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The greatest comebacks in music (and some of the worst)

Thin white duke: David Bowie released his first single for a decade this week

Thin white duke: David Bowie released his first single for a decade this week

AFTER a decade-long hiatus from the music industry, yesterday’s announcement of David Bowie’s forthcoming single and album has surprised and delighted fans of the pop chameleon, who turned 66 yesterday.

While the jury is out on whether Bowie’s volte-face will be deemed a success, anecdotal evidence suggests that, even after years in the wilderness, Bowie’s return has a good chance of being warmly received. Others artists have rehabilitated themselves even after a string of critical or commercial failures. Scotsman.com looks back at some of the greatest comebacks in pop and rock music - and some of the worst.

Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron’s wryly-titled I’m New Here, released in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim, was a record that seemed inconceivable given the decade that had preceded it. Drug addiction and lengthy spells in prison had blighted the singer throughout the noughts. Moreover, the Chicago native had failed to release an album since 1994’s Spirits. I’m New Here, released on XL, was a bruising, intimate portrayal of a man whose storied catalogue, for all its piercing wit and socio-political insights, had shied away from self-reflection for so long. A brave, sonically adventurous record had promised an Indian summer for Scott-Heron until his sudden, unexpected death in 2011.

The Stone Roses

Comeback gigs from seminal British indie bands have been ten-a-penny in recent years: Pulp sizzled in Barcelona in 2011 as they played their first gig in over a decade; Blur set aside their differences and fine cheeses to bring the curtain down on the Olympics last year; Oasis cheated by splitting off into two bands, Beady Eye and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, impressing absolutely no-one in the process. If there was one gig that really captured the imagination though, it was surely the Stone Roses’ homecoming gig last May - their first in 16 years. Various anecdotal reports from Manchester’s Heaton Park suggested that Ian Brown’s singing wasn’t up to much, and that the sound could’ve been better, and that the event was badly organised. But then, perfection was hardly what typified the band’s appeal. Whatever you might have heard, one thing that can probably be agreed on is that, over the course of three gigs, to which around 220,000 people bore witness, the quartet delivered a nostalgic tour de force to cherish.

Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Despite having released one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the early 90s (Blood Sugar Sex Magic, their excellent funk-rock breakout record), the band were already in a tailspin. With mercurial guitarist John Frusciante having already left the band mid-tour in 1992, lead singer Anthony Kiedis was approaching a catastrophic relapse into heavy drug addiction a few years later, which came to its nadir during the recording of their next album, the widely-derided One Hot Minute. Dave Navarro, the guitarist who had replaced Frusciante, had also fallen prey to heroin’s lure. Not so much on the verge of breaking up as disintegrating completely, the return of Frusciante - invited back by Kiedis after firing Navarro from the band some time later - virtually rescued the group from heroin-fuelled oblivion, and in the process became the impetus for the band to craft one of the most beautiful, fully-realised rock records of the decade in Californication, under the guidance of US svengali producer Rick Rubin. They haven’t looked back since.

Kate Bush

Kate Bush’s withdrawal from public life in 1993 following her seventh album, The Red Shoes, created a 12-year vacuum, during which time intermittent industry whispers and tabloid gossip had painted her as a weirdo recluse in the absence of any concrete information regarding the singer-songwriter’s day-to-day life. Turns out she was busy being a mother, as she raised her son Bertie away from the prying eyes of the British media. Having been made out to be the NME’s answer to Lord Lucan, Bush returned, however tentatively, to the spotlight with Aerial, an album whose spellbinding qualities served as a reminder of why everyone had missed her so much.

Worst music comebacks

2Pac

Posthumous releases of music bearing Tupac Shakur’s name - exercises burdened by idiocy, cynicism, or often both - have been as numerous as they have been shoddy. But last year, it seemed that 2Pac had one more comeback left in him. The rapper, who died in a shooting in 1996, appeared before an American festival crowd in the form of a 2D hologram, addressing a throng of thousands and even namedropping the festival (“what the f*** is up Coachella?”) before launching into song alongside a slightly awkward-looking Snoop Dogg for several minutes. “Throw up a mother******* finger,” hologram 2Pac continued to an obliging crowd, at least some of whom must have done so with a question in mind. Why?

Guns N’ Roses

Chinese Democracy. The most expensive record ever produced at a staggering $14 million, reportedly taking 14 years to create (it had been 17 years since their last album, The Spaghetti Incident?), and helmed by a man with the mental age of… you get the idea. During the gestation of Chinese Democracy, Guns N’ Roses went through numerous line-up alterations, changing guitarists and drummers like socks and pants, all the while refusing to repair bridges with, among others (many, many others), guitarist Slash since an acrimonious parting of the ways in 1996. After its release in 2008, people who liked music agreed Chinese Democracy was a terrible, expensive failure, and then moved on with their lives.

 

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