The You-Phoria Guide to Reunions

Sun May 10 2009

No, I’m not talking about sixteen different kinds of fruit salad and people you don’t know saying they remember you when you were this big. Since this decade can’t seem to produce any decent mainstream rock music, it’s up to 90s artists to keep getting back together to show kids what it was like back in the (intermittently) good old days. But how can you tell which ones are lame, and which ones are okay to admit you want to check out? Leave that to me.

First, some general rules. If it’s not the original lineup, or at least the best-known or -loved lineup, it’s almost certainly lame, particularly when you replace a dead iconic frontman with an imitator, à la INXS, Alice In Chains, or the Germs (possibly the lamest reunion ever). However, if at least three-quarters of the essential band brings in a replacement for a less visible fallen compadre, it can be acceptable, making Led Zeppelin’s 2007 one-off with John Bonham’s son drumming only slightly lame, while The Who carrying on after John Entwhistle’s death is utterly lame. Change the name of the band, however, and I say you’re free to do as you please, although “Queen + Paul Rodgers” and the überlame “Doors of the 21st Century” do not qualify as name-changes. Furthermore, if your band has no discernible plans to create new music or can’t muster more than county fair/geezer festival attendance, you are probably just desperate for income and/or no longer relevant, and therefore lame. Also, if you are The Eagles, you are lame. Now, onto this year’s crop:

FAITH NO MORE: Mike Patton is not FNM’s original singer, but he is the singer most associated with the band, so you can’t use him as the excuse to call this reunion lame. However, if any one man was the key to FNM’s original sound, it was guitarist Jim Martin, who either was not invited to join in this tour or chose not to. Instead, the band is touring with the final-album replacement guitarist, Jon Hudson. Either way, this reunion tour (so far, only European dates) reeks of a cash-in, with no mention of plans for new material. Doesn’t Patton have enough on his plate already? Hudson is a fine guitarist, but he was a stand-in twelve years ago and he’s a stand-in now. This is a pointlessly lame reunion. That doesn’t mean I won’t go, though.

PHISH: Let’s see…for all practical purposes, Phish has had the same lineup for its whole existence, no exception this year. Judging by the ludicrous demand for tickets and the infinite plethora of bands created in its wake, many of whom are now arena-acts themselves, I’d say the band is every bit as relevant now as it has ever been. A new album is in the works. The truth is that this may have been the most inevitable reunion ever, and the most welcome; is there anyone on Earth who cares but is unhappy about this? It almost feels like the band never left. So, even if the four musicians never approximate the heady jams of their glory days, this is still the least-lame reunion possible.

NO DOUBT: The reunion-as-viability-litmus-test. Gwen Stefani recently claimed that she felt like she was cheating on the rest of No Doubt as she rose to solo superstardom; apparently, not enough to stop cheating on them for five years or so, though. So, what are the Vegas odds on this sizable reunion tour prompting a new album? I can’t help thinking this is Stefani throwing the other three guys a belated bone, while they probably just ran out of money and, as everyone knows, are completely faceless and boring without their blonde pimpette. And since the band seemed contrived forever after that video for the syrupy “Don’t Speak” with the footage of the band raging through some supposedly old-school ska-punk or something, there’s no reason to suspect a No Doubt reunion will be any less lame. If they know what’s good for them, though, they’ll become even more lame but sell more tickets by renaming the band “Gwen Stefani and No Doubt”.

JANE’S ADDICTION: Perry Farrell has reconvened Jane’s a few times since its untimely breakup following the very first Lollapalooza in 1991, but never until now with the original lineup; bassist Eric Avery always got left out for some reason. The band’s sub-par 2003 album, Strays, radiated lameness, and all post-breakup incarnations have felt motivated more by the failures of Perry’s and guitarist Dave Navarro’s other projects than anything else. But now that the resurrected Lolla is more successful than ever, it just seems like the perfect time for the real JA to return. New material is in the works, and while I don’t necessarily have high hopes for it, I see no reason to doubt the power of the band’s essential back catalog to blow minds when they play it live once again, so unless they’ve all lost the ability to perform, this one should be able to avoid lameness.

THE JESUS LIZARD: Since I pretty much missed out on the initial existence of this band, I’m really hoping to catch it this time around. New material? I have no idea. In fact, the group’s legacy is so difficult to assess that it’s hard to comment on the reunion’s lameness or lack thereof. The Jesus Lizard is all hipster/critical cred and zero popularity (and one of the greatest band names ever), aside from its brush with fame after doing a split 7” with Nirvana in 1993, so its return will probably make as tiny a splash as its original run. The legend of singer David Yow’s often-drunken live performances is enough to at least make it worth checking out the reunion, though. I’m rendering a not-lame verdict based solely on the potential spectacle, train-wreck or otherwise.

CREED: Okay, it is the original lineup, as far as I know. Scott Stapp & co. have already announced plans to record a new album called Full Circle (naming the album before it’s even written: how portentous). Judging by the announcement of a summer arena tour, demand is apparently there. I guess the only real problem I have with this reunion is that it’s the worst band of all time. Other than that, it is totally not lame at all.

LIMP BIZKIT: Speaking of worst bands of all time, Bizkit 2.0 will indeed feature the original lineup, is working on a new album, and is on the eve of a major European tour, with a U.S. jaunt sure to follow. WHY? I guess since all the hair metal bands keep regrouping and garbage radio stations keep playing them, this shouldn’t be a shock. Nu-metal was the hair metal of the late 90s, and people are again looking for excuses to be bullshat into a nostalgic stupor. And there's nothing wrong with nostalgia, but LB is actually posing as current. You know, I pray there will never be a pop music revolution that critics will kill by preaching it as the new grunge, but holy crap, last time I checked, Linkin Park hasn’t even broken up once yet! Something's gotta give, people. Anyway, Fred Durst has freely admitted that he believes people only get into the music business for the drugs and chicks, so despite passing all the surface tests, the resurgence of LB is undeniably lame.

BLINK-182: Wait, did I just refer to the 90s as “the good old days”? Clearly, most of the bands that made that decade great either knew when to call it quits or never broke up, because 2009 is witnessing possibly the three worst bands of that era giving it another go. So, I don’t know if this will make me seem out of touch, but who the hell cares about this reunion? Haven’t all of Blink’s fans either moved onto even more annoying offshoots or come to the realization that their whole cultural niche is a joke? This band epitomizes everything I hate about the bullshit that people have been referring to as “punk” since the late 90’s, and I blame Blink-182 for the pop-punk/emo explosion that, until very recently, dominated the rock airwaves since the decline of nu-metal (frying pan > fire). I feel sorry for Ben Weasel for being an inspiration to these phonies. But maybe the throngs of jobless slackers in their late 20s are apathetically freaking out about this reunion, so since I see no reason that it will affect me at all, I wish it…whatever.

SCREECHING WEASEL: Oops, I guess I don’t feel sorry for Ben Weasel; he’s getting the band back together, again. While I usually make allowances for bands like SW that have changed band members for practically every album, I can’t give Ben the naming rights just because it’s his name, especially since he’s been up on a self-righteous soapbox his whole career, when there’s a guy named John Jughead who has also been in every incarnation of SW and wasn’t invited for this lame-ass reunion. Much like the idiots in Yes decided to tour with an imitator against Jon Anderson’s wishes while he was recovering from surgery, Weasel has reformed his band while Jughead remained oblivious, then bitter, and that’s automatically lame. A telling detail here is the way that Ben has carefully avoided even mentioning Jughead even though he generally feels fine spouting off about whatever crap crosses his mind. Sure, he snuck Danny Vapid back in, but at this point, Weasel is becoming the Billy Corgan of punk rock. Here’s hoping any new SW material (unlikely to ever materialize anyway) is as lame as its namesake leader so I don’t have to feel guilty for downloading it illegally.

BLUR: The allure of Britpop evades my American sensibilities for the most part, and while I’ve enjoyed a lot of what I’ve heard of Damon Albarn’s miscellaneous projects, the ubiquity of Blur’s “Song 2” during my lost summer of 1997 (that’s that “woo-hoo” song) has forever scarred me, so I can’t possibly look upon this reunion with any excitement. However, it does signal the return of founding guitarist Graham Coxon, and while it’s receiving little to no fanfare in the U.S., I suspect anticipation is high in the U.K. Given Albarn’s success with Gorillaz as well as The Good, The Bad & The Queen and other consistently well-regarded oddities, I’ll assume there are wholesome, artistic reasons for Blur to reunite, so I’m labeling this one not lame, pending some actual new material which I probably will never bother to listen to anyway.
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