Why Bands Who Reform Should Stay Away From The Studio

The NME recently reported that the Stone Roses are to split up again without releasing any new material. Are they the first band of their kind to protect their musical legacy in this way?
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The NME recently reported that the Stone Roses are to split up again without releasing any new material. Are they the first band of their kind to protect their musical legacy in this way?

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You’re always going to be faced with a dilemma when your favourite band reforms, particularly if you never got to see them live the first time around; do you simply accept that you missed them in their prime or do you risk attending a reunion gig and then spend it wondering why your heroes have been replaced by portly, middle aged men with shiny bald heads who’ve waddled onstage and are lifelessly bashing their way through the old hits, strains of which you can occasionally make out through the noise from the motorway that’s closer to you than the actual stage?

For, at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s always hard to watch a recently-reformed band giving a press conference in which they keep on hugging each other and telling everyone how they’d forgotten what great mates they were and what an amazing musical chemistry they had without wondering how long it will be before one of them announces ‘but we’re not doing this for the money!’

Yes, the claim that there are no financial considerations whatsoever in the decision by a band who’ve spent the last twenty years slagging off each other in the music press to then spend the next year on the road together is the first cliché of all returning bands. It is, however, generally brought into question a few moments later when said band announces details of their upcoming gigs, which are invariably held in a field the size of Hertfordshire, with tickets costing £150 each, plus a booking fee of £150 per ticket, which they insist is really an intimate gig only for the real fans, so they’ll only be releasing 180,000 tickets, unless demand is particularly high. Oh, and a beaker of warm beer will cost you £15, and if you try to bring anything onto the site that vaguely looks like it could contain any sort of liquid, even if it’s medication or an asthma inhaler, then it will be smashed in front of you by security staff.

Still, no one’s forcing the fans to buy tickets and I say we shouldn’t begrudge bands trying to top up their pensions in their twilight years. After all, they’ve probably got huge mortgages and even huger drug habits to fund. (Still, for all the bands who insist they’ve not getting back together for the money, there are suspiciously few of them who donate all the profits to charity, aren’t there?) But it’s the second cliché that all reforming bands are required to utter that’s the more worrying: ‘we’ll only release new material if it’s as good as the old stuff!’

Bands may genuinely believe this but, sadly, it usually translates as ‘if we can bear to be in the studio together for long enough to record forty minutes of material then we’ll release it as a limited edition boxset costing £250’. For the recording of new material is truly where a band has the best opportunity to defecate on their legacy: faithful fans will come away from pretty much any half-arsed gig thinking it was brilliant, but a bad album is like a defeat on a boxer’s record: you can make excuses about it for the rest of your life but it’s always going to be there, tarnishing your discography forever.

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Ian Tilton: The Man Who Shot The Stone Roses

It’s fair to say there are very few bands who make a comeback and manage to sustain it, particularly in terms of new records. Sure, you might briefly enjoy top ten success, like Blondie or Echo and the Bunnymen, but before long the novelty wears off and your albums are being released on Lidl’s own record label and failing to scramble beyond the dizzy heights of 97 in the charts, and the memories of your glorious comeback gigs are somewhat dampened when you realise it’s 2pm on a Sunday and you’re playing the second stage at Guilfest in front of bored families trying to concentrate on their picnics.

The thing that people should bear in mind when a band reforms is that all they’re doing is living out the final rubbish years that bands who don’t split up end up going through. Despite this, fans still get incredibly excited when a band returns, no matter how bad they were in the end. When Oasis announce their inevitable comeback in a few years their fans will start overexcitedly saying ‘wouldn’t it be great if they released some new material?!’ with a sort of blissful amnesia rendering them incapable of recalling the decade’s-worth of forgettable albums they released prior to their split. And then when a new album does come out, made up of songs previously rejected for use as Beady Eye B-sides, it will briefly be heralded as a stunning return to form.

So, onto the Stone Roses. Obviously their debut made their reputation and is adored by millions. And there’s hardly a bad song on there. Plus they were startlingly good musicians for an indie band. But let’s not forget that their second album wasn’t as warmly received and still divides opinion today; John Squire was indulging his love of retro and lengthy guitar solos, and we should probably bear in mind that if they had carried on their next album would basically have been the Seahorses album but with Ian Brown’s vocals on it. Let’s also not forget the circumstances of their original split, fizzling out with only two original members and an ever-growing army of session players. If they’d stayed together would they have basically become an Ian Brown solo project, or a meat-and-potatoes indie band like Ocean Colour Scene or even, horror of horrors, followed their contemporaries the Charlatans and, in the face of plummeting sales, reinvented themselves as an Oasis tribute?!

So I think it’s fair to say that the Stone Roses’ original break up was for the best, solely because it left their reputation intact. And if they soon announce their second split then that will be for the best too. The fans who didn’t see them the first time have done so now and the band members have topped up their bank balances, so why spoil all that with an unnecessary third album? Sure, it would be nice to think they’d recapture the old spark but it’s not going to be like that after twenty years, is it? In all likelihood, what we’d get would be a collection of songs that didn’t make the cut for John Squire’s long-forgotten solo albums. Then hours of guitar solos would be added. And then Ian Brown’s trademark off-key vocals would go on top, which will have declined even more since the band’s glory days and for which an auto-tune powerful enough to sort out will never been invented.

And if all that still fails to convince them, let’s remember the tale of another famous Northern band who sold millions and wrote the anthems that defined a generation before making an ill-advised comeback: The Verve. Buy their comeback album, did you? Play it much these days, do you? No, of course you don’t. Hell, as the CDs were making their way from the pressing plant to the stores, the band themselves had probably forgotten all the songs on it.