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When Legends Make A Comeback
Music|Dec 30, 2021

When Legends Make A Comeback

"History Has Warned Us Time And Again To Let Sleeping Gods Lie," Writes Paul Dalgarno.
Paul Dalgarno

At 43, Apollo Creed has long since lost his heavyweight title when he climbs into the ring against Ivan Drago in the Rocky film franchise. “It’s too bad we have to get old,” he quips to the Italian Stallion in Rocky III, only to be pummelled to death by the 24-year-old Drago in Rocky IV. We all like to think we have another round in us… but do we? 

Four decades stand between ABBA’s last album, The Visitors (1981), and their latest, Voyage (2021). The closest they’ve come to being knocked out in the interim was in the mid-1980s, when they were seen as sparkly has-beens. But they got back up and started meting out a blistering one-two of loveable kitsch (Murial’s Wedding, 1994) and lucrative nostalgia (the Mamma Mia! stage show in 1999 and the blockbuster film versions in 2008 and 2018). To date they’ve sold 400 million albums and have a collective net worth of US$1.1 billion. In an age of plague and uncertainty, Agneta, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid are already being hailed as Norse gods returning to bathe the world in harmonising happiness. And yet comebacks are never without risk.

Not financially (there’s little risk on that front) but in terms of legacy. 

Cue – actually, please don’t – Chinese Democracy (2008) by Guns N’ Roses. To call it the “band’s” first album of originals since Use Your Illusion I and II (1991) feels weird given most members had already quit, leaving only Axl Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed.

Scheduled for release in 1999, the album was re-recorded from scratch in 2000 and worked on in 15 different studios before appearing nearly a decade later in a blaze of infamy and hype for being the most expensive (US$13 million) rock album ever made. But on the plus side… there was no plus side. 

History has warned us time and again to let sleeping gods lie

The Stooges were torn a new one for The Weirdness (2007), their first album in 34 years, as summed up best by Zeth Lundy in PopMatters, who wrote that it “complicates the Stooges’ once-tidy history just by existing, and yet it is a very poor record, which complicates things even further”. 

Sonic Boom (2009) by Kiss – their first album in 11 years – was released as a CD/DVD package exclusively at Walmart in North America, which hardly screams God of Thunder. 

Zeitgeist (2007) by Smashing Pumpkins was dissed by Pitchfork (and others) as a “calculated move for cash or attention  
or both”. 

The aptly named A Momentary Lapse in Reason (1987) by Pink Floyd… let’s not even go there. 

History has warned us time and again to let sleeping gods lie. 

But it also suggests that it’s not impossible to silence the doubters after seemingly being out for the count. Just take Prince (Musicology, 2004), Mariah Carey (The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005), Red Hot Chili Peppers (Californication, 1999), or Tina Turner (Private Dancer, 1984).

The heart is often the last to go, as per Creed’s final words: “I want you to promise me you’re not gonna stop this fight, no matter what. No matter what!”