On reunions

Softsynth made a total spectacle of itself in the lead-up to the release of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s reunion album, History of Modern, last year. We talked about it in such giddy anticipation that “History of Modern” still ranks in the cloud next to this post as one of the most used keywords on the blog in all three years of our existence. See, O.M.D. was so crazy-influential on a young Softsynth and such a gateway drug to the hard stuff in the world of electronic music that their back catalogue isn’t just loved in memorium, it’s downright revered. Such is what happens with the passage of time after the demise of a much-loved band. Our “Bands We Miss” series speaks directly to this nostalgic longing (and also points to just how badly this blogger lives in the past).

But we digress.

The band reunited its classic lineup, released it at long long last, it had some good songs but was underwhelming, or at least couldn’t possibly have lived up to the pre-lionization we heaped upon it, etc etc yada yada, same old story. Now, listening to the album today we find a pleasant album with some good songs that remind us of an earlier time. But when we first got our mitts on it we were nothing more than sad. We had built the idea of this band from our youth into mythology and nothing they released would have lived up to it, even if it had been a better, more adventurous album. Which it wasn’t.

Flash forward a few months and the Human League, another super-influential, revered band of the “olden days” back when records came on big shiny disks of vinyl and we had these things called “record players” that upon reflection may have required winding up with a large lever, but perhaps our imaginations have drifted a little too far back…this band too was releasing new product after some time away, even if they, unlike O.M.D. hadn’t broken up and had recorded far more recently than the former, they were still coming off of a long layoff, and…

Credo came out at long long last, it had some good sings but was underwhelming, or at least couldn’t possibly have lived up to the pre-lionization we heaped upon it, etc etc yada yada, same old story. It turned out to be a little derivative, a little dull and not nearly what we had psyched ourselves up into. We projected a ‘this will be the next “Mirror Man” or “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”‘ onto the project and when it fell far short it was kind of crushing.

Over and over again we’ve seen it – artists we’ve mourned in a Bands We Miss column reunite and we get all schoolgirl-in-a-field-of-ponies-excited only to be let down when the album inevitably can’t live up to expectations. Nitzer Ebb reunited with a pretty good Industrial Complex that was still a far cry from their heyday, Soft Cell came out with Cruelty Without Beauty and again, good album, but the magic was gone. And there’s the rub. Even when new product ends up just fine and dandy and even, as in the Soft Cell album, really reflective of the sound that made them great, what’s missing aren’t good tunes so much as a sense of magic that made them so special because they came about at a time in your youth when one’s life experiences are inexorably linked to the sounds of said experiences. When a band goes away for a time and then comes back, no matter what they do, they aren’t the band that formed the soundtrack of a particular point in time and because that time and place was so special, they’ll never live up to that ideal. Plus these albums usually just aren’t as damn good. We were desperate for a new collection of music from Yazoo when they reunited for a tour until we realized the band that recorded this blogger’s all-time favourite album could only have recorded something inferior to those collected memories tied up in those perfect musical nuggets. It may have been a great record but it had too much to live up to. By never going away Depeche Mode, for all the underwhelming output in recent Alan Wilder-less years, or Pet Shop Boys, for all the disappointing dreck they’ve heaped upon us lately, or Erasure, who miss more than they hit the last decade and change, represent comforting consistency and even when they disappoint, they don’t emotionally crush. Never going away means one may lionize the earlier, greener days, but they never have a chance to fully mythologize the band. The lack of a need for a comeback means expectations may lower over time if anything, rather than be built into unrealistically lofty heights. (And related, when a band was a fond memory but maybe never deitized, a comeback can make for a pleasant surprise, witness Blancmange’s absolutely delightful comeback album, Blanc Burn.)

So does that mean we don’t want the above bands to keep outputting? Does it mean if a Book of Love were to come out with a new album we wouldn’t be crazy-twitterpated? Does it mean that rumours of a Midge Ure-era Ultravox reunion album don’t make us all moist in anticipation? No, no, and no indeed.  It just means the idea of these golden era bands doing their thang once again should be taken as a pleasant call to an earlier time rather than the second coming of something bigger than music itself. A lesson Softsynth has learned the hard way…

Watch: The Human League – Never Let Me Go

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3 Responses to “On reunions”

  1. Excellent post! Nothing was more magical to me at the time than OMD’s Architecture & Morality. I distinctly remember how mysterious, heart-wrenching and haunting that album sounded the minute I put it on and lay on my bed with the cover and sleeve to soak in the entire experience. I think part of it, to add to your insight, is that there’s an almost larger-than-life image we bestow on these artists when we’re young. As we age, and they do as well, we see clearly that they are merely mortal – like ourselves – with their wrinkles, jowels, jiggly upper arms, and other sagging features! This sort of ruins the fun, doesn’t it?! All of this simply impacts the “magic” you speak so concisely about! Anyhow, I must say that I too really enjoy the new Blancmange album, and an album I haven’t seen featured here yet is the latest from the great John Foxx (& the Maths). It’s my favourite album of the year so far! I can’t stop listening to it …It’s pure bliss to me!

  2. Their fuzzy 70s riffing pleasantly recalls the classic T-Rex sound although it does turn into a gimmick at times and gets a little bit irritating in places – especially when the songwriting isnt as good as on lead single Weekend .

  3. Oh well written and haven’t we all learned the hard way? Yet still, I pine for a Thompson Twins reunion. Almost as much as I hope my beloved Alphaville tour the states. Now there’s a band that has stuck with it, and put out some damn good stuff consistently. Even at 52, Marian’s voice is still impeccable.

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