As the Stone Roses triumphant Heaton Park gigs dominate music mags and TV coverage and the threat of new material hangs over us, it got me thinking: Do the combined forces of a moderately successful painter-cum-guitar hero, journeyman bassist, millinery enthusiast drummer and self-proclaimed Monkey King frontman have anything new to offer the world in 2012?
The lure of big bucks and prime festival pickings has persuaded many a set of sworn enemies to bury the hatchet somewhere other than each other’s backs. Some have been content to peddle the hits (Suede, Pulp, Pavement) and soak up the adulation they often only had the chance to briefly enjoy during their heyday whilst others have teased and tantalised us. Blur released their ‘Fool’s Day’ single for Record Store Day 2010 and rumours still swirl of studio sessions with William Orbit yet Damon has also hinted that the group may call it quits after their Olympics shows this summer. My beloved Pixies managed one new track; the haunted, fairground waltz of ‘Bam Thwok’ before, perhaps sensibly, deciding to play the nostalgia card.
A brave few however have ventured back into the studio and attempted to re-capture the precious magic that gave them their much loved back-catalogues in the first place. And these returnees have almost always fallen short of the mark. When Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe and co announced they would reunite in 2007 they reassembled a group Ashcroft had previously said would be ‘harder to get back together than the Beatles’ yet the sole product of a return to the studio was ‘Forth’ an unhappy mess with an ugly squawking lead single ‘Love is Noise’ which did it’s best to spoil the almost religious reunion gig experience. The spark amidst the cosmic swirl that had animated 1995’s ‘A Northern Soul and 1997’s seminal ‘Urban Hymns’ resolutely refused to catch light.
Unfortunately The Verve are hardly the only ones to discover the harsh truth: Any band that manages to capture the zeitgeist must cling tightly to it because when it slithers away no amount of expensive studio production and hearty rounds of applause for your past masterpieces can bring it back. Jane’s Addiction, Devo, Massive Attack and Blink 182 are just some of the artists who have been tempted back for love, money or unfinished business only to produce records that offered only a hazy facsimile of past greatness’s.
There’ll always be gifted soloists like Gil Scott Heron, Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen, who choose to duck out of the spotlight only to return as if the muse never left them but I can only think of two acts who have got back together and produced material as good as that which they recorded before vacating the spotlight. Deep breaths everybody because this one might be controversial: Portishead and Take That.
Britain’s Number 1 Man-band left us to the anodyne, emotionally manipulative strains of ‘Never Forget’ and ‘Every Guy’ (side note – does anyone actually remember that one?) only to return with the mature, intelligent, reflective pop-songcraft of ‘Patience’ and ‘Shine’. Whilst they may have since spunked some of this good will by welcoming their most tiresome band mate back into the fold and Gary Barlow’s desperate attempts to get himself a knighthood there’s no denying that both ‘Beautiful World’ and ‘The Circus’ are a giant leap in quality and sophistication over their boy band past. Meanwhile the Bristolian trip-hop trio waited over a decade to follow up their self-titled sophomore record with the equally excellent ‘Third’, a gorgeous, downbeat showcase for their stunning experimental soul/electronica which gave them an unlikely US top ten. Both these acts managed to conjure up a sound which evoked the spirit of past glories whilst also managing to sound fresh and contemporary but these triumphs are few and far between.
The Stone Roses in 2012 are far from the fresh faces who re-invigorated UK indie music in 1986 and it would be a shame to sully their legacy with turgid rockers or Ian Brown’s “freestylin” as a way to fill time between playing the solid gold cuts of their debut. It’s hard to begrudge those who were too young to see them in their heyday the opportunity for their own slice of the Roses legend or hard-up acts the chance to fill their retirement funds but the dignified thing would be to tour for a few years and leave their peerless recorded output unsullied.