About ten years ago I wrote an essay in which I posited that modern consumer culture (and by extension, society at large) was dictated by five maxims:
The Best Of Everything All The Time For ME Right Now!
A decade later, these ideas have not only maintained their stronghold over the public, but have become increasingly important in corporate strategy. To decry them would be to cast aspersion on the notion of convenience itself, but they’ve nurtured several problematic tendencies of the human spirit that ought to be brought to light. Among these are a massively deteriorated wellspring of creativity, a pervasive laziness, and perhaps most harmful, a dangerously burgeoning sense of collective entitlement.
To cover them all within one article would make for an incredibly dense read, so each portion will be covered separately. Here’s a cursory look at what each post will cover:
Noise peddlers Brian King and David Prowse– better known as Japandroids– made a stop in Toronto on January 17th and managed to shake the very foundation of the Danforth Music Hall with their stacks upon stacks of amps. A barrage of light and sound, the two unleashed their visceral brand of west coast rock on a crowd more than ready to dive into concert season. Opening was Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn and his side project The Uptown Controllers.
Having recently finished anniversary tours with the Hold Steady, rambling poet Craig Finn decided to do some solo work. The material still sounds very much like it’s from the same author of Boys and Girls in America, but it’s more concise and focused. The riffs are more distinct; the structure is tighter. Finn spoke of staying positive and upbeat, even as he extolled the virtues of disconnecting from online life. It was a relatively short set, but Finn promised to be back within the next year for a headlining show, presumably after the upcoming record is released.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what genre Vancouver duo Japandroids fit into. The band is frenetic, loud, and mercilessly fast. But they’re too experimental for punk. Too polished for garage rock. Too upbeat for emo. They bear all the hallmarks of different styles but slotting them into any particular one will cause debate.
The most apt label would be a cross between noise-rock and folk-punk. They take the sonic sensibilities of the former and the chord progressions and lyricism of the latter and blend it all up into a cathartic blast of sound. Even then it doesn’t factor in the hints of 80s modern rock that pop up on the latest record Near to the Wild Heart of Life, but it’s as close as we’re going to get.
The title track from that record was the first to hit the stage, followed by barnburner “Fire’s Highway” from 2012’s massive breakthrough Celebration Rock. The rest of the show was a solid mix of newer and older material, all varying degrees of intense. As frontman King predicted, new song “North East South West” was a hit with the crowd because he “says “Toronto” about ten times”.
Most of the other songs were similarly received though; it was one quick jolt of rock after another. Two exceptions were the climactic “Arc of Bar” and the closest we’re going to get to a Japandroids ballad, “True Love and a Free Life of Free Will”. A lot of the songs from the new record revolve simply around King being…really happy that he’s in love. It’s strangely endearing.
The show finished with Craig Finn joining the duo onstage doing a cover of The Saints‘ “Stranded”, a song that splits the difference between the two artists. It was a nice use of common ground that ended the show on a communal note.
Long before Bryan Lee O’ Malley became Canada’s prime exporter of hip comics, there was Saturday paper OG Lynn Johnston. I’ll let the ol’ Wiki tell you all the pertinent facts about her.
Johnston’s comics were most well known for taking on a socially conscious pallet of issues while maintaining the feel of suburban family life. FBFW wasn’t a wacky strip, but it did have a more lighthearted side, particularly when Johnston wrote about young parenthood.
The jokes were pretty well-crafted and stuck to a traditional comedic structure, but the punchline had a very distinct companion. About 90% of the strips featured one of the characters making a specific facial expression:
A cross between dumbfounded, bewildered, and shocked, the face makes an appearance in the vast majority of FBFW comics. There’s a few telltale characteristics to it:
the droopy, elongated face
mouth right at the bottom of the face
stress lines outside the eyes
the bizarre motion lines above the back of the head that make it seem like the person is wibble-wobbling back and forth like one of those springy door-stoppers that’s just been flicked.
They’re not always all present, but you do get the holy grail sometimes:
It’s the mom that seems to be affected more often than not:
But the dad does his fair share of facin’ too:
Here we see the dad’s whole body is quivering in disbelief
Sometimes you get two in one strip!
Even the dog’s afflicted with it!
And it’s not just the Patterson family either:
Medically minded professionals might call this Johnston Syndrome, but I just call it: The For Better or For Worse Face.
By the turn of the millennium, nu-metal was already a well-defined and culturally recognized genre. Bands like KoRn, Deftones, Incubus and Limp Bizkit were household names, having sold millions of albums and dominating rock (and in some cases mainstream) radio. It’s understandable that a popular movement will attract acolytes, but it’s not all that common that those acolytes become the most popular, most successful act in that genre. Linkin Park, however, did just that, appearing in the public’s eye over two years after the reign nu-metal had begun and wresting the spotlight from the forefathers. To this day they remain the poster children for nu-metal, and continue to remain relevant while their peers, contemporaries, and mentors have retreated from the limelight. This coup-d’etat can be attributed to one thing: the band’s fluid and dynamic style, which has allowed them to navigate the changing musical environment over the years.
Chapter Two: An Already Established Party
Nu-metal’s popularity was already huge in 1999. The rap-rock titans at the time were some of the biggest names in music. KoRn were big enough to debut a single on South Park, while Limp Bizkit’s breakthrough album reached the number one spot on the Billboard 200. Both bands were purists, albeit in two totally different, distinct ways.
KoRn preferred to draw heavily from the well of metal, incorporating many aspects of the sound into their music- even the less commercial ones. Frontman Jonathan Davis often sang dark, occasionally incomprehensible lyrics, while the rest of the band members backed him up with typical metal signifiers like sludgy, corroded guitar tone and instrumental breakdowns. It’s not surprising that it took three albums before they became accessible enough for the public at large.
Limp Bizkit, on the other hand, preferred to forage in the realm of hip-hop. The heavy guitars were still there, but they took a backseat to the rap aspects of the band’s sound. Sampled beats, turntables, funk-driven bass, and Fred Durst’s emcee aspirations took precedence over the rock influence of the band. Limp Bizkit were the yin to KoRn’s yang, complementing them with a completely inverse focus on which side of rap/rock they preferred.
Yet it would still be another whole year before Linkin Park were on the public radar. They had just solidified their new (and current) line-up with singer Chester Bennington and were working on what would become their Diamond-certified debut album Hybrid Theory.
Chapter Three: The Electronic Touch
From the beginning Linkin Park were outliers in their own field, set apart from their nu-metal siblings due to their magpie’s approach to genre fusion. First and foremost, they were selective about which aspects of rap and rock they would use, eschewing breakdowns, guitar solos, and excessive wordplay. It was an economic, streamlined method that focused on substance rather than style, a pop-oriented focus on melody and concise songwriting. Of course, this wasn’t the sole reason Linkin Park became the top dogs of nu-metal. After all, bands like Papa Roach, Crazy Town, P.O.D, and Saliva all experienced some degree of success using a similar method. Former frontrunners Limp Bizkit weren’t strangers to catchy hooks either. Linkin Park’s monolithic fame and longevity can be attributed to their willingness to dabble in other genres as well, creating a perfect storm of crossover appeal. One of these genres was electronica.
Electronica had experienced its moment in mainstream a few years prior (approximately 1996- 1999), but faded quickly and hadn’t left much of a legacy stateside. Industrial metal, nu-metal’s elder cousin, had flirted with electronic textures; bands like Orgy, Stabbing Westward, and Static-X all used keyboards in varying degrees. However even in this sphere the vast majority of electronica’s ideas were unexplored. The keyboards were just another instrument in the band, and were only one of many available electronic elements used.
Nu-metal almost universally ignored the sound; one would be hard-pressed to find any trace of it in the genre up to that point. Fortunately one of Linkin Park’s members is their resident DJ Joseph Hahn, an avid fan of the sound and all its facets. Incorporating keyboard patches, stuttering rhythms, and glitchy trip-hop, Hahn was able to create a soundscape unlike any that had been heard before. Hybrid Theory’s penultimate track is a warped instrumental interlude more indebted to Massive Attack than it is to Metallica. Listeners were immediately drawn in to Hybrid Theory’s second single “Crawling”. The opening synth hook and the moody swaths of ambience in the verses, paired with the alt-rock songwriting and heavy guitars were something new and different; the public’s interest was piqued. This is where another one of Linkin Park’s unique tendencies comes into play- their unabashed penchant for straight-up pop music.
Chapter Four: The Pop of Hybrid Theory
Any band with career ambitions will attempt to hone their sound into something memorable, but Linkin Park went beyond hook-filled songwriting and really delved into what makes pop music accessible. They tinkered with the fine details of the craft and augmented nu-metal to fit their own template, applying pop sensibilities onto the genre’s core conceit. One of these sensibilities was the sonic contrast between the two frontmen. Mike Shinoda’s rapping and Chester Bennington’s singing were evenly matched, creating an appealing interplay between the two vocalists. This became a Linkin Park “trademark”, rendering their sound unmistakably their own. What the two vocalists were speaking about was also of great benefit to the band.
Nu-metal’s lyrical content up until that point had been full of anger and machismo, a trend Linkin Park seemed to be following with their first major single “One Step Closer”. That however proved to be a false flag; “Crawling” was a song more in the tradition of grunge and alt-rock than metal. It dealt with image issues, self-harm, and anxiety- material that wasn’t nu-metal’s forte. Limp Bizkit was content telling listeners to break stuff when they were angry, and while KoRn did touch on some of these issues (heck, their 1999 album was called Issues), their approach was dark and at times discomforting. These bands had appealed to disenfranchised youth, but mostly those on the fringes. Linkin Park put personal issues out on display in a relevant, heartfelt way that appealed to a much wider audience- particularly teenagers whom had just grown out of boy bands and were in the throes of hormonal angst. All without any expletives, in fact. Hybrid Theory was one of the very few nu-metal records without any swearing, allowing for the band to be aggressive without being threatening. Linkin Park was a band that spoke to millions on an intensely personal level without alienating those who didn’t enjoy hard rock. Quite the opposite- their next single, “In the End”, was their most popular and became the quintessential example of a Linkin Park song.
“One Step Closer” had been a straightforward rocker, while “Crawling” was a dark alternative cut that proved they were different from their peers. “In the End” however, was the song that launched them into the stratosphere. Released in November 2001, it combined all of their idiosyncrasies and tied them up in a neat package for public consumption. Shinoda rapped the verses, Bennington sang the chorus and the bridge. Hahn threw on the instantly recognizable piano hook, along with vocal manipulation and a syncopated drum machine alongside the real drums. The crunchy, overdriven guitar blasted heavy power chords. The distraught, personal lyrics appealed not only to angst-ridden youth but to a lot of confused people living in a post-9/11 world. It didn’t hurt that Bennington was a legitimately good singer, a fact that hadn’t been evident on the previous singles. All these qualities made “In the End” simultaneously a pop standard and the platonic ideal of a nu-metal song.
Chapter Five: Remixes and Follow-Ups
Metal as a genre is not exactly conducive to the practice of remixing, but since Linkin Park had dipped their toe into so many genres, their material was ripe for alternate takes and permutations by various artists from those different genres. As a stopgap release in 2002, the songs from Hybrid Theory were remixed by rappers like Motion Man, electronic producers like the Humble Brothers, and fellow nu-metal musicians like Staind’s Aaron Lewis and compiled onto the Re-Animation album.
Following “In the End” wouldn’t be easy, but in early 2003 the band released Meteora and didn’t just avoid the sophomore slump; they cleared it with miles to spare. Meteora was a direct sequel to Hybrid Theory, with first single “Somewhere I Belong” being a spiritual successor to “In the End” in every respect. Second single “Faint” bumped up the tempo and made use of a catchy string sample. “Numb” followed soon after, becoming a more commercially successful “Crawling” (#11 on the Billboard Hot 100). Everything from 100). Everything from Hybrid Theory remained intact on Meteora– DJ Hahn’s use of keyboards and studio tricks, the balanced rapping/singing dynamic, and the personal themes were all present. The smooth-sailing technique worked incredibly well- Meteora has sold 20 million copies worldwide and kept Linkin Park as the world’s most popular rock band for several more years. It spawned five singles, including the sleek electronic “Breaking the Habit”, something completely different from all their work up to that point and a showcase for Hahn’s talents. A year later the band’s popularity was reaffirmed when they teamed up with superstar rapper Jay-Z for a collaborative effort called Collision Course, which put his rhymes over their tracks.
Chapter Six: Change of Course
The next few years were quiet for Linkin Park. Mike Shinoda released a pure hip-hop record under the name Fort Minor, but other than that 2005- 2006 was a period of downtime for the group. It was during these years that the music world changed drastically. Emo and post-punk were now the rock music of choice, and nu-metal was all but gone. Meteora may have very well been the last huge nu-metal album. It would have been a huge mistake for the band to try and repeat themselves again, so it was time for a re-invention.
Minutes to Midnight came in 2007 and was a marked departure from the first two records. It was raw and rough, with an immediate noticeable difference in tone. Linkin Park had adapted to the new musical climate and given their image and sound a complete overhaul. The distorted guitars were scrubbed down, and nearly every convention and formula from previous outings had been scrapped. The album found the band going from post-punk/new wave (“In Pieces”, “Shadow of the Day”) to six-minute rock operas (“The Little Things Give You Away”) to solemn, quiet interludes (“In Between”, where Mike Shinoda takes over lead singing duties). The singles “Bleed it Out” and “Given Up” were furious and bristled with a live energy the band hadn’t shown before. “Hands Held High” was a repurposed Fort Minor track, fronted entirely by Shinoda. It was alternative in every sense of the word, and opened many doors for the band. No longer were they restricted to their origins- something that would be necessary for their next step.
Chapter Seven: The Concept Album
After Chester Bennington released the first album from his side project Dead By Sunrise, Linkin Park suddenly became very active for the next few years. They released singles for movie soundtracks, a song hidden within their own game, charity tracks, as well as other previously unreleased material. All these tracks, however, gave no clue as to what was about to be released. A Thousand Suns was the band’s concept album, and was both divisive and polarizing. The first single was “The Catalyst”, a nearly six-minute, multi-part techno track, didn’t adhere to pop structure, and didn’t feature guitars until the last minute or so. The album was just as loosely structured, featuring several interludes, and very little in the way of typical rock. “When They Come For Me” featured Middle Eastern influenced chanting and rhythm, while second single had Shinoda employing some reggae-style singing and Bennington harmonizing with himself over a pure pop instrumental. The whole album came out of left field and bewildered nearly everyone. It was also the smartest thing they could have done at that point.
Minutes to Midnight showed the world that Linkin Park had adapted and moved on from their roots, easing the transition and basically allowing the band to do whatever they wanted moving forward. No longer bound by expectations, they put out A Thousand Suns as an example of boundary-pushing experimentation. Also working in their favour was the fact that popular music was between genres. 2010 was a directionless year for mainstream, with the post-punk revival in the rearview mirror and indie pop not on the radar until 2011. It was essentially the perfect time for the band to release absolutely anything they wanted. A concept album about nuclear war that sampled public speeches by American political figures? Perfect.
Chapter Eight: Another About-Face
2012 found the band releasing Living Things, which was completely different from A Thousand Suns yet just as controversial. Taking cues from the unfolding electro-pop scene, Linkin Park released the synth-heavy first single “Burn it Down”. The rest of the album was in a similar vein, although the guitars were not as dialed down as critics would have one believe. The songs all had the sheen of modern production, but there was still plenty of rock present. “Victimized” is a ferocious minute and forty-seven seconds of screaming and heavy drums. “I’ll Be Gone” and “In My Remains” are still blasts of alternative rock, just dressed up with electronic flourishes. “Lost in the Echo” finds the band testing out dubstep, which fits them to a T. The track is essentially everything that made the band popular, repackaged in a more contemporary style. Living Things was essentially Linkin Park returning to their old style of songwriting with updated production.
To drive this point home, they released Recharged in 2013. Just as Re-Animation proved their versatility after Hybrid Theory, Recharged saw them going full EDM, remixing tracks from Living Things and collaborating with electronic music vanguard Steve Aoki. Having proved their sound translates to the modern musical landscape, Linkin Park once again had a clean slate.
Chapter Nine: Future Evolution
The Hunting Party was the 2014 release from the band, and was heralded as a return to basics, a renewal after their foray into electro-pop. First single “Guilty All the Same” was a throwback to classic hard-rock and features a verse from rapper Rakim. Other songs on the album featured guest spots from Page Hamilton, Tom Morello, and Daron Malakian. The production on the album was raw and dry, a far cry from the sleek sheen of the rest of their discography. After 14 years of mainstream success, the band remained forward-thinking and relevant, constantly adapting to new trends by spiting them. The summer of 2014 found the band embarking on the Carnivores tour- an appropriate name, signifying the band is still vital, vigorous, and hungry for more. We’ll see what 2017 brings.
Success in the music industry is hard enough to come by once; capturing lightning in a bottle twice is a minor miracle. Sometimes it takes a complete reinvention, other times it’s a stroke of luck. Whatever the case is, these artists managed not only to hit the big time in their first go round, but also experience a renaissance further in their career. Some of them even did it in the current industry climate, which deserves a medal because ain’t no one breaking it big around here no more.
These aren’t bands that just continued to steamroll the competition until they slowly petered out, nor are they bands with a couple big chart toppers years apart. These are bands that had an established, definite era- then went away for a little while – then came back for another unprecedented round in the spotlight. They’re true comeback kids.
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Initial Success: 1991- 1995
Comeback Album: Californication
Let’s start off with a band that straddles the line between “comeback” and “continued success”. 1995’s One Hot Minute wasn’t a massive bomb, but it did slow the momentum the funk-rockers had built up over the first half of the 90s. They’d established themselves as the alternative scene’s party boys, and left a series of unimpeachable singles and albums in their wake.
That 1995 record did have few well-received singles but the addition of Dave Navarro didn’t sit well with most fans. It took a 4 year break and the re-addition of John Frusciante to the fold to revive the band’s luck and set off a second streak of hugely popular records. Californication didn’t reinvent the wheel- if anything it was the Chili Peppers standing firmly in the niche they’d dug, to great results in four massive hit singles (“Californication”, “Otherside”, “Scar Tissue”, “Around the World”). Not only did that record sell extremely well, but it gave them another 7-8 years of soundtracking comedy movie trailers and extreme sports montages.
Initial Success: 1993- 1999
Comeback Album: In Rainbows
Contrary to what you might think, this entry won’t be about the oft-beatified OK Computer and the band’s descent into weirdness. Although that album did mark a total change in sound and start a new leg of their career, it came on the heels of the wildly successful The Bends. There really wasn’t any lull to come back from.
This entry won’t even be about sales per se, but rather on cultural significance. The bizarre one-two punch of Kid A and Insomniac really did Radiohead in commercially, although it did turn them into hipster gods. 2003 follow-up Hail to the Thief was a return to form (and structure) but it went largely unnoticed in every respect.
It was in 2007 that In Rainbows brought Radiohead back to mainstream discussion. The album itself didn’t really set any charts on fire, but it turned them into “accessible gods” for the average music listener. The “free” online release of that album had them labeled as Innovative™ and now they’re inextricably linked with the experimental tag. The layperson may not know the band’s aesthetic or any songs other than the weepy ballads, but they know that referencing the band is shorthand for high art. When you want to talk about “weird” music to simple people to make yourself seem “educated/out there/quirky”, drop Radiohead’s name. Hey, Katy Perry did it.
8. Maroon 5
Initial Success: 2004
Comeback Song: “Moves Like Jagger”
The sole pop act on this list, only because pop acts tend to have a massive industry working behind them to ensure they DON’T fade away. And true, it’s not like Maroon 5 ever completely burnt out. They continued to make radio filler long after “This Love” impacted 2004’s airwaves. But they were always one notch above being a punch line, a band that only people in dentist waiting rooms listened to. As the decade changed they were on the cusp of becoming a relic of the 2000s, not unlike the Black Eyed Peas. A weak 2010 album didn’t do much to fix the problem.
Then lead singer Adam Levine used the entire season of a television show (The Voice) as a launching platform for a comeback single (“Moves Like Jagger”) and now they’re an A-list dance pop band that’s not going away any time soon. It’s downright strange to think that they were ever in danger of becoming irrelevant.
7. Fall Out Boy
Initial Success: 2005-2007
Comeback Song: “Centuries”
After an initial run as emo poster boys in the late 2000s, Fall Out Boy are now rubbing elbows with starlets and top-tier rappers. They were on the brink of being “Remember Them?” material and turned it all around. Of course it cost them the few shreds of credibility they’d earned from their massive From Under the Cork Tree, but the band managed to hit it big again after a hiatus at the turn of the decade.
The funny thing is that it wasn’t even instantaneous. When they reformed in 2013 and completely threw out the emo sound they’d made their name on, the results were fairly lackluster. 2013’s big-drum anthem-core “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” certainly succeeded in discarding the band’s old trappings, but it (as well as its ironically titled corresponding record Save Rock and Roll) wasn’t really much more than a semi-listenable reunion project.
A year and a few strokes of luck later and the band was a full-fledged established pop act. They’d decided to turn the jock-rock dial beyond comfortable levels and started making songs seemingly meant solely for Superbowl highlight reels, played on Superbowl sized screens. But it worked and the band’s now safely living a second life played alongside any Top 40 act.
Initial Success: 1994
Comeback Album: The Green Album
It was a slow burn- a long and painful one at that – before Weezer the band became Weezer™ the brand, but Rivers Cuomo stuck it out and turned the one time geek rock icons into an institution worthy of a (never filmed) TV show.
Everyone now knows the story of early Weezer- the massively successful Blue Album followed by the hipster touchstone Pinkerton followed by Weezer disappearing for a few years. They came back, however, much to the dismay of the bluebloods, and after the Green Album proceeded to be relentlessly prolific over the course of the next decade. They dropped all pretense of making emo ballads and rather made music ABOUT making emo ballads (see: “Heart Songs”). They became the ultimate meta-band, selling the mythology of early Weezer as new Weezer songs and albums. It worked tremendously and the band still regularly tours playing only those first two albums with a smattering of hits they racked up throughout the 2000s. They weaponized the nostalgia industry in a surprisingly aggressive fashion for a band of meek geeks.
5. Nine Inch Nails
Initial Success: 1989-1999
Comeback Album: With Teeth
We all know NIN’s successful thanks to one song, and there wasn’t really ever any other competition in that respect. Trent Reznor’s comeback was more subtle, yet just as impressive as any other act on this list. He faded away commercially (and nearly entirely due to personal issues) at the start of the millennium, so the fact that a 2005 album even was released was a shock.
It’s not like With Teeth was some sort of barnburner. Although it did give us the most accessible NIN song ever (“The Hand That Feeds”), it was really only a hit on modern rock charts. But it did kick off Reznor’s transformation from tortured soul to astute brand developer. He went from being synonymous with “edgy 90s goth” to elder statesmen of dark electronic ambience. It was a gradual veer away from shock rock and into moody concept music, but it landed him scoring gigs, an Academy Award, and a lot of respect.
4. Depeche Mode
Initial Success: 1980s
Downtime: Late 1980s
Comeback Album: Violator
It’s not entirely accurate, but calling Depeche Mode “the 80s band that made it big in the 90s” is still a pretty valid descriptor. At the very least it draws attention to the fact that the new wave/goth crew were able to escape the decade of neon hued mullets and reinvent themselves. The band had always played with darker undercurrents, so it wasn’t entirely out of left field, but the fact that it crossed over to alternative radio was a surprise.
The dawn of the 1990s saw the carefree synthpop of the 80s discarded, and even though Nirvana were still about a year away from completely drowning modern rock in edgy darkness, the revolution was brewing. Alternative and industrial rock were starting to make waves and Depeche Mode took note, immersing their sound wholly into that aesthetic. In fact they were essentially borrowing bits of sound from bands that were influenced by their own hints of darkness! (See: Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy).
Violator became a bestseller, and the band earned the strange honour of being a new wave band that felt right at home among the grunge icons in the coming years. “Just Can’t Get Enough” would never fit alongside “Come As You Are” in a playlist, but “Personal Jesus” is a natural companion track.
What’s strange is that after this deft navigation, the band never boomeranged back. Even when the environment around them got more lighthearted, they stuck to their gloom and doom. In fact they just kept going darker and darker and darker, until we got the dirge-filled 2013 album Delta Machine. Will there ever be another upbeat Depeche Mode song?
3. Arctic Monkeys
Initial Success: 2006
Comeback Album: AM
Sometimes game changers arise from the most unlikely places. A scrappy garage/mod band with one moderate radio hit that vanished for over half a decade before revolutionizing the sound of modern music? It happened!
Although they managed to retain some modicum of credibility with the elite crowd, and never “sold out” in a way that many of their peers did, Arctic Monkeys were sort of a one-hit wonder when that term was still relevant. “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor” was their one big hit and other than that they had mostly a cult following. Now it’s hard to imagine them playing a venue other than a festival stage or arena.
After the initial success they found in 2006 they released a bunch of pleasant records that didn’t really go anywhere, and radio singles weren’t even considered to be on the table anymore. In 2012 however there came a one-off song called “R U Mine?”, and although it didn’t officially hit airwaves until a few years later, it was the herald of a great new era. The big, obvious riff was something previously unheard in the band’s work, and then suddenly in 2013 AM was released and there were a lot of big obvious riffs and they were really great.
The smoky, neo-noir soul aesthetic had blipped onto the mainstream a few times in the previous few years but it was Arctic Monkeys that really popularized it. The menacing minimalist strut and brash hooks came out of the blue (blues?) and turned the one time indie ragamuffins into sleek, distinguished superstars.
2. Green Day
Initial Success: 1994-2000
Comeback Album: American Idiot
As of the time of this blog post, Green Day are on their third attempt at yet another comeback, and it’s not going very well. A few moderate radio hits (“Bang Bang” and “Still Breathing”) are charting much better than anything from their triple album bomb of 2012, but nothing’s bringing them back to the levels of their incredible 2004 comeback American Idiot.
It’s still somewhat surprising that a bunch of goofball punks from the 90s would end up creating a wildly successful Broadway show, but that’s exactly how it went down. As the decade wound down and the nonstop hit parade ended in 2000, the band got pretty quiet. The material for their follow-up got stolen. They made a fake band called Network. But it seemed like the Green Day of the past were a done deal.
In a way it was true. They rebranded themselves entirely and instead of another disc of slacker anthems we got a genuine punk rock opera. American Idiot introduced to the world the “super serious” iteration of Green Day, but it sold excellently and commoditized political punk. Five hit singles! “Important” album status! The band now had two very distinct but equally successful acts of their career.
The success caused Billie Joe Armstrong to fancy himself as some sort of revolutionary, and so five years later 21st Century Breakdown tried to repeat that formula. Unfortunately without a villain like the Bush Administration to fire vitriol at, the sentiment rang hollow. There’s plenty of material now with Trump in power, but the songwriting spark’s gone and it doesn’t seem like Revolution Radio, even with the Very Activist Title, will come anywhere close to the impact American Idiot had.
Initial Success: 1980s / early 1990s
Downtime: Late 80s / Late 90s
Comeback: 1991 / 2000
Comeback Albums: Achtung Baby / All That You Can’t Leave Behind
Bono and company get the top spot not because they’re basically the biggest band ever, but because they pulled this stunt off TWICE (which in turn made them the biggest band ever). They had three distinct eras of ubiquity and indelibly influenced modern music for better and for worse.
Phase 1 was a pretty standard run of new wave hits- too many to name. There were a lot of them though, and they all had jangly guitar and reverb and were very influential. But that era wound down by the end of the 80s, and in 1991 when grunge was taking over the world it didn’t seem like there was any more space for U2. 1988’s Rattle and Hum had done well enough commercially, but it was critically panned and definitely seemed to indicate a natural decline.
Phase 2 turned that right around with the band going full alternative in 1991. Achtung Baby broke down the door with a whole bunch more massive hits and essentially allowed U2 to rule the music world for a good half decade more. That is until the late 90s when they got a little too “artsy” and it finally seemed like they’d run their course.
Then there was a jaw-dropping Phase 3 right at the turn of the millennium. Whatever your thoughts might be on the quality of this phase, the fact that they were able to turn their “easy listening” era into a boon for them rather than a resignation to soft-rock radio is incredible. Two decades under their belts and they were still able to create an album (All That You Can’t Leave Behind) that essentially influenced every adult contemporary-friendly band to this day. “Soaring melodrama” exists because of the success of this revival.
Is there a Phase 4 in the works? It’ll be tough, especially now. But if anyone can pull it off it’s U2.