Earlier this month, My Bloody Valentine resurfaced after more than two decades to issue “MBV.”
To put that layoff in perspective, the last time the Irish shoegazers released a new album, grunge thundered into the mainstream, George H.W. Bush sat in the White House and San Francisco Giants star Buster Posey was 4 years old.
The comeback album is a tricky party to throw. It’s trying to invite people back to the house after the cops show up to shut down the fun. Guests are cautious to return – can it be as much fun as it was before?
Whatever comes next lives in the shadow of the albums that stood before it. Every release is stacked against an artist’s pinnacle regardless of release date, but comeback albums face a challenging question: “Why did they bother?”
Not all groups reform or re-emerge from hiatus to record new material. Others revel in the joy of playing together again as The Police did in their 2007-08 reunion run.
But many more seek to reignite the creative spark.
In that regard, “MBV” does the unthinkable. For My Bloody Valentine to follow “Loveless,” a classic that defines the shoegaze genre, with an album approaching its quality 22 years later is astonishing and unusual.
Long-delayed or comeback albums infrequently live up to the hype. Guns ’N Roses fans who waited 17 years for “Chinese Democracy” know how that goes.
Long-gestating albums such as Dr. Dre’s “Detox” or D’Angelo’s “James River” – the chatter about the latter seems closer to completion than any time in the past dozen years – feel the burden of years of momentum and expectations behind them.
Artists emerge from dormancy in different fashions, but because of the looming legacy of what made them famous, new records fight to match past efforts.
Sticking to other ’90s groups, some struggle – No Doubt, Ben Folds Five, Smashing Pumpkins – while others flourish – Portishead, Paul McCartney’s The Fireman side project or Soundgarden.
Seattle grunge icons Soundgarden are a fresh reminder of the uneven mess of re-emergence. Reformed on New Year’s Day in 2010, Soundgarden’s 2011 Bay Area gig was a victory lap, a hits-laden gallop down memory lane.
In Tuesday’s stop at Oakland’s Fox Theater, it was hard not to think of Soundgarden as a nostalgia act, even though the band was supporting November’s “King Animal,” the first album of new material in more than a decade and a half.
It’s a slippery slope because while a reunion tour celebrates the familiar with fans who are in the know, reigniting the creative spark is a different gamble. It involves the prospect of removing doubt about a group’s talent, a scary gambit for fans as well as performers.
“King Animal” received a “close enough” consensus from critics, but it’s hard to find nuggets as galvanizing and beloved as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman” or “Burden in My Hand.”
Newer singles such as “Been Away Too Long” and the acrid “Live to Rise” haven’t had the chance to mature, but the likelihood of them ever achieving the same level of popularity among fans is small because of their release date.
This is why “MBV” also demonstrates the struggle. For My Bloody Valentine, Soundgarden or any other artist that returns after a lengthy layoff, the shadow cast by any previous material threatens to darken even the brightest new efforts.
“MBV” is strong and, though new, seems like a contender for a spot in top-10 lists come December. Yet “MBV” forever faces comparison to “Loveless.” “King Animal” must weigh against grunge greats “Superunknown” and “Badmotorfinger.”
Once the new cork is popped and the reunion or re-emergence champagne is flowing, fans are going to drink to the last drop.
The size and shape of the bottle is anyone’s guess.
To read more of Nick DeCicco’s blogs, visit http://dailyrepublic.typepad.com/forthoseabouttorock. Follow him on Twitter @ndeciccodr.