Thursday, January 12, 2012

Non-Zero Possibility

Without a doubt, the biggest hubbub in the music industry the last few weeks has been the return of Van Halen with David Lee Roth. Not just to play a hits-laden, uber-lucrative tour (which they did a few years ago), but with an actual new album, VH's first with Roth since 1984.

This is where things can get dodgy for reunited bands. Sure, they can set the world on fire with a concert tour or even a few choice festival gigs, but do they still have the magic to make a great album 10 or 20 or 30 years after the last one? Some bands try it with mixed results (see The Who's Endless Wire) while others don't even bother, content to tour without tarnishing the legacy (the Pixies). Then you have a band like Mission of Burma, which has released three excellent albums since reuniting in 2002.

After months of secrecy, VH last week played a kickass (according to reviews from the lucky journos who were invited) show at the tiny Cafe Wha? in NYC. This week, the band released info on the new album A Different Kind of Truth (out February 7) and unveiled the first single and video, "Tattoo" to mixed reviews. I've only heard it a few times, but it didn't knock my socks off. Not great, but not bad, either. Kinda sounds like solo DLR, circa '91. Certainly Eddie's solo is pretty ripping.

VH has caught some heat because the song has its roots in an unreleased track the band was playing back in the mid-70s, and reportedly Eddie dug up a bunch of old riffs as the basis of the new album. While that is somewhat worrisome that the band couldn't just write new songs, ripping yourself off is certainly much less egregious than stealing somebody else's riffs. The Rolling Stones' Tattoo You album was a collection of stuff they had lying around for years, and it was one of their biggest successes. We'll just have to wait and see what the rest of the VH album sounds like.

While I'm interested to hear A Different Kind of Truth and hopefully see the band live, I was even more psyched this week to hear that screamo act At the Drive-In is reuniting after 11 years. No details have been released yet, but it is believed ATDI will play some festival dates next summer and maybe do a tour. I got into them when Relationship of Command came out in 2000, but never got to see them live before they split up a year later. I've enjoyed some of the wacked-out jammy prog-rock that Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have churned out with the Mars Volta, but ATDI is so much better.

The reunions have been happening left and right. The original lineup of Black Sabbath is planning to record a new album and tour (although things are a bit up in the air with the sad news that Tony Iommi has lymphoma). The Afghan Whigs are reuniting for some festival shows. Guided By Voices is releasing a new album next week. Swedish punk legends Refused are playing Coachella. And on and on.

Certainly the main reason for these reunions has to be cash. A lot of these bands, like the Pixies, barely made any money when they were together the first time around, so now they have an opportunity to profit from their influential status. I can't fault them for that. Why shouldn't you get paid well for creating art? Looking at the shambolic state of the music industry, I say bands should cash in as much as they can without compromising themselves.

The guys in Van Halen probably don't need the money, but who knows? The new album may not deliver on par with Fair Warning or even Diver Down, but a new tour won't disappoint the diehard fans like me who were too young to see them back in their heyday.

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