(Not So) Crazy After All These Years
by Blair Boyer

What do these bands have in common: The Stooges, The Jam, The Police, Crowded House, Take That, Rage Against the Machine (RATM) and Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) ? Well, if it wasn't for the addition of schmaltzy boy band Take That the correct answer could be that all these acts sit somewhere on the rock 'n roll spectrum. In actual fact, this illustrious list is brought together by the somewhat dubious fact that they have all reformed or are in the process of reforming. 

For some of these acts, like Take That, Crowded House and RATM, it has been only ten years or less since they disbanded. But CCR, who are rumored to be reuniting for a once off performance at Glastonbury this year, haven't played together since breaking up acrimoniously in 1971.

The Jam were hastily disbanded by Paul Weller in 1982, and although he is not involved in the reunion tour currently taking place in the UK, it is the first time Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler have played together in 25 years, and 30 years since the release of The Jam's first single 'In The City'. 

Crowded House played a free outdoor farewell concert to a record crowd in excess of 100,000 in 1996, and despite the death of much loved drummer Paul Hester, they have announced a world tour and new album titled, 'Time on Earth'. In fact, front man Neil Finn is a repeat offender; in 2006 he and brother Tim reformed legendary New Zealand band Split Enz and embarked on a sell out tour of Australia.

But it is The Police who have captured the hearts of sentimentalists with a long awaited announcement that band members Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland had finally buried the hatchet and would reform for a world tour this year. Most dates have already sold out and some websites, such as www.teleticketservice.com, are encouraging those who missed out on tickets to register for their online waiting list such is the demand.

But aside from the giddy nostalgia trip and barrage of re-releases that will undoubtedly hit stores in a bid to capitalize on these reunions, what contribution will be made to music? The band members of RATM (now Audioslave) are the only real exceptions in a group of musicians who no longer influence music outside their back catalogue. Even seminal bands like The Stooges - who released their first album since 1973's 'Raw Power' this year - have failed to make an impression on the market or add to the enviable legacy they created in the late 60s and early 70s. Similarly, The Rolling Stones' best album in many years ('A Bigger Bang', 2005) failed to make an impact outside of the obligatory album sales. 

There is little hope that The Jam in its current line up will buck this trend, as Foxton and Buckler attempt to release the band's first original material since 1982 without singer/songwriter Paul Weller.

Although The Police have hinted at the possibility of a new album release, it seems more likely that their reunion is little more than a highly profitable trip down memory lane and not a platform on which Sting and Co. can re-enter the charts.

This poses the question, "does the reformation of these once great bands do more to harm their lofty reputations than it does to build on them?"

There are two schools of thought: one is that a reunion will introduce the band to a new generation and inspire a revival of their music. The other is far less romantic and is often cited as a reason not to reform by band members reluctant to pull on the leather pants and jump in the tour bus (or private jet as the case may be). Paul Weller is perhaps the most honest exponent of the latter argument. 

Questioned countless times over the past 25 years about the likelihood of reforming The Jam, Weller has generally given the same brutal answer: "…that would never happen. Why would I want to go back? For nostalgic reasons? That's never good enough. My philosophy is to embrace the new day and get on with it. If the band reformed now it'd just be a sad cabaret and that's not what I'm about at all."(NME, 29/11/2005) Nor is Weller concerned about The Jam's music being forgotten: "I think it's a great thing that The Jam's music has endured over the years and people still love it and still play it. It still means something to people and a lot of that's because we stopped at the right time, it didn't go on and become embarrassing."(BBC News, 10/01/2006)

These words may come easily to Weller - after all, he has enjoyed continued success not only with The Style Council but also through an enduring solo career that sees him perform on the main stage at Glastonbury again in 2007. For the likes of Foxton and Buckler, the chance to perform such revered songs, in front of adoring audiences, is not to be sniffed at. The same could be said for Summers and Copeland.

But there is an undeniable truth in the frank assessment of Weller. No matter how passionately the fans want to see their favorite band back on stage and no matter how many stadiums they fill and records they sell, it will never be the same. 

Promoters will maintain that there is just a different 'aesthetic' this time - a tried and tested spin used to hide the fact that the 'reincarnated' rockers are too old to play with the kind of energy that made them a hit the first time around. The same promoters will mask this decrepitude by enlisting younger, trendier acts to support them and by ensuring that the stage is so packed with lights, dry ice and pyrotechnics that the front row will be more likely to eat popcorn than pogo.

So when shelling out for these overpriced tickets to 'the land time forgot', bare this in mind: there will be no acrobatics of the type performed by David Lee Roth, nor will there be the spontaneous destruction of musical equipment so famously practiced by The Who. Instead, you will witness prosthetic hips and heavy makeup - intermissions and auxiliary guitarists quietly strumming from behind the speaker stacks. Iggy Pop is perhaps the only exception, and may be one of the few performers of his generation still capable of igniting the most modish of crowds with his unabashed self-mutilation and convulsive dancing. 

Some free advice then: rather than spending 120 dollars on what will inevitably resemble an elderly game of charades, spend your hard earned coin on three or four gigs at venues where you can see the stage without the aid of a big screen and where the front man will drop to his knees in a rock 'n roll epiphany and not acute angina. 

BLAIR BOYER 01/05/2007

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