Bands that rocked the 90s are back...so which ones have aged well, and which ones should have remained retired?
As this new wave of 90s' revival picks up speed, we present to you our list of bands that got it right, bands that completely messed up and the inbetweeners too
Love it or hate it, 90s' music — with all its grungy anger and politically charged lyrics — has been making a thumping comeback to the music scene in the last few years. Whether its just a usual cycle of musical trends or the current socio-politcal landscape, one cannot help but notice the sudden resurgence of a host of bands from the nineties, some releasing fresh material for the first time in over a decade and some even longer.
As this new wave of 90s revival picks up speed, there have been some instances of bands even outliving their previous reputation, while others have completely lost the plot. And a few of them are still in limbo, waiting to make their move (Here's looking at you Maynard James Keenan). With so many bands making such bold comebacks, it seems like a good time to assess how the resurgence has been going so far. So here's our compilation of the hits, misses and near misses. A quick review of the best and the worst of the most recent comebacks from the nostalgic world of 90s' alternative rock.
1. Ride - Weather Diaries (2017)
One of 2017's most anticipated and equally rewarding comebacks was that of Oxford-based shoegaze pioneers Ride. After spearheading the British shoegaze / neo-psychedelia scene in the early 90s, the band called it a day in 1996, with bassist Andy Bell moving on to join Brit pop kings Oasis. Ride's debut album 'Nowhere' has been named one of the important albums of the shoegazing genre. In 2001, the band briefly reunited for a one-off performance for a television show and in 2014, Ride announced their second reunion.
But the icing on the cake arrived last year when the boys announced their first new studio album in 21 years, 'Weather Diaries'. The single 'Charm Assault' was a direct attack on the socio-political scene of the UK, with unmasked references to Teresa May and Brexit. It made number 11 in the UK album charts, and gained critical and fan approval upon its release, supported by a tour of Europe and North America across the summer and autumn of 2017.
But unlike most other politically charged albums of the day, Weather Diaries didn't have a hurried, urgent feel to the album. It seemed calm, cool and calculated, as it swung seamlessly from one sugary dream-pop melody to the other. Songs like 'Lateral Alice', 'Lannoy Point' and 'All I want' presented a richer and deeper sound that even before for the band and at the risk of annoying purists, we would even dare to say that the album did a one-up on the inimitable 'Nowhere'.
2. Slowdive - Slowdive (2017)
Arriving almost at the same time as Ride's 'Weather Diaries' was the fourth studio album by yet another UK-based 90's shoegaze outfit, Slowdive. Although the band had reunited back in 2014 (in a story that is uncannily similar to that of Ride), it took another three full years for us to witness the band's first full-length effort since 1995's 'Pygmalion', marking a return for the band after 22 long years.
The reception from critics and fans alike was overwhelming. Two decades after their hiatus, the band still sounded as crisp and relevant as ever. From straight up rock-riff-driven bangers like 'Star Roving' to dreamy pop soundscapes of 'Slomo' and 'Don't Know Why' to the countryish inflections of 'No Longer Making Time', the album showcased a diversity and maturity that was a textbook lesson for bands trying not to piss all over their legacy (Smashing Pumpkins could probably take a leaf out of their book).
3. Pixies - Head Carrier (2016)
After reigning supreme as the frontrunners of the 90's post-punk sound, the Boston rockers were racked with creative differences within the band, particularly between frontman Black Francis and bassist.
They disbanded after their fourth album, 'Trompe le Monde' in 1993 and it took 11 long years for the band to put its differences aside. Their four-night run at Brixton academy became the fastest selling event in the history of the venue and in 2014. The same year, the band released 'Indie Cindy', their comeback album after two decades of no new material. The next year, they toured with Robert Plant but unfortunately, bassist Kim Deal broke away and decided to go her own way.
But the Pixies' saving grace came in the form of 2016's 'Head Carrier'. The album marks the first full appearance of bassist Paz Lenchantin, who replaced Deal. She also has a writing credit and lead vocals for the song "All I Think About Now", which was written about Kim Deal and takes on the form of a thank-you letter, something that was received with a warm fuzzy welcome by long-time fans.
The album cemented the Pixies' comeback streak and revived their glory of the 90s. 'Head Carrier' showcases everything the band was so loved for in their early days - A fine balance between the strange and the pretty, the violent and the tender, with the band shining through sweet 60's harmonies that are underlined by their signature punk fuzz.
4. The Breeders - All Nerve (2018)
If the return of the Pixies was not reason enough for the 90's revival to make a definitive comeback, ex-bassist Kim Deal would ensure that she would finish the job. Teaming up with her twin Kelley Deal and reviving the original line-up (Josephine Wiggs, and Jim Macpherson) after 25 years, the band released 'All Nerve' in March 2018.
Following a textbook tearjerker reunion in 2013 and touring extensively throughout the world, the Breeders finally released their first material in two and a half decades. 'All Nerve' lives up to fan expectations and even exceeds it at times as the band pushes their familiar garage rock to new boundaries. With a good balance of their good old scuzzy punk sound ('Nervous Mary', 'Get in the Car') and deep, introspective ballads ('All Nerve', 'Dawn: Making an Effort'), the Breeders delivered on their promise quite successfully. The band was also joined by Aussie indie rocker Courtney Barnett, who provided backing vocals for 'Howl at the Summit'.
5. Superchunk - What A Time to Be Alive (2018)
A common theme to this recent wave of 90's revival is, of course, the politically charged lyrical content. Perhaps nobody has done it better than the poster children of the DIY punk ethic, Superchunk. Their latest album 'What A Time To Be Alive', which dropped in February came five years after the band's previous studio LP 'I Hate Music'. Evidently spurred into action by the 2016 presidential election, the album is a biting critique of the political scene as is evident in the title as well as the title track. The exclamation is not one of celebration, but more of utter disbelief. It's surely the grittiest, toughest sounding record Superchunk has made in ages.
The hooks are massive and catchy, with some cameos of melting, droning dissonant guitars here and there. The high-energy in-your-face punk tracks like 'I Got Cut' and the title track make for good stadium anthems, and the midtempo tracks that the band has made its specialty since 'Driveway to Driveway' give you a little breathing time before they suck you back into their pop-punk filled rage again!
Read our full review of the album here.
1. Smashing Pumpkins
If the comeback of the Breeders and the Pixies showed us what a model reunion looks like, Smashing Pumpkins have achieved the exact opposite. Ever since news of a Smashing Pumpkin reunion broke, founding members Billy Corgan and now ex-bassist D’arcy Wretzky have been embroiled in a nasty feud.
Much of the animosity has come from Wretzky, who claims Corgan once promised she’d be involved in the reunion, only to later rescind his offer. The group went on to issue a statement to the contrary, saying that Wretzky was invited repeatedly to participate but “always deferred.” Wretzky responded by revealing her private text message conversation with Corgan and giving an explosive, tell-all interview in which she said she “honestly” thinks Corgan “may have a brain tumor.” By the time Corgan finally decided to burn the bridge, move on with three-fourths of the original line-up for the 'Shiny and Oh So Bright' tour and announce eight new tracks, all the attention was drawn away from the music and towards the feud which kept getting uglier and uglier.
There's still no news as of writing this piece about the release date of new material, but for the band's sake and for the sake of the new wave of 90's revival on the whole, we hope it'll be something redemptive.
2. Prophets of Rage - Prophets of Rage (2017)
This one hurts a lot in all the wrong places. In 2016, Morello declared to Rolling Stone: "We're an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing." It was a dream come true. Three-fourths of Rage Against the Machine would team up with Chuck-D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill to form the supergroup 'Prophets of Rage'.
The intent was clear. Perhaps no other band was as vocal about the 2016 presidential elections, as is evident from Morello's 'Make America Rage Again' hats which sold out like hot cakes. But the execution, unfortunately, fell flat. What makes things worse is that after the release of their 2016 EP, 'The Party's Over', the band sounded more promising than ever. The EP saw a mix of the two bands' works, reworked slightly for the new crew. Tracks like 'Shut 'Em Down' (Public Enemy) and 'No Sleep 'til Cleveland' were absolutely fired-up bangers that got the crowds raging while the supergroup were on tour.
The culmination of it all though, was 2017's self-titled album, which unfortunately did not deliver on the massive hype. The album batters its listeners with a seemingly endless parade of generic slogans and calls to action, that for some reason, just don't carry the power or relevance that RATM and Public Enemy once held. Morello's wild guitars leave Chuck D and B-Real in unfamiliar territory, unable to grasp their way around the bars. Ultimately, it all comes out in a messy, dissonant flurry rather than a polished, critical piece.
3. Stone Temple Pilots - Second self-titled album (2018)
Even by rock band standards, Stone Temple Pilots have always had a huge pile of problems to deal with. First there was the issue of frontman Scott Weiland’s substance abuse and consequent split from the band in 2013. Somewhere thereabouts, a lawsuit or two between the two groups surfaced. The band then signed on Linkin Park's Chester Bennington which polarized fans of both bands and made things only worse. Then in 2015, Weiland passed away due to an overdose. If that wasn't bad enough, last summer, the band lost Bennington as well.
So we wouldn't really put STP in the 'worst comeback' bucket because let's be fair - they just can't seem to catch a break. The band's latest album, the self-titled 'Stone Temple Pilots' is the band's first album with new frontman Jeff Gutt of X Factor fame. The album received fairly positive reviews but it wouldn't be too harsh to call them pity reviews. Without any disrespect to the band's losses, what we're trying to say here is that without any context, if we were to purely judge the album without prejudice, it turns up quite lackluster. Although there are a couple of catchy hooks here and there, it's a mediocre attempt to honor the band's legacy and without Weiland's charisma, it just falls flat.
System of a Down
It has been eight years since System of a Down reunited, much to the delight of fans around the world. But it has also been eight years since they put out any new music. Now we definitely agree that it's no joke trying to match up to one's previous legacy, and we also agree that putting out nothing new at all is still better than putting out something hurried and half cooked. But Serj Tankian and company have now kept us waiting for almost a decade. Are they trying to compete with Tool for having the most tortured fan army?
Serj Tankian recently sat down with Rolling Stone and addressed this issue. Apparently, SOAD has worked on the music itself, but how to present it is where questions remain. "We have [attempted to make an album]. We've discussed it and we've played each other songs, but we still haven't come eye to eye on how things should be done for us to be able to move forward with it. And that's where it's been."
But while we wait patiently for the band to get on the same page, we can rejoice in the fact that they are absolutely killing it with their live performances. Proof? Check out the band's full set at the 2017 Pinkpop music festival above and judge for yourself.