Retirement doesn’t suit everyone and a life of leisure will have to wait a little longer for these artists, so toss those AARP mailings in the recycling bins. While these acts may have taken time off — or even announced an official retirement from recording — they’re back, and we couldn’t be happier.
‘Grown man rap’
Veterans renege on their claims to step back and jump back in the game
Rap culture is brutally focused on the here and now, the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Those who can’t or won’t keep up are branded “old school,” but as the genre drifts into middle age, the old guys are sticking around. Four out of the top five men on Forbes’ “2015 Cash Kings” are over the age of 40, making “grown man rap” a virtual subgenre.
When Dr. Dre released Compton *in August, he claimed his first album in 16 years would be his farewell. It’s tempting to believe him. He has so much money, the thinking goes, that he doesn’t have to make records anymore. Still, ungodly wealth couldn’t keep Jay Z from un-retiring, breaking the promise he made on *The Black Album. The resulting “Old man just stop” criticism aired against Magna Carta… Holy Grail hasn’t dissuaded him, either. The list of rappers who reneged on retirement is lengthy. Too Short, Lupe Fiasco, and Master P come to mind.
But rappers don’t retire, they just disappear. Scarface retreated from the spotlight for seven years and then re-emerged with Deeply Rooted. Blackalicious dropped Imani Vol. 1 after a 10-year absence. Paris’ new Pistol Politics is his first in seven years. Warren G’s Regulate… G Funk Era Part II ended a six-year drought.
Country stars that made a comeback (sort of)
Clint Black stays true to himself while Garth Brooks goes big, but ends up going home
Earlier this year, country demi-god Garth Brooks came out of retirement. Brooks, who hasn’t made his music available on any streaming service, broke the news by sharing dates of his world tour, setting off a firestorm. But the singer made headlines for the wrong reasons when his planned shows for Dublin’s Croke Park – which were supposed to kick off the tour – came under fire from locals. Croke Park is located smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Dublin’s notorious Northside. The residents and the town council had agreed to a predetermined amount of concerts per year, and Brooks’ multi-night stand would have put them over. A compromise was proposed for a couple of matinee shows and evening shows, but the singer said he’d rather cancel the whole deal. It was time to go big or go home, and go home was exactly what he did. Ouch.
Multi-platinum artist Clint Black also came out of retirement. In 1989, Black crushed it hard out of the gate with his debut, Killing Time. The platinum-selling album included four No. 1 singles — “A Better Man,” “Nobody’s Home,” “Walkin’ Away” and the title track. With his trademark black hat and a bevy of hits under his belt, Black helped usher in the “hat acts” era of country music. Like Brooks, Clint Black checked out of the spotlight for nearly a decade, and country music has changed tremendously since his last release, 2005’s Drinkin’ Songs and Other Logic. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Black was asked whether he made his new album, On Purpose, with modern country radio in mind. “Not at all,” he laughed. “I like some of the songs I’m hearing [on radio], but we’re going backwards with sounds. I don’t mind hearing reverb and distortion, but I want to hear the different instruments.”
I Don’t Wanna Grow Up
Return of the punks
The loud and heavy guitar rockers who returned this year after eons of being lost in space were punks and post-punks – or even proto-punks in the case of legends The Sonics, remembered as the wildest garage band of the ‘60s. Fronted by 71-year-old screaming banshee Gerry Roslie, This Is the Sonics was the Tacoma, Wash., outfit’s first collection of new material in 49 years — and good luck finding garage rockers a third of their age who rock half as hard.
The Sonics album was the most extreme case. Citizen Zombie was the first album since 1980 by presciently paranoid Bristol, U.K. polyrhythm punks The Pop Group, whose early mashups of funk, dub, noise and rant-recited radical politics paved the way for everyone from Public Enemy to Rage Against the Machine. Wacky thrift-shop punks The Rezillos – think a Scottish-goofball version of the B-52s – gathered songs like “Tiny Boy From Outer Space” and “Spike Heel Assassin” on Zero. It was their first studio album since 1978 , but it was the inclusion of a track in 2002’s Jackass: The Movie that made their comeback — highlighted by their first U.S. tour in 2012 — a viable option.
Supremely sleazy Swedish industrial garage-goths Leather Nun, whose last album came out in 1996, released Whatever; its single “Outside My Window” easily ranks among rock’s most
beautifully devastating and lonesome tracks of 2015.The Membranes, crazy, free-jazz post-punks from Blackpool, U.K., who influenced Sonic Youth and Steve Albini, dropped their first album in 26 years. The album, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, is full of particle-physics-inspired, radiator-grilled-and-ebow-droned numbers on the order of “The Universe Explodes Into a Billion Photons of Pure White Light,” which makes it not only one of the year’s most scientific, but quite possibly, best albums.
I like some of the songs I’m hearing … but we’re going backwards with sounds. I don’t mind hearing reverb and distortion, but I want to hear the different instruments. –-Clint Black
There were more: Australian tractor-punk power-trio Feedtime’s first single since the early ‘90s; the return of ‘70s San Francisco post-garage pre-punks the Flamin’ Groovies and super-short-lived late ‘70s Cleveland no-wavers X__X. Almost all these bands have long qualified as mythic in certain circles; that they’re back feels like a miracle.
Pop stardom can be fleeting and returning to the fold can show what a cold hard world it is
Pop stars don’t really retire, they just sort of fade away. One day they’re on top of the charts, then the next thing you know all they’ve offered in three years is a Christmas EP.
Given that, there are successful pop comebacks. Duran Duran have retired several times since their 1980s heyday and plugged gamely along as a trio after Andy and Roger Taylor (circa Notorious) departed. Nearly two decades later, the lads brought back their original five-man lineup for Astronaut. While Andy Taylor didn’t stick around long, the band has pretty much remained on point since and is always willing to shake it up in the studio with a new producer; Timbaland on 2007’s Red Carpet Massacre and Mark Ronson and Nile Rodgers on this year’s Paper Gods. Speaking of ‘80s retro fever, there’s also Cast In Steel, the first new release in six years from Norwegian synth-pop act a-ha. It’s a true comeback effort from the “Take on Me” trio, with longtime producer Alan Tarney behind the controls, and their digitally-enhanced hooks as wispy as ever. We can’t wait for the music videos.
If ‘80s revivalism is getting you down, how about ‘90s comebacks? There’s Gwen Stefani, who released her last solo album in late 2006 and has been dropping hints that a new album is in the works, although given the rather tepid chart response to teaser singles “Spark the Fire” and “Baby Don’t Lie”, it might be a while before we hear any finished product.
The beat goes on
R&B acts who stayed alive under the radar or made big comebacks
When Janet Jackson announced that she would not only mount a global arena tour, but also release Unbreakable, her first album since 2008’s Discipline, she became the biggest R&B artist to end her retirement in recent memory. But she’s not alone.
Jodeci reunited for The Past, The Present, The Future, their first album in nearly two decades. Unlike Jackson, the group regularly toured on revue-styled package concerts that gather past hip-hop and R&B stars. The same goes for SWV, who released the very impressive I Missed Us in 2012 after a 15-year hiatus; they have another album due this fall. Funkadelic hasn’t stopped funkin’ since forming in the late ‘60s, but the release of George Clinton’s entertaining autobiography inspired their first album in 23 years, First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate. A similar dynamic applies to oldies circuit veterans Con Funk Shun, who just ended a 29-year drought with More Than Love.
Tony Terry, best known for his deathless ballad “When I’m With You,” took his time dropping iTony 6 — his first album since 2006. Teedra Moses, whose 2003 debut Complex Simplicity is a highly underrated soul album, finally released Cognac & Conversation. Six years also marks the juncture between Smokey Robinson’s last album and his 2014 project Smokey & Friends. And Dam-Funk deserves mention. He’s worked consistently, but Invite the Light is his first solo project since 2009’s Toeachizown.
The most unusual comeback is D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, his first release in 14 years. After seven quiet years, Babyface teamed with Toni Braxton to issue a concept piece, Love Marriage & Divorce. Tamar Braxton couldn’t get a record deal after her Tamar debut flopped in 1999, but her TV shows Braxton Family Values and Tamar & Vince reignited interest. She returned triumphantly in 2013 with Love & War, and her new, Calling All Lovers, made a splash.
Finally, let’s not forget The Time. In 2011, the original members returned after 21 years to destroy nightclubs and issue a well-received comeback, Condensate. Unfortunately, due to legal restrictions they were forced to rename themselves The Original 7ven. Whose fault was it? Blame the Purple One.
These icons show they’ve still got it
In the late ’80s, Don Henley was one of the biggest pop stars in the world, right up there with Billy Joel and Elton John. After a string of hits (“The End of the Innocence,” “Sunset Grill,” “Boys Surprisingly, Henley returned to the Eagles in 1994, essentially leaving his solo career to languish. Outside of 2000’s Inside Job (which wasn’t so hot), this year’s Cass County is a finely crafted mix of sad, slow waltzes and sweet pedal steel, it’s the country album the East Texas native always was destined to make.
Keith Richards’ solo output clocks in with a mere three studio efforts. Where 1988’s Talk Is Cheap and 1992’s Main Offender felt a little too relaxed (even by Keef’s standards), this year’s Crosseyed Heart is focused and, best of all, fun. The good deal of praise the album (as well as the accompanying Netflix documentary, Under the Influence) has received from critics is deserved. Sounding genuinely inspired, nobody will be snorting this dude’s ashes any time soon. He’s poised to live forever.
Considerably more low key is Rattle That Lock, David Gilmour’s introspective new album. This isn’t to suggest the Pink Floyd icon doesn’t care about commercial success, it’s just that Gilmour’s solo output has always felt like chapters in his personal journey. It’s been over a decade since 2006’s On an Island, and tracks such as “In Any Tongue” and “A Boat Lies Waiting” prove that Gilmour, at 69, still possesses a knack for atmospheric, bluesy rock that places his gloriously hypnotic voice front and center.
*Alt-rock darlings return*
They may not have filled arenas, but these artists defined many fans’ young adulthood
The details of the falling-out between Nina Gordon and Louise Post — singer/guitarist comrades in Chicago alt-rock band Veruca Salt— are tactfully obscure. There were boyfriends involved, and in the end, it can suck to be in a band with someone, which is why this year’s release of Ghost Notes is so fun to listen to. When Gordon went her own way in the late ‘90s, Post maintained Veruca’s name for the scorched-earth 2000 release Resolver. Gordon’s “Black and Blonde,” originally recorded in 1998, resurfaces on Ghost Notes with the two full-throated singers jubilantly reminding each other “I’m the greatest f-cking thing that ever happened to you.” Alt-rock’s happy ending of the year.
Sleater-Kinney’s long absence was less dramatic but more fertile. Corin Tucker released two solo albums (which she described as “middle-aged mom records”) and Carrie Brownstein poured herself into Portlandia. The trio’s first release since 2005’s The Woods, No Cities To Love offers 10 brisk, muscular post-punk anthems that are the band’s most light-footed since 1997’s Dig Me Out. High praise: you would not be crazy if this were your favorite Sleater album.
Across the pond, Blur and The Libertines resurfaced this year. Blur’s new The Magic Whip is an album of melancholy, gently funky guitar pop, not dissimilar to 2003’s Think Tank; like 2004’s The Libertines, the band’s Anthems For Doomed Youth roars brashly forth as if there hasn’t been a worthy British rock star since Oscar Wilde.
The disco ball keeps spinning
Giorgio Moroder, one of the disco era’s godfathers, steps back on the dancefloor
Daft Punk owe a considerable debt to Giorgio Moroder, the Italian producer who helped popularize disco in the 1970s. After all, the French duo’s entire aesthetic was built upon looping and polishing ’70s dance music. But Moroder owes his own debt to Daft Punk, too: It was their 2013 album Random Access Memories that was largely responsible for returning him to the spotlight. His contribution, oddly enough, was limited to a curious track, “Giorgio by Moroder”, in which he narrated his autobiography — including his pioneering use of the mechanized, four-to-the-floor beat — over a spangled, Chic-like instrumental.
Moroder had been out of the spotlight for nearly 30 years, but re-entered the scene after floating new remixes f Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby,” Haim’s “Forever” and Coldplay’s “Midnight.” He even hit the road, performing as a DJ for the first time in his life.
Moroder’s second coming became complete this summer when he released Déjà Vu, an album whose title speaks for itself. Even more pointed was the tongue-in-cheek “74 Is the New 24”, whose robo-disco throb proves that, at least in the studio, he certainly hasn’t lost one iota of energy in the past three or four decades. One unexpected collaboration speaks to the way pop music, at its best, is simply timeless. The song? A cover of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” The guest singer on Moroder’s version? Britney Spears, an artist who knows a thing or two about reinventions.
Faith in themselves
These Christian musicians believe in themselves enough to come out of retirement
The departure of Nichole Nordeman nearly a decade ago left a void in CCM — marriage and motherhood had put a distance between her and the stage, but this year’s EP The Unmaking marked her triumphal return.
It’s been five years since we’ve heard from Cindy Morgan, and while she may not have formally retired, the time between studio releases was enough to make fans ask if she’d ever be back, but her new Bows & Arrows answers that question.
Crystal Lewis has been recording since her teens and the now 40-something raised $41,000 online to fund the year’s Crystal Lewis, marking the return of the little girl with the big voice.
It’s not just solo acts that are making a comeback — South African rockers Tree63 took a seven-year hiatus before returning with Land.
Compiled by Chuck Eddy, Jason Gubbels, Justin Farrar, Linda Ryan, Mosi Reeves, Theon Weber, Wendy Lee Nentwig