With Guns N’ Roses having regrouped and set to play at Abu Dhabi F1 in November, we explore whether classic outfits reuniting is ever a good idea for the fans
Band reformations: is it ever a good idea to get back together?
Rock bands are complex beasts, often fraught with fragile egos, even after half a century in some cases. The great 1960s beat group The Kinks were reported recently to be recording their first album since 1996 – but there’s a hitch.
First, their celebrated singer-songwriter Ray Davies needs to end a decades-long feud between his brother, guitarist Dave Davies, and drummer Mick Avory. “It’s like negotiations for the United Nations,” Ray, 74, told BBC radio.
This has been a confusing few weeks for potential reformations. The Spice Girls are in discussions to come back with a new album and tour. Pop music mogul Simon Cowell made headlines by insisting that his old proteges, One Direction, will return, because “the legacy is too big not to go back”. But he didn’t suggest when. And Phil Collins mooted the return of the prog-rock giants Genesis, if his 17-year-old son plays drums – let’s see how his former bandmates take that proposition.
Mixed news, then, but should fans ever really be thrilled about such reunions anyway? A great band’s return rarely matches their original work. And when reunions go badly, it can do serious damage to the aforementioned legacy.
Time heals some wounds
You can understand why they try, though. On November 25, Guns N’ Roses return to du Arena to perform the race-day concert as part of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. So far, their reunion has been a mighty, critic-confounding triumph. Asked in 2012 whether his original bandmates would ever return, mercurial singer Axl Rose responded “not in this lifetime”.
But Slash and Duff McKagan re-joined in 2016, and the band have sold out massive venues ever since. They have a sense of humour, too. This is the Not in This Lifetime tour, reminiscent of The Eagles’ 1990s comeback tour: Hell Freezes Over.
It isn’t the full, classic Guns N’ Roses line-up, though. Original drummer Steven Adler announced in late August that his own band, Adler’s Appetite, had acquired a new frontman: Ariel Kamin, from Argentinian GN’R tribute band Son of a Gun.
“Since the guys don’t want me to play with them,” Adler tweeted, “now I finally have a singer who can compete with the young Axl Rose.”
At least he uses a completely different band name. Several major acts have tried reuniting without their frontman, which just isn’t the same. Perhaps most infamous was The Doors of the 21st Century, which featured several founding members of 60s band The Doors, plus The Cult’s Ian Astbury replacing the late Jim Morrison. Drummer John Densmore remained absent, too: he was busy suing them.
The missing-member issue has partially clouded one of this year’s big rock returns.
The Smashing Pumpkins are currently powering through three-hour stadium shows, but without original bassist D’arcy Wretzky, who has a beef with frontman Billy Corgan. All of which raises the question: is this really the original band? Indie-rockers The Pixies have a similar issue. Their current comeback line-up lacks their legendary bass player Kim Deal. Perhaps it’s a bass thing.
Is it worth it?
Whatever bands say publicly, money is a major lure for these returns: The Sex Pistols summed it nicely by branding their 1996 comeback as the Filthy Lucre Tour. Punk comebacks are invariably disappointing, however.
Then there is the constant speculation about an Oasis reunion. True, Liam Gallagher has recaptured his old swagger at recent solo gigs, but it’s easy to forget the band were well past their prime when they originally pulled the plug. Conversely, the Gallagher brothers’ favourite band, The Stone Roses – who played a memorable Dubai show on their return, in 2013 – threw in the towel after just two albums, becoming almost mythical. GN’R’s sabbaticals also left fans wanting more.
There are usually good reasons why bands split, from audiences losing interest to interpersonal dramas. And if those relationships have not properly healed, problems recur. Simon and Garfunkel’s early 80s reunion tour attracted huge numbers, but for most of it they barely spoke – it was indeed the sound of silence.
One Direction would no doubt hope to follow Take That’s road to a successful return – Gary Barlow’s group picked up where they left off in 2005 and went on to sell out UK stadiums and top the charts – but there are also sobering pop tales.
The late-1990s girl band All Saints originally broke up over who would wear a particular jacket for a photo shoot. Then their 2006 comeback album Studio 1 tanked. Their motivation was all wrong, said Melanie Blatt, who “did it for the money”.
They eventually made a lower-key return, supporting a bigger comeback outfit: the Backstreet Boys. The perennially popular US boy band sold out their Dubai show in April and are set to release a new album soon.
Which brings us back to the Spice Girls. Their much discussed reunion may not be a guaranteed smash, let alone a friendly affair. Their 2007-2008 comeback tour ended early, and their 2013 jukebox musical, Viva Forever, flopped. Melanie “Mel B” Brown’s forthcoming autobiography is reportedly set to reveal candid band secrets, including a bust-up when Victoria Beckham refused to lend Brown items from her fashion range.
Perhaps that should be the first rule of pop and rock comebacks, then. Before even thinking about music, have a heart-to-heart about your wardrobe.
To attend the four Yasalam After-Race Concert performances, it is necessary to purchase a ticket for the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Tickets are available online at www.yasmarinacircuit.com