I recently spent some quality time with Falling off the Sky, the new album from the recently reunited dB’s. Naturally, it was the exact sort of mediocre rock record you’d expect out of a group of graying, past-prime legends grasping at one final ride. It’s interesting how, even when our most cherished acts get back together, we never expect much from the inevitable “new album.” In fact we mostly talk about stuff like that in contexts like legacy-tarnishing trash (lookin’ at you, Guns N’ Roses.) But it did get me thinking about the few times where a breakup or a disparaging hiatus lead to something worthwhile. So here are eight comeback albums that beat the odds, one way or another.
8. Scott Walker – Tilt
Scott Walker’s entire career has been a series of comebacks. The cult-mythic songwriter’s legendary reclusiveness affords him an average of one full-length every decade. However 1995’s Tilt still feels like an absurdly substantial work. Coming 12 years after the much more digestible Climate of Hunger, Tilt is the musical equivalent of blood seeping in from the walls. Pitch black, made of nightmares, spaceships, skeletons, apocalypse, razed landscapes and barren outlooks. It’s almost absurd in its Halloween darkness. Walker’s cataclysmic reentries into our atmosphere are rightfully a musical pilgrimage, but Tilt might be his greatest moment.
7. Mission of Burma – OnoffON
In terms of bands most likely to reunite for a permanent, second-stab at a musical career, Mission of Burma was pretty low on the list. One of Boston’s most foreboding post-punk bands, Burma called it quits all the way back in ’83 due to frontman Roger Miller’s tinnitus. They gave us a few powerful, technically-pristine albums and a long, highly-influential shadow. But in 2004, 22 years after the clattering Vs. they casually reappeared with a new record called OnoffON with the same cascading legends that made them immortals in the first place: 16 tracks of clogged-up angst imported directly from the mid-‘80s thunder, and ripe for a long tradition of nose-turned record-store snobbery. The most impressive thing about Mission of Burma is how completely ambivalent they seem about their renewed existence.
6. Gil Scott-Heron – I’m New Here
We all knew Gil Scott-Heron would put out another album. That’s just what drug-addled, artistically-lost, former superstars do when they’re coming off a prison sentence. You can’t really blame us for expecting a new record to be bogus, expansionary glock, like a sad cherry on a career unfortunately as defined by poor life choices as beautiful moments. So when the airtight I’m New Here arrived in 2010, the world was naturally enthralled. Boasting his charcoal voice and obtuse, avant-garde instrumentation far outside the panorama of your average 61-year old man, it captured the imagination of everyone from Bill Callahan to Jamie XX. It felt good knowing Scott-Heron went out on one of his highest creative peaks when he passed last year.
5. Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
Loretta Lynn did the impossible. She managed to harness the attention of every chic, musically cognizant person in the world…as a 72-year-old country mainstay releasing her boggling 56th album. Sure it helps when you boast a perennial scene-relevant name like Jack White behind the boards, but it still felt like a long shot. An evergreen voice and a tenured guitar, braised in a gorgeous, autumnal cipher—to be honest Lynn stuck to her guns; she wrote pretty songs and pretty melodies with White only making his presence felt when necessary. The most beautiful thing about Van Lear Rose’s continued relevance is the complete lack of catering from either party.
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