Comeback Kids: The 10 Best Musical Resurrections

Arye Dworken

By Arye Dworken

Contributor
on 04.03.12 in Lists

Remember that band you loved that broke up? Well, next year, they’re playing Coachella. We live in an age when band reunions are bordering on passé, which can obscure the fact that a well-executed comeback is often difficult to come by. Take Limp Bizkit. That once incredibly popular band released an album this year that you probably had had no idea existed. Or on a somewhat more credible note, Duran Duran reunited and recruited famed producer Mark Ronson a few years back in an effort to extend its fan base beyond the soccer mom demographic. Can you name a single song from that record?

Ultimately, bands think that the comeback is an effortless math equation, but they couldn’t be more wrong. You can’t just reunite all the original band members, hire hot talent and expect success. The comeback needs to be earned through persistence, determination, and, well, songs. And all the artists listed below have collectively succeeded in the Art of the Comeback primarily because their return felt organic and natural, but mostly because the people acknowledged the resurrection, not as a marketing ploy, but as a Good Thing.

Robyn

Robyn

Robyn

Career Pronounced Dead In: In May 2004, BMG released the compilation Robyn's Best, which looked like a greatest hits album but actually was just a lazy repackaging of the Swedish pop singer's 1995 debut. As it turned out, the label didn't approve of the singer's new direction when she presented them with the electro-pop single "Who's That Girl?" So Miss Carlsson did what anyone with a massive pair of Swedish meatballs would do: She gave them the ole hej då and returned home to seek creative liberation.
Year of Resurrection: 2005. Three years after Robyn's fourth album was released in Sweden, and was made available stateside as an import (or for the rest of us, as an illegal download), Cherry Tree/Interscope finally honored it with a proper release. It quickly gained universal acclaim, and netted Robyn a Grammy Award nomination for Best Electronica/Dance Album. Her label may have tried to hamstring her, but it was Robyn who ultimately had the last laugh.

Sinead O’Connor

Career Pronounced Dead On: Oct. 3, 1992. Decades before Lana Del Rey's Saturday Night Live fiasco, the show's most notorious moment was when Sinead O'Connor ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II. Apparently, this was her way of protesting rampant child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church – a message no one could hear over the sound of global booing.
Year of Resurrection: 2012. Unbeknownst to Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics alike, O'Connor had been releasing new music since she committed career suicide. But it hadn't been until this year's How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? that she produced an emotive record that warranted both our ears and our forgiveness. No more photo-tearing though, OK Sinead?

Kate Bush

50 Words For Snow

Kate Bush

Career Pronounced Dead In: In 1993, Kate Bush released The Red Shoes, a divisive album with a chilly reception that may have been the catalyst for the enigmatic songwriter to escape into hiding, far away from the mounting expectations and artistic pressures…for 12 long years. In 2005, Bush told a BBC reporter that despite allegations of mental illness or a nervous breakdown, she simply took time away to prioritize motherhood over stardom.
Year of Resurrection: 2011. Granted, Bush released two noteworthy albums over the last year, but it's her legacy, and not necessarily her output, that aided her resurrection. These days, critics cite Bush as an audible influence on artists like Florence + the Machine, Bat For Lashes, Niki & the Dove and the Knife. Pop eccentricity exists because Kate Bush paved the way in a thrillingly unpredictable manner.

Johnny Cash

The Man Comes Around

Johnny Cash

Career Pronounced Dead In: 1986. It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when Johnny Cash was uncool. In 1986, Cash was dropped from Columbia Records, his label of 26 years, because he was no longer profitable. Which kind of makes sense, because it was the '80s, and Cash was in neither a hair-metal group nor a boy band.
Year of Resurrection: In 1994, Rick Rubin, the closest thing the music industry has to The Dude, signed Cash to his American Recordings and reinvigorated the Man In Black's career by stripping down his sound, recording a series of expertly-curated albums full of cover songs like Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt," Beck's "Rowboat" and Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage." Apparently, as heard on American IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash could even make Sting sound badass.

The Rapture

Career Pronounced Dead In: 2008. After having recorded a quintessentially perfect New York album (Echoes), the Rapture released Pieces of the People We Love, which failed to live up to enormous expectations. Frontman Luke Jenner briefly left the propulsive post-punk band and, months later, bassist Matt Safer was gone as well. Jenner eventually returned, but the future of the Rapture was in question.
Year of Resurrection: 2011. The Rapture returned to its original label, DFA, for the release of the gospel and disco-influenced In the Grace of Your Love. It's a new direction for the band in both sound and theme, but it's so winning and hopeful that it's tempting to think this is what Christian radio host Harold Camping meant when he declared 2011 to be the year of the Rapture.

Nine Inch Nails

With Teeth

Nine Inch Nails

Career Pronounced Dead In: 1999. I hope Fragile doesn't refer to Trent Reznor's ego, because the commercial response to this Nine Inch Nails' bloated concept double album was tepid at best. It seemed that, with the release of his fourth album, most people were not equipped with the ability or the desire to sit through nearly two hours of wan, indulgent industrial angst. It's Marilyn Manson-baiting first single, "Starfuckers, Inc.," underperformed, and Trent slunk quietly into the shadows for a spell after its extremely modest chart performance.
Year of Resurrection: 2005. Keeping within the theme of psychoanalyzing the album titles, Reznor's fourth album With Teeth was in fact Nine Inch Nails' aggressive return to form, biting in both sound and theme. Moreover, this release would mark the beginning of Reznor's most prolific creative spurt in which he averages an album of new material every six months or so.

Portishead

Third

Portishead

Career Pronounced Dead In: 1999. It may be hard to believe but Portishead – the saddest-sounding band you know – recorded a duet with Tom Jones right before it went on hiatus. Talk about going out on a high note! After that, it was years and years of silence.
Year of Resurrection: 2007. No one even expected there to be a third Portishead album but, despite its plaintively bland title (Third), the music it contained was phantasmal and inspiring. In fact, standout tracks "The Rip" and "Machine Gun" finds the band at their most chilling. While most bands that return from a long hiatus never quite recapture the magic that once was, Geoff Barrow, Beth Gibbons and Adrian Utley are at their most melancholic which, if you're a Portishead fan, is the kind of melancholy that's worth celebrating.

Leonard Cohen

Old Ideas

Leonard Cohen

Career Pronounced Dead In: 2005. Nearly four decades after Leonard Cohen started recording, the affable born-again Buddhist discovered that he was dead broke. It seemed that his longtime manager Kelley Lynch had walked off with more than $5 million from Cohen's retirement fund, leaving him with an alleged $150,000. That's $3.5 million in "Hallelujah" cover royalties that Cohen would never see again.
Year of Resurrection: In 2008, Cohen announced that he would tour for the first time in 15 years. Cohenheads bought tickets in droves and the tour was an unequivocal success. Then a few years later, the poet/songwriter released the album Old Ideas, which topped the Finnish album charts making Cohen, at 77, the oldest chart-topper in Finland's history. Which is almost as cool as hearing your song on an episode of Grey's Anatomy.

Wu-Tang Clan

8 Diagrams

Wu-Tang Clan

Career Pronounced Dead In: 1999, the Wu-Tang brand was, for better or for worse, everywhere. There were solo albums, acting gigs, clothing lines, action figures, even limited-edition sneakers. The ubiquity of the distinctive yellow "W" led to over-saturation and, ultimately, a loss of cred. In the end, the only place the Clan still got mad love from was the suburbs.
Year of Resurrection: 2007. When there's this much talent in any one group, tension is inevitable. Wu-Tang historians could argue that the collective never fully recouped from the death of Ol' Dirty Bastard, but despite the solo album distractions, or the rampant infighting, 2007's 8 Diagrams featured all eight current members, a posthumous cameo from ODB, and some of Wu's best reviews in years. It even launched the unthinkable: a nationwide tour where all eight surviving members turned up on stage.

Prince

The Very Best Of Prince

Prince

Career Pronounced Dead In: 1993. Was it a publicity stunt? A display of megalomaniacal eccentricity? Whatever the reason in 1993, notoriously eccentric pop star Prince held a press conference to announce that he was officially changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Month later, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince one-upped his own weirdness, suing his own fan clubs for using his likeness in their fanzines.
Date of Resurrection: Feb. 2, 2007. When Prince performed at the halftime of the 41st Super Bowl, America took a sip of its beer, sat back and remembered why they liked this guy in the first place. No halftime performance since has even come close, and Prince – name fully restored – has been packing arenas ever since.