It’s the 90s all over again! Some of the biggest names that ruled the 90s have returned, whether after an extended hiatus, a regrouping or simply following the chain of releases with something new. Having so many acts from the same period releasing new material at this point suggests that there is a resurgent interest in the 90s scene. Considering the way music trends work, that sounds about right. What was in twenty years ago is now in again.
Today’s music scene is vastly different than it was 15 to 20 years ago. Some of the 90s leaders are able to adapt to such a change but not all. I’m going to go through the list of comeback singles by our favourite returning 90s stars to see which ones work well with today’s sound, which ones provide a wonderful sense of nostalgia and which ones fall flat.
Bonnie Raitt – Right Down The Line
While it might seem odd to consider Bonnie Raitt an artist of the 90s, considering she had seven albums from the 70s alone, it wasn’t until her 10th record Nick Of Time that she really hit it big in the mainstream in 1990. After that, Bonnie sold millions, won awards and cemented her place as a blues legend. Slipstream is an album of covers and is her 16th record, first since 2005.
Verdict Bonnie can do no wrong. Her cover of Gerry Rafferty‘s song Right Down The Line was issued as the first promo single and in perfect Bonnie style, she sings it like she owns it.
Madonna – Give Me All Your Luvin’
Madonna was massive in the 80s, huge in the 90s and still a force in the 00s. Her success and blending of artforms and entertainment gave her the name Queen of Pop. Pop culture bowed down to her. Her album MDNA was her first new one since 2008 and the hype for it was the biggest for anything Madonna-related in over a decade.
Verdict The hype was strong but Give Me All Your Luvin’ wasn’t. I wouldn’t consider it a case of not living up to the hype but rather it simply wasn’t a great song. For someone with Madonna’s abilities (and confidence, judging by her interviews), I expected better. Maybe nothing revolutionary but the single easily goes down as one of her weakest. She must have known it too since she enlisted two newcomers Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. as featured guests, something she has rarely ever done until recently.
Roxette – It’s Possible
Several hiatuses and nine albums since their first in 1986, Roxette’s huge success is mostly from their first few years as a duo with hits like Listen To Your Heart and Joyride. Travelling is their new album that follows last year’s Charm School which was the first record in ten years.
Verdict The song is classic Roxette. Not unlike songs such as Sleeping In Your Car, with Marie Fredriksson’s distinctive 80s-styled singing, or Joyride, with Per Gessle’s relaxed vocals, plus the feel-good lyrics that accompany many of their more upbeat hits. It’ll never become a hit, as you probably didn’t even know they were still around, but who doesn’t love a little Roxette!
Melissa Etheridge – Falling Up
Melissa Etheridge released her first record in the late 80s but didn’t become a household name until her fourth record Yes I Am. Since then, she’s peaked in popularity, reached icon status as a singer/songwriter and put out eleven albums with her 12th to come later this year. Her single Falling Up is the first she’s put out in two years.
Verdict Falling Up doesn’t showcase the best that Melissa has to offer. It is a paint-by-numbers folky rock track that leaves little to be desired about moving on and starting over. Two recent recordings, Message To Myself or the touching I Run For Life, might be more suitable for a little inspiration courtesy of Melissa.
No Doubt – Settle Down
No Doubt formed as far back as the 80s. They became world famous after Tragic Kingdom and secured their place in pop and rock by the time Rock Steady came out in 2001. Then they took a break. Gwen made a further name for herself with two solo albums, two clothing lines and two sons with husband Gavin Rossdale. Their comeback began last month with the release of Settle Down serving as the teaser for Push And Shove coming out next month.
Verdict Other than Madonna, No Doubt has the most anticipated comeback of the year. Unlike Madonna, they’ve been away for much longer. It seems that Gwen’s side projects haven’t turned off any of the band’s longtime followers as they return to their roots of reggae and dancehall with Settle Down but also keep it fresh and casual as a very light and fun song. Settle Down could very well be among the best of 2012 by anyone.
Soundgarden – Live To Rise
Reaching their popularity peak in the mid-90s, Soundgarden’s last studio record came in 1996 before breaking it off in 1997. 13 years later, they reunited following Chris Cornell‘s solo recordings and three Audioslave records. Their first new recording Live To Rise since reforming in 2010 was for the Avengers film.
Verdict: The years Cornell spent with Audioslave have rubbed off making this song a blend of old and older. Few new elements are present but the song is a solid rocker.
Mariah Carey – Triumphant
In addition to her unmistakeable voice, Mariah is also known for her chart achievements, more-so perhaps than her songs, having had 14 #1 singles in the 90s plus her many millions of albums sold. She suffered flop after flop in the 2000s before an incredible comeback in 2005 that brought her back to the top – teaching me to never doubt anyone from making a comeback. But she has slid again ever since.
Verdict Triumphant suffers from the same thing that many of her singles since Heartbreaker have. Formulaic, dated pop. Mariah has often relied on the latest rappers to help her songs often resulting in a minimal role for herself with dull hooks and an often expired-sound as soon as the song comes out. Even those singles that are solo, like Obsessed, there is little worthy in them. Triumphant will likely continue the downward trend she’s experienced since We Belong Together.
Green Day – Oh Love
While Green Day may now be known for the rock opera American Idiot, their biggest record came in the middle of the 90s with Dookie. Their ninth and tenth albums will be out before the end of the year with the eleventh coming early 2013. ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! are a trilogy of records they are using to follow up their second rock epic 21st Century Breakdown from 2009.
Verdict Oh Love is lighter themed than the bulk of their recent material but unlike most of their 90s stuff, it is still relatively tame. Closer in sound to American Idiot than Dookie which helps give it some crossover potential.
Cranberries – Tomorrow
Known for the swooning light rock of hits like Linger and Dreams, the Cranberries were second only to U2 as Ireland’s top musical output. It’s been over ten years since the Cranberries put out their last album and in that time, the band took a break and lead singer Dolores O’Riordan put out two solo records. This year, the band released their sixth record Roses with their lead single being Tomorrow.
Verdict: Tomorrow brings little new to the table but since there was never anybody else that sounded like the Cranberries, the song was a welcome sense of nostalgia as they will likely live forever as a 90s band.
Our Lady Peace – Heavyweight
Eight albums since their debut in 1994, Our Lady Peace have changed quite a bit with each record, including their commercial peak in 2002 which resulted in their blandest sound that they have since moved on from. 2009’s Burn Burn and this year’s Curve have been a return to their alternative rock sound with Heavyweight as the lead single.
Verdict: The closest thing to Naveed they’ve recorded since Naveed. While still missing some qualities that gave their 90s material that spark, OLP are sounding better than they have in a decade.
Alanis Morissette – Guardian
Alanis has never quite been able to live up to the success she had with Jagged Little Pill. Each record released since performing merely half as successful as the one before. But with each album, she has always delivered something different and interesting.
Verdict: Guardian combines elements of each of her previous records. A slight grungy sound in the production of the chorus reminiscent of her JLP days, a melody that sounds right out of her Under Rug Swept record with lyrics straight out of Flavors Of Entanglement. Not likely to win over any new fans but Alanis is always reliable to deliver within the boundaries of what would be expected.
Dave Matthews Band – Mercy
Eight albums and over a decade and a half since their first, the Dave Matthews Band have built a nearly historic following that many compare to that of the Grateful Dead. While their mainstream popularity has waned in recent years, their devoted following still stick by. Mercy is the first single from Away From The World, due out in September.
Verdict Mercy pales in comparison to their last lead single Funny The Way It Is as it is much more mellow and doesn’t have the musical variation that is common in some of their singles. Relatively forgettable although there is a nice minute-long instrumental break at the end.
Garbage – Blood For Poppies
One of the top bands of the late 90s, Garbage released two albums in the 90s and two more in the 00s. Best known for their 90s alternative hits, they took a hiatus after their last record.
Verdict One of the more anticipated comebacks in rock this year, Garbage delivered with a sassy, hook-filled rocker. While I didn’t find Blood For Poppies as immediate as some of their earlier work, it does eventually become an earworm. Garbage, specifically Shirley Manson, has the style and image to pull off a solid second leg to their career that just entered its third decade.
Holly McNarland – Alone’s Just Fine
Continuing her pattern of a new album every five years, Holly McNarland started out with just a digital release for her fourth record Run Body Run for now. Best known for her MuchMusic staples Elmo and Numb, Holly has been relatively quiet on the Canadian music scene following the release and subsequent promotion of her second record Home Is Where My Feet Are. There hasn’t been a single issued from the new album as of now.
Verdict Judging by the album’s opening track, Holly hasn’t changed her style too much over the years. Closer to Stuff than anything else, Alone’s Just Fine shows Holly’s continued strength as a singer and, even though she has taken an extended break, she hasn’t lost her touch. She’s fine.
Matchbox Twenty – She’s So Mean
Matchbox Twenty have released three albums plus a compilation record but only one of them came out in the 90s. That record was also their biggest and contains the hits they are most known for. Push, 3 am. Yeah, those are the ones. Singer Rob Thomas also put out two relatively successful solo albums in the 00s as well. But nine years since their last full length record of new material, the band have found renewed interest – is that returned?
Verdict They seem to be taking a page from the book of Train by releasing a pop song with a catchy hook and a slight hint of flair that helps give it a certain youthful identity. The song has the makings of a hit and the band are more likeable and recognizable than Train but so far, it hasn’t caught on to the levels of Hey Soul Sister. Is being known as a 90s band a hindrance?
Fiona Apple – Every Single Night
Fiona Apple is an atypical musician mostly due to her elusive nature and tendency to come out of nowhere with rare new material. A 6-year gap came between her second and third record, mostly due to record label politics but that was surpassed with the 7-year gap between that record and her newest one.
Verdict Fiona is one of those artists whose sound isn’t dependent on current trends and styles. Every Single Night is very mellow but the lyrics are Fiona’s staple, full of imagery and torment wrapped up with a toy piano resulting in a slightly eerie recording.
Reviewing the recent output of musicians made prominent in the 90s, it seems many of them stick with what made them big in the first place. For nostalgic purposes, it’s nice to hear bands like the Cranberries and Roxette continuing their blend of music, even if there is little room for it in any mass medium. The acts that evolved their sound and fused it with modern day styles are the ones who ultimately win out while those that put out bland, uninspired songs don’t. Rather, their persona are drowned in their own hype and fame rather than the actual songs they ultimately end up releasing.
Pleased with what I hear and most likely candidates for future endeavours:
Go back to the drawing board or your time of new music is up:
Who’s your favourite 90s act putting out new music this year?