In a new semi-regular editorial, Tone Deaf’s Editor Jim Murray tackles the issues of the week. This week, he tries not to be cynical about bands reforming.
I think it was Blur. I’m trying to put my finger on exactly the moment a whole trickle of 90s bands who had petered out and parted ways started gathering momentum and turned into the torrent of band reformations we’re seeing now. Indeed, it’s ironic that perhaps one of the biggest of them all, Oasis, finally imploded as many of their Britpop explosion peers started making tentative plans to get back together. Following last week’s announcement that Pulp were reforming with their world conquering 1996 line up, hot off the presses follows the news that three of the four original members of Kyuss are reforming and touring under the name Kyuss Lives. Add this to a list that includes Suede, Swervedriver, Soundgarden, Cast, Hole and Take That, Pixies, The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, Jane’s Addiction and it’s like the last 15 years never happened. What’s more, the 90s nostalgia trip continues with bands who persevered playing suddenly playing albums they released during the period such as Primal Scream with the definitive Screamadelica and a whole slew of bands jumping on the Don’t Look Back bandwagon. These include The Flaming Lips playing 1999 classic The Soft Bulletin and The Dirty Three with 1998’s Ocean Songs. Closer to home, many Aussie bands of the 90s have taken the plunge; with Tumbleweed, The Meanies and Spiderbait all reforming or playing gigs for the first time in a long, long time.
So why are they doing it? Well, for various reasons. The prime reason for doing so, as Supergrass (who actually broke up this year but i’d bet a slab on reforming by the time the decade’s out) put it so succinctly – they’re ‘in it for the money’. Once upon a time bands who had some reasonable success could split up or go on hiatus and afford to find a new career, make solo records and get new bands together while subsisting on their recording and publishing royalties. Recording royalties are practically non-existent for many performers now and music publishing revenues have dwindled. Hell, it’s even become cool for bands to have songs used on ads – it’s not longer universally condemned as selling out. Rock stars have to eat too. In the music business these days, live performances are where the bulk of the money is – you have to perform live and regularly to make a living. Lady Ga Ga may be one of the biggest pop stars in the world at the moment but she’s on a seemingly never ending tour. The reason she’s doing this is because she only co-writes her songs and would receive a fraction of the royalties that Madonna did back in the day. She’s also a pop act. Pop acts are by their nature disposable, so you only get one or two albums and several world tours before the kids move on to something else and you go from stadiums back to theatres. Her and her management would be trying to get as much cash as possible while they can.