Roses: Is this the second coming?
As The Stone Roses reform, Ed Power ponders the reasons why bands hit the comeback trail
Published 28/10/2011 | 05:00
For years they insisted they would never, ever reform. There was too much bad blood, their legacy was so special they didn't dare taint it with a half-cocked reunion.
But now, after umpteen declarations to the contrary, the seminal early 90s band The Stone Roses have announced that, yes, actually, they are going to get back together after all. They even put on a press conference to share the good news with the world.
Why have they changed their minds? The way they tell it, the four band members bumped into one another at a funeral, were surprised at how well they all got on and decided it was time to bring the group out of retirement.
Cynics -- and there have been plenty of those about this past week -- will have noted that, with their solo careers washed up and mortgages and teenage kids needing looking after, the prospect of a mega-payday can't have been far from their minds either.
So why do bands reform? Here's our countdown of the top five reasons.
1 Because of the pay-cheque
"Band reunions are always about the money," says Aslan guitarist Billy McGuinness. "The art has nothing to do with it. Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong about getting back together for the money. It's better than working in McDonald's."
So deeply imbedded has 'the reunion culture' become in music, McGuinness believes some artists actually regard a break-up as a career move. "Back in the day, a band split and that was it. Now you don't break up. You announce your greatest hits, do a farewell tour, take two years off and then you're back."
If base lucre was the motivating factor for the Roses reunion, it wouldn't be the first time musicians were persuaded to go back out on the road because they were in a fiduciary squeeze.
In 1999, fellow Mancs the Happy Mondays set their differences to one side after frontman Shaun Ryder admitted he'd been 'cleaned out' by the taxman.
2 Because there is unfinished business
The generous view might be that The Stone Roses want to address the perception that they'd squandered the second half of their career. While their 1989 debut is deemed a classic, the five-years-in-the-making follow-up divides opinion. Some fans love it but several undeniably duff moments have tarnished the group's legacy. The fact they split not long later means the curtain came down on their career in unsatisfactory circumstances. In addition to (very lucrative) comeback gigs, the band have said they will write new songs. Perhaps their motives are purer that many believe.
"They must suffer from the idea that they are unfinished business," says Ian McCann, editor of Record Collector magazine.
"They never really lived up to the hype. Now is their chance. Even if the reunion doesn't resolve the questions hanging over them, the idea that their 'third coming' may cement their place in history once and for all must be a strong drive for the band as much as a selling point for their fans."
3 Because everyone else is doing it.
Nowadays it is easier to count the bands that haven't reformed than those that have. From Take That to the New York Dolls to The Cranberries it seems everyone is doing it. Even when a
Continued on p32Continued from p31
group splits, nobody truly believes it is the end.
Do we really think Oasis, Westlife and REM will never give another concert? Five years from now, the clamour for them to mend their differences -- such as they are -- will likely be deafening. Even millionaires, it is fair to say, have their price. Plus, how better to deal with your mid-life crisis, than dusting down your guitar and waggling your crotch in front of thousands of adoring fans?
"There's no doubt that cash is a huge incentive," says Ian McCann. "but the chance to see if they still matter two decades on makes it irresistible.
"It's the equivalent of a middle-aged bloke buying a sports car. For the guy concerned, it's one last chance to feel young and virile."
4 Because you've stopped hating each other
As The Strokes Julian Casablancas told the Irish Independent a few years ago, if you want to lose your friends start a band. It has been scientifically demonstrated that there is no faster way to fall out with people than to spend six months travelling the world with them in the back of a tour van. There is a perception the rock lifestyle is one of endless glamour.
Maybe that's the case if you are Chris Martin and spend your downtime in a hotel room the size of a small semi-detached house. For the majority of groups, however, a music career means endless lugging of equipment , interminable time-killing at airports and, if things are really bleak, squabbling over money (one of the reasons U2 are still together is that they decided early on to split all incomes four ways).
However, the things that annoyed you when you were a young man may no longer grate in middle age. Everybody mellows as their youth slips away. Musicians are no different. Which is why artists well known for hating one another -- the Eagles, the Sex Pistols -- were able to patch up their differences and put the band back together.
The outstanding recent example is the rapprochement between Take That's Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams. As his solo career went stellar in the late 90s, Williams used every opportunity to slag off his old TT band mate, mocking him for his weight difficulties (a bit rich that, Rob) and his sensible streak. Over time, though, the animosity between the two boiled away. When they randomly met a few years ago, Williams and Barlow discovered they actually got on quite well. Faster than their accountants could say 'ker-ching!' they were back on stage belting out 'Back For Good'.
5 Because the world is obsessed with the past.
In his new book, Retromania, music writer Simon Reynolds argues pop culture has started to gorge on its own achievements and lost the ability to say or do anything new.
Contrast the music scenes of 1970 and 1980, he says. They were completely different. The same can be said for 1980 and 1990 -- movements came and went, bands exploded, minted it, fell messily apart.
Fast forward to the present day. What truly great artists or exciting scenes have emerged in the past ten years? At a push you might name-check The Strokes, Arcade Fire and Rihanna. Hardly the second coming of The Beatles, Sex Pistols, The Smiths or Nirvana is it?
The way Reynolds sees it, such is the obsession with music's recent past, all anybody is interested in are nostalgia-soaked band reunions. Bad news for new bands, an excellent development for a bunch of old blokes such as The Stone Roses.
Says Sean Adams, founder of UK music website Drowned in Sound puts it succinctly: "Our generation's obsession with [old music] has been more damaging to music than piracy, and failures to let new acts develop is why we have a future-fearing era of retromania."