The Art of the Comeback Album

This was originally going to be my review of the latest Pixies album.  However, I decided that was a bit boring and instead I’m doing a wider look at the idea of comeback albums.  Enjoy.

The last few years has seen the idea of the comeback become a bit of a trend.  With everyone from Refused to Crazy Town deciding that maybe the world needs them after all ( we really don’t Crazy Town) it’s become clear that coming back is the new black and in conjunction with that it raises the thorny issue of the comeback album.  Some bands do one, some bands stay far away.  One band who have recently decided to do a comeback album, although they have been touring in recent years, is the Pixies.  Now I should probably say this out of the bat, I bloody love the Pixies, they are everything that a band of that genre should be and while I’m not a huge fan of that kind of music, the Pixies have a very special place in my heart and because of that I apologise for anything I say about them that sounds mean.

Yet despite them being one of the most influential and just downright perfect bands of the last 20 years, Cindy Indy, their new album, is to put it nicely, a bit crap.  It sounds like a band who have spent their lives listening to Doolittle and Surfer Rosa and have decided to give it a bash themselves.  It’s the Pixies, but now they sound old and dull.  So this got me thinking, what does it take to make a brilliant comeback album?  When you’ve been away as long as some of these bands have, how do you come back and release music that still sounds fresh and exciting.

The perfect example of a band doing it right is grindcore legends Carcass.  Last years Surgical Steel was a fantastic piece of brutal extreme metal and they instantly sounded just as good as their contemporaries.  So what did they do right that the Pixies did wrong?  Well firstly I think it’s just the songs.  When coming off of a long break there are two positions bands seem to find themselves in.  They either have a shed load of tracks, all ready to shoot off the conveyor belt, or they have turned off the part of their brain that writes songs for that particular band and now struggle to turn it back on.  This is what Indy Cindy feels like.  This is a band who have forgotten how to write Pixies songs, so when they come back together to do so, they think back to those moments and try and replicate them.  You then end up with something like “Greens and Blues” which sounds like the Pixies, but just isn’t them.  It’s them with that sparkle and beauty that made them so unique gone and instead they sound like the Pixies covering the Pixies.

Now there is no denying that they also lack Kim Deal, someone who has been an essential part of who they are as a band since the start.  However, that doesn’t stop the fact that Indie Cindy is just disappointing.  To continue the Carcass comparison (and before someone points it out, I’m aware how different those bands are) it lacks the fire and the immediacy that album has.  I listened to the Carcass album once and I was instantly glad they were back in my life.  I listened to the Pixies album several times and it made me want to go back and listen to all my own Pixies albums, because it reminded me just how good they were.  If they’d made a bad album but one that you could sit back and subjectively go, well at least I see what you were trying to do there, it would be okay.  Sadly Indie Cindy feels like it was more made for the sake of being made, rather than from any true desire to do so.

I think that right there is exactly how you make a great comeback album.  You need to want to.  So  many of these bands are coming back not because of the music, but because they see a big fat pay check waiting for them.  (I should point out that I am in no way suggesting that is what the Pixies have done.)  It is possible to come back and make a great album.  However, just turning up and doing what you were doing 20 years ago isn’t how you do so.  You need to realise that music has changed and this is even more so the case when you are a band as influential as the Pixies.  Is it unfair to expect a band to rewrite the rule book every time they release an album?  Of course it is, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying.

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