When it's about the music and not the money
Bands like The Cranberries must beware of cashing in on nostalgia, says Elisa Bray
If 2011 was the year of Adele and Lana Del Rey, 2012 will be known as the year of – OK, Adele – but also the comeback.
For not only is it the year that The Stone Roses are making their grand comeback with three shows at Manchester's Heaton Park, it is also a year in which a slew of Nineties bands have chosen to make their return.
Unlike the recent returns of Pulp, Blur and Suede, which saw the bands reform for gigs, The Cranberries, Garbage, Dodgy and Cast are all releasing new music. Suede might have said that their reformation wasn't just a nostalgia trip, but it certainly would have been for their legions of fans who turned up to hear albums played in their entirety.
When press releases started arriving in my inbox with news of The Cranberries, and Britpop-era bands Garbage, Dodgy and Cast, I couldn't help but be transported straight back to the Nineties. My first instinct: to log straight on to Spotify and see just how many tracks soundtracked a youth spent in indie night clubs. The Cranberries: "Zombie". Cast: the tear-jerking anthem "Walk Away" and the upbeat "Alright". Garbage: the angsty, grungy "I'm Only Happy When it Rains", and "Stupid Girl".
But when a band gets back into the studio after many years and creates a new album, they can hardly be accused of trading on nostalgia for their old tracks. When Dodgy decided to reform, rather than go out and play Free Peace Sweet or Homegrown in their entirety, they started writing new songs. So when they returned to the stage last year, it was to bravely preview their new album in its entirety – their response to other Nineties bands reforming to play their old albums "often for the cash". "It was a tough call, but over a couple of months we definitely got the message across, that we weren't just another Nineties band getting together for a cash-in," explains drummer Mathew Priest. "We wanted to prove that we could make the record of our career."
That they have developed their sound on their fourth album, released 16 years after their last, also supports their lack of Nineties nostalgia. The original trio shifted from their Nineties Britpop sound and picked up from a song on their debut album, "Grand Old English Oak Tree", which hinted at a pastoral side to the band, to create the American-style folk-rock harmonies of Stand Upright in a Cool Place. No surprise that they also sought out a new producer, Matt Pence (who honed Midlake's sound), and decamped from home in Worcestershire for sounds anew in Texas. "It would be nice to think that if Dodgy had continued to make three or four albums after Free Peace Sweet that any new album released in 2012 wouldn't sound too far from Stand Upright in a Cool Place," adds Priest.
Cast, too, were keen to develop their music. "We've never wanted to rest on our past laurels and become a pastiche of ourselves," says frontman John Power.
Then you listen to The Cranberries' first album in 11 years, Roses, and so devoid is it of musical development that it could be from 2001. There's Dolores O'Riordan's immediately recognisable breathy, folky vocals, and the clean repetitive strums that are sure to please fans. The Cranberries seem to have been keen to recapture the sound of their former glories: for production they sought out Stephen Street who produced their first two, and last, albums. Guitarist Noel Hogan said Street "helped us rediscover our sound", while O'Riordan added that playing with The Cranberries is "like putting on a perfect pair of shoes".
Garbage, too, are gearing up for the release of their first studio album in seven years, Not Your Kind of People, in May.
It is refreshing that Nineties bands are writing new music rather than cashing in on a comeback, and even better when they develop their sound. It's the only way to avoid being part of a Nineties nostalgia wave.
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