Blur guitarist Graham Coxon made a startling confession on Twitter the other day. Following the release of David Bowie’s comeback single Where Are We Now? (to a hail of publicity only matched by Tesco’s foray into selling burgers made of horse-meat) Coxon revealed he had listened to Bowie (properly) for the first time.
Coxon’s Twitter feed read: “On Bowie’s 66th birthday I got him a present that every musician really wants. I bought his entire back catalogue on the strength of one pretty little single. I was the most stubborn of Bowie unfans. Now I love him.” Not entirely seriously, Coxon then added “Bowie’s work is done. Hehehe”
That’s an artist who made a comeback (the third most successful since 2009, behind Take That and The Spice Girls, according to The Sun) raving about an artist making a comeback. Not since Paul was caught in a thunderstorm on the road to Damascus – or perhaps Jonny Wilkinson’s drop kick in the last seconds of the Rugby World Cup Final – has there been a more dramatic conversion.
Not everyone has been so pleased with David Bowie’s new output, however. I read an especially poisonous article in (where else?) The Daily Mail (I read it – whilst tutting – over someone’s shoulder on a train). Whilst the rest of the world gave three hearty cheers, the Bah Humbuggery was predictably evident in the title of the piece “Has Ziggy Lost His Stardust?”. (NB. The Mail is never pleased by anything. It’s against Official Policy. If a Mail article doesn’t make the reader angry by the end of it, it hasn’t done its job). The writer compared Bowie to Dylan and Springsteen, but not in a good way: suggesting they should all retire. Good of him, that. The reason? In case when touring they upset the crowd by saying “Here’s one from the new album…” (something that was palpably not the case when Springsteen played new songs at the Isle of Wight this year). The piece then exhumed the memory of another old dinosaur: John Lennon, saying when he died he was past it, citing his last “song” Double Fantasy (technically not a song, but an album – it’s a brilliant piece of journalism) as evidence. This was an album that brought us Woman, Watching The Wheels Go By and (Just Like) Starting Over. And some Yoko Ono songs.
Lennon was just 40 when he was murdered. Hardly an old man. Let’s move on speedily.
Artists do go through peaks and troughs of course. As Jack Black said in High Fidelity using the example of Stevie Wonder‘s I Just Called To Say I Love You, “Is it in fact unfair to criticise a formerly great artist for his latter day sins: Is it better to burn out or fade away?”
People say of Guns n Roses that they never fulfilled the promise they showed when they were young. But this is nonsense. They fulfilled it *when they were young*. If GnR had released nothing more than their debut LP (Appetite For Destruction) they would still have made rock history. (See also The Sex Pistols, The MC5 and The Fast Food Rockers for epoch-defining first records). Are Nirvana less of a band because they only released three albums? It is rare for an artist to consistently produce outstanding material over a decade even. Who has done that in recent years? Josh Homme, Jack White, Radiohead – you can add your favourites according to taste – but it is the exception rather than the rule. The fact that Bowie is still adding to his already unfeasibly long list of great songs is wonderful.
So comebacks are sometimes good, sometimes bad. Led Zeppelin’s O2 shows: Good. The recent Aerosmith comeback? Ah. Not so good.
Which brings me to the point of this post. I’m going to write a few posts shortly about Aerosmith, a band which in 1987 I liked as much as Lions like Christians or Mariah Carey likes attention.
Aerosmith, alongside flared trousers and Recession were huge in the ’70s, and then made a successful comeback in the eighties. They were, for me, The Real Deal.
Their seventies albums are, as I will explain, still The Real Deal. However, their eighties/nineties albums have aged less well and their most recent album was not a success, critically or commercially. But that’s okay. It’s a shame, but they could release a cover of Justin Beiber’s Baby and it won’t change what I think of those seventies albums. I don’t need another Aerosmith album any more than I need a new Bowie album – but if they want to carry on making records and playing live – well that’s just fine with me. Carry on.
The answer to Jack Black character’s question is that it is entirely fair to criticise a formerly great artist for his latter day sins. But remember: That formerly great artist once wrote something great. What did you write?
But let’s finish on a happy note. Perhaps the most heart-warming tale of a happy return was also on Graham Coxon’s Twitter feed (I’m not stalking him, honest) a week or so ago. Coxon received the following Tweet from a guy in Manchester:
- @The_Creamery: Graham – did you once lose a bag with Blur pressing, rare Syd Barrett book, & 7″ & postcard – on train 20 years ago?…
- @GrahamCoxon: oh Did it have You’re Living All Over Me by Dinosaur Jr in there too?
- @The_Creamery: It did. Looking for it now.
- @GrahamCoxon: Oh my god! I cried when I lost that… I still think about it. You really got it?
Amazing! To cut a long story short, emails have been swapped and Mr Coxon and his bag of records (and rare Syd Barrett book) which had been sitting in a cupboard, forgotten about for 20 years have been happily re-united.
Now that’s what I call a successful comeback…
*Except Cliff Richard, Westlife, Boyzone and Smallpox.
Record #144: Graham Coxon – Freakin’ Out