Stop the ’90s Music Greed Revival

Late Valentine’s Day night, I stumbled upon The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Leno held up an album cover with the words “The Cranberries”* on it. “Wow,” I thought, “The Cranberries must have a new album out.” And then I sighed internally, “The Cranberries have a new album out.” 

And they did. And they performed. And it was a sad sight.

As I watched lead singer Dolores O’Riordan, dressed in black, conjure up musical spells with her hands toward the heavens for several minutes, I noticed the rest of the band stare blankly as they played their instruments. I don’t know if it was the fact that they were less than thrilled to be on the old-person-sleep-aid known as Leno or if it was something more.

Snape strikes the Dolores O'Riordan pose from the Leno performance.

Maybe I read too much into it, but perhaps–just perhaps–they were as excited to be the latest ’90s band to regroup in the 21st century to cash in on the grunge-age retro craze. I can count on my four natural limbs (and seven cadaver-borrowed ones) the amount of ’90s-era musical groups that have risen like reanimated zombies, dusted off the cobwebs of irrelevance and lurched towards talk shows, radio stations and county fairs to break off a piece of that nostalgia-money pie. (And that’s not even including newer bands–like Yuck–aping ’90s sounds.)

While a shot-glass full of them were and still are great or good (the Pixies, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Neutral Milk Hotel, Soundgarden, Garbage, The Cranberries), most are pretty shitty. And the list is becoming as obscure as the groups’ one-hit statuses. Here are some more–ranging in talent by loads:

  • Elastica
  • The Afghan Whigs
  • Pulp
  • The Stone Roses
  • Blink-182
  • No Doubt
  • Blur
  • Jane’s Addiction
  • Creed** (UGH.)
  • Limp Bizkit (UGH.)
  • Sugar Ray
  • Third Eye Blind (meh)
  • Faith No More
  • The Toadies
  • Stone Temple Pilots
  • Hole
  • Superchunk
  • My Bloody Valentine
  • At the Drive In
And there are tons more that I’m too lazy to look up, and there will be dozens more that will reunite until zero-hit wonders like Jimmy Ray send out press releases about their store-opening appearances. Hell, even MTV fake boy band 2Gether*** planned to reunite in November 2011.
"In your Jesus Christ pose"

I’m conflicted about this rush for groups to reform for the money and for ’90s-wistful fans that are being pandered to. I am a firm believer of artists–musicians, painters, illustrators, sculptors, pornstars–retiring when they feel unable to contribute to the creative landscape. (I thought it was brave and wonderful that REM recently disbanded after two strong albums after a languished decade.) I also celebrate an artist’s revival when they have something personal and inventive to say. At the same time, I’m okay with a group getting back together if they truly miss the camaraderie and/or want that mad chedda bay biscuits (Pixies, Pavement).

But then they step over the line and release new music, trying to rekindle that plaid-draped magic and expecting fanatics to plunk down $10 or whatever CDs (they still exist!) or MP3 downloads cost. And as every music website and magazine (they still exist!) likes to rant, people aren’t buying music anymore. (Pavement did a best-of album to tour behind, a great move to let people celebrate and/or rediscover their music.) While the new music is most likely a lure to get people to buy concert tickets (the real moneymaker), it is at the expense of millions drained by the artists and record companies with the expectations of longtime fans to pick up the bill. And that’s not cool.

I love some of these artists–Stone Temple Pilots and Garbage were two bands that guided my exploration into rock music–but I’ve seen the ugly side of the returns to the well of yearning for yesterday’s fame and fortune. I attended a Stone Temple Pilots reunion show in Phoenix a few years ago, my first time seeing the band in concert. (I planned to do this in 2002 with one of my best friends, but I flaked on getting tickets; the group broke up a year later.) While the musicians were technically sound (guitarists Dean and Robert DeLeo played in the group Army of Anyone**** with Filter front-man Richard Patrick two years prior), lead singer Scott Weiland groggily mumbled through some of the set, rambled at the audience between songs and shambled about, only to snap out of it and come to life like the electric front-man he was in his heyday. I felt cheated, and eyed future band developments [their latest album, Weiland’s quitting the tour, Weiland’s Christmas (!) album] with cynicism. I know the ’90s were ripe with pessimism in the arts, so at least that much hadn’t changed.

So here are my pleas to ’90s music groups planning to regroup or in the midst of their reunion:

  • Be upfront about why you are reuniting
  • Get your shit together if you’re going to make a new album
  • Get your game tight for the rigors of touring
  • Be prepared for the animosity from fans and critics for the reunion
  • Don’t support Creed at ANY cost
If you follow these tips, even Wheatus can get a pass from me. I’ll laugh and point (and grumble) about it, but I’ll understand.

* The Cranberries are an Irish rock band that originally performed from 1989-2005 before going on hiatus. Their biggest hits include “Linger” and “Zombie.” Catchy stuff.

** Notice how Creed rhymes with “greed”? NOW you do.

*** Remember “U+Me = Us (Calculus)”? That was a funny song. Also, I thought their MTV show was funny and under-appreciated.

**** Army of Anyone is a very good album if you are fans of Stone Temple Pilots, Filter and/or ’90s grunge-glam rock (a diminutive genre I just made up.)

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