If Only Stephen Malkmus Was A Women… (Musings on Reunions and reinventions)

I recently (a few months ago) awoke early one morning. It was not for lectures, they weren’t starting until two, and I was up at 8:45. I didn’t have a band practise, a hang-over, a date (HAH!), or anything remotely adult that I had to do. No. I was up at quarter to Nine (possibly THEE earliest I had been up at uni so far!) to buy Sleater-Kinney tickets.

Having split in 2005, the band had been on a lengthy hiatus, with Carrie doing the hilarious PORTLANDIA alongside Fred Armisen (if you’ve never seen PORTLANDIA or even heard of it, (and if you are from the UK you can be forgiven) then this is a GREAT jumping in spot). Janet joined several successful bands included the great Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, and Wild Flag, and Corin released two solo albums with The Corin Tucker Band. 9 years later, they were back, with a reissued back catalogue, a brand new album, and a US and European tour. Manchester was the date I was most excited about.

So my question today is..Should a band reunite to fight the evil of Manufactured-Pop Bands? Or should their legacy be left to cover bands, and the memories of 30-something fans, stuck in office jobs, waiting for their teenage band to make it? Or is it a circumstantial thing?

To be perfectly honest, I never got into Sleater Kinney, or many other bands that have reunited in the past 5 years before their original demise. I was a 10 year old, Red Hot Chili Peppers fanatic when Sleater Kinney eventually disbanded. I was 6 when Pavement (My favourite band) disbanded, 1 when Slowdive left, 7 when Rage Against The Machine stopped fighting, 9 when System Of A Down finished, 8 when Dinosaur Jr had had enough. To someone of my age (Just turned 20), reunions are a chance to catch a band who may be before their music tastes’ time, and a chance for those who went to the original gigs, bought the T Shirts, and made cassette copies for all their friends to relive their teenage angst. In a purely nostalgic sense, reunions are a gift from God (or Buddha, however you look at it). When bands reform purely to relive those days, and with no intention to make new music (Pavement, Rage Against The Machine) this is less a tarnishing (unless they just CAN’T play the songs anymore) and more a celebration. ‘Hey, we wrote some cool songs..Let’s have fun playing them again’. Pavement were a band whose legacy is built on stunning album after album. None is panned by critics. None is ‘that weird psychedelic album’ (well, Pavement are weird anyway..). So to make ‘new music’ could ruin that streak. Especially seeing as the reunion was over 10 years later, things change in that time. People change. The band isn’t the same anymore. And they have to remember who they were all those years ago. Carefree 20-something slackers, writing songs about pigs, Geddy Lee, cutting your hair, and ‘going back to those gold soundz’. This, or they play that persona with wisdom in their eyes, and wrinkles on their cheeks. Rage Against the Machine‘s revival came about due to political activism. Their history seemed poignant in the modern day music business, and so when a band returns for a reason we feel validated, and not scammed of our £50+ ticket fees. In Pavement’s case, they came back because they felt they should revisit that area. Stephen Malkmus no longer felt caged by his band, and could feel comfortable playing with them again. Whilst the ticket prices were high, Pavement split up again, after the reunion tour because they felt that ‘this was their ambition from the start, and to turn around with another tour and album after everyone paid slightly higher prices to see their ‘farewell tour’ would be unfair’. A valid point, and a reunion that stayed true to it’s beliefs. Similarly with The Postal Service – the ultimate Indie/Electro mix, including Ben Gibbard from Death Cab For Cutie fame. Nearly 10 years after their only (Utterly stunning) album ‘Give Up’ was released them toured the album in full again. Mainly due to the fact the album had gone Gold, Platinum and above AFTER they were done touring. Being a side project means you’re never an artists forethought. But with the reunion, there became mentions of ‘a new album’ but these were eventually squashed when nothing materialised.

 “The anticipation of the second record has been a far bigger deal for everybody except the two of us… I don’t know about it being the indie-rock Chinese Democracy, but now that Chinese Democracy has come out, I guess it just becomes the second Postal Service record that will never come out. There never really was a plan to do a second album. We work from time to time together but we have other things that take up all of our time.”

This is a pretty big thing when an artist just doesn’t WANT to release anything. Just because the fans are hungry for more, doesn’t mean the artist will be comfortable being in that space again. Writing music can be a very vulnerable position, especially side projects. The Postal Service’s only effort was one that is widely praised by indie circles (Frank Turner identifies them as the ‘indie litmus test’) and so why take away from that?

Bands that have returned with new albums (Sleater Kinney, Dinosaur Jr, Fall Out Boy) have generally been ‘hit or miss’ affairs. By the time a band has lived out it’s longevity, and disbanded, there usually isn’t much more to say. Nothing that can be seen as ‘genre defining’ or in any way…’new’. The Foo Fighters aren’t going to change music with their next installment. This is in no way a bad thing, but it does question whether, after so many years apart, a band can still sound ‘fresh’ or ‘innovative’. The Fall Out Boy method was to completely recreate themselves as a more ‘poppy’ and ‘theatrical’ outfit. Gone are the teenage emo heartbreaks, and spontaneous hardcore breakdowns, because they’re not THAT age anymore. I’m personally an advocate for Blink-182 to stop 3 albums and a breakup ago, and destroy the homogenous, creepy Dad-making-sex-jokes vibe they have in their late 30s (or early 40s, I don’t have any interest in following their ridiculous antics). FOB‘s reinvention (of the wheel to run themselves over with) has create a split in fans – the older generation who still remember ‘From Under The Cork Tree’ defining their awkward emo phase are lost with this lack of distortion and angst. However, those who may not remember pre-breakup FOB are happy to listen to Patrick Stump make witty film jokes as song titles (OrStupidlyLongSongTitlesThatWereThereJustToMakeYourItunesFreakOut), AND THAT’S FINE FOR THEM. But surely this is some kind of FOB 2.0. Even if the albums are good, like Dinosaur Jr‘s consistent efforts after the original lineup (Lou Barlow<3) was brought back in, it’s still more of a 2.0, than a minor bug fix.

I suppose in some ways, I am the 14 year old FOB fan when it comes to Sleater Kinney‘s return. Or maybe nothing HAS changed, and it’s only me. I just know, I’ll be at the front along with all the other SK fans, screaming along to Dig Me Out, and Be Yr Mama, along with the new album. So far it’s been great. As SK have stated themselves, they don’t feel like they’ve said all they have to. And when you’re in the most badass, all-female feminist bands of all time (Sorry Bikini Kill), then you most definitely still have something to say. You always will. As music changes, you will have things to say about the new music. The new themes. And the new sexism. Maybe that’s what longevity and relevance needs.

If only Stephen Malkmus was a women…


 

PS….

Not heard of some of the bands quoted above? Here’s a link to my favourite track from the more obscure!

Bikini Kill

Dinosaur Jr

Sleater Kinney

Pavement

Fall Out Boy

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Wild Flag

The Postal Service

Death Cab For Cutie

Slowdive

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