The Comeback: Artists With Decade-Long Gaps Between Albums

  • Publish Date: April 12, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 22 user comments

It's been such a long time

AlbumThe Feelies have been here before

This week, reunited college-rock legends The Feelies return with Here Before, their first album in 20 years. Next month, The Cars will release Move Like This, the band's first LP since 1987. Can a once-successful band or recording artist remain creatively or commercially vital after such a long layoff? Many have attempted such a feat, with the results ranging from admirable to forgettable to Chinese Democracy.

Below, we survey over 50 artists who have a gap of at least 10 years between studio albums (including several with between-album gaps in excess of 30 years), divided into three groups based on the quality of their comeback albums. Note that we are only including artists whose comeback albums were released since 1999, so older comebacks are not covered here.

Better than ever

For these artists, a decade or more away from the recording studio did nothing to diminish their talents. In fact, these comeback albums represent each artist at their creative peak.

Artist   Comeback Album / Previous Album Gap in Years
Vashti Bunyan Image Lookaftering 85 (2005) 35
Just Another Diamond Day (1970)
It took nearly three decades for the English folk singer's debut Just Another Diamond Day to find an audience; it took even longer than that for her to record a follow-up. But record it she did, joined in the studio by many of the artists she influenced (including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom).
Kate Bush Image Aerial 81 (2005) 12
The Red Shoes (1993)
Bush's long-gestating double-album Aerial managed to live up to the heightened anticipation it generated, appearing on several publications' year-end top ten lists and earning two Brit Award nominations. The singer-songwriter has been back on hiatus since, though an album of reworked older tracks (Director's Cut) is due in May.
Dinosaur Jr. Image Beyond 79 (2007) 10
Hand It Over (1997)
Not only was Beyond the alt-rock band's first album in a decade, it was also the first to feature Dinosaur Jr.'s original lineup -- J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph -- since 1988's Bug, though it sounded closer to the group's more polished later work. Another album followed in 2009.
Roky Erickson Image True Love Cast Out All Evil 82 (2010) 15
All That May Do My Rhyme (1995)
The troubled former leader of psych-rock legends 13th Floor Elevators made a return to performing in 2005 a decade after his last comeback ended. Last year, backed by Okkervil River, Erickson released an LP of new songs to some of the best reviews of his solo career.
Mission of Burma Image ONoffON 84 (2004) 22
Vs. (1982)
If the Boston post-punk band had never added to their brief resume of one EP and one LP, they would always have been remembered fondly for tracks like "That's When I Reach for My Revolver." Fortunately, their unlikely 2004 comeback album did nothing to alter their legendary status.
Portishead Image Third 85 (2008) 11
Portishead (1997)
The trip-hop scene was well past its peak by the time genre torchbearers Portishead got around to recording a third album; wisely, Third found them moving forward rather than rehashing old ground, and the result might be their best album yet.
Steely Dan Image Two Against Nature 77 (2000) 20
Gaucho (1980)
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker dropped out of the music world in the 1980s, but started performing together again in the 1990s and eventually returned to the studio. Their comeback LP, Two Against Nature, was a hit, and earned the pair four Grammys, including Album of the Year. Another album followed in 2003.
Swans Image My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky 83 (2010) 14
Soundtracks for the Blind (1996)
After dissolving Swans, frontman Michael Gira remained busy, founding a record label (Young God) and recording under the name Angels of Light. But his other projects couldn't match the apocalyptic intensity of his best work with Swans, of which My Father... is yet another example.
Scott Walker Image The Drift 85 (2006) 11
Tilt (1995)
The veteran performer has recorded only sporadically as a solo artist over the past three decades; the extremely dark and challenging art-rock of The Drift ranks among his best work.
Wire Image Send 84 (2003) 12
The First Letter (1991)
The influential English post-punk iconoclasts reunited in 1999 after nearly a decade apart, recorded a series of EPs, and then released Send, which contained their strongest and most vital work since at least the mid-1980s. Though down one member, Wire continues touring and recording today; their latest, Red Barked Tree, was released in January.

Respectable returns

Though their comeback albums may not have been classics, the following artists certainly (or, at least, arguably) didn't embarrass themselves by returning to the studio.

Artist   Comeback Album / Previous Album Gap in Years
Alice in Chains Image Black Gives Way to Blue 69 (2009) 14
Alice in Chains (1995)
One of several Seattle grunge bands to reunite in recent years (you can expect a new Soundgarden album later this year), Alice in Chains faced the added challenge of replacing their lead singer, the late Layne Staley. That job fell to William DuVall, and the resulting album was a modest success.
American Music Club Image Love Songs for Patriots 82 (2004) 10
San Francisco (1994)
Some critics felt that the 2004 reunion album for Mark Eitzel and co. neared the heights of the band's best albums (Everclear and Mercury) while surpassing the group's previous final album San Francisco and much of Eitzel's solo work.
The B-52s Image Funplex 64 (2008) 16
Good Stuff (1992)
Better than it had any right to be, the party band's 2008 Steve Osborne-produced comeback -- with vocalist Cindy Wilson back in the fold for the first time since 1989's Cosmic Thing -- was one of the B-52's fastest-selling albums in their 35-year career.
Blondie Image No Exit (1999) 17
The Hunter (1982)
Though critics weren't overwhelmed, No Exit was a minor commercial success and spawned the classic Blondie single "Maria." A subsequent 2003 LP was less successful, but the band will attempt yet another comeback later this year with Panic of Girls.
Camper Van Beethoven Image New Roman Times 68 (2004) 15
Key Lime Pie (1989)
After reuniting in the early 2000's to cover Fleetwood Mac's Tusk in its entirety, the California band returned to the studio to record a politically themed concept album.
Crowded House Image Time on Earth 78 (2007) 14
Together Alone (1993)
Originally intended as a Neil Finn solo album, 2007's Time on Earth -- a #1 hit in Australia -- eventually became a reunion album for Crowded House, who had split eleven years earlier.
Devo Image Something for Everybody 64 (2010) 20
Smooth Noodle Maps (1990)
Something for Everybody doesn't stand up to Devo's classic albums from the 1970s and early '80s, but what saves their comeback album from landing in the failure category is that it actually might be their best work since 1982's Oh, No! It's Devo.
ESG Image Step Off 71 (2002) 11
ESG (1991)
The frequently-sampled (but relatively obscure) No Wave outfit returned with a rare album in 2002, over a decade after their previous comeback.
Peter Gabriel Image Up 74 (2002) 10
Us (1992)
Though Gabriel's sophisticated seventh studio album didn't emerge until 2002 -- a decade after his previous record -- much of it was recorded during the mid-1990s. He has yet to release another album of original songs.
Gang of Four Image Content 72 (2011) 16
Shrinkwrapped (1995)
Having previously released Return the Gift, a somewhat unnecessary collection of reworkings of older songs, in 2005, the reunited post-punk legends issued their first new material in 16 years earlier this year. It's no Entertainment!, but what is.
The Go-Betweens Image The Friends of Rachel Worth 77 (2000) 12
16 Lovers Lane (1988)
The acclaimed Australian indie rockers were introduced to a new generation of fans with their 2000 reunion album, which was recorded with members of Sleater-Kinney. Two additional strong albums followed before the death of co-founder Grant McLennan in 2006.
The Go-Go's Image God Bless The Go-Go's 68 (2001) 17
Talk Show (1984)
Did the world really need another Go-Go's album in 2001? No, but their reunion effort, while mostly forgettable, was also far from embarrassing.
Levon Helm Image Dirt Farmer 80 (2007) 25
Levon Helm (1982)
The former drummer for The Band spent the 25 years between solo albums touring and acting. His 2007 comeback record won a Grammy, and so did his even better 2009 follow-up Electric Dirt.
The House of Love Image Days Run Away 68 (2005) 12
Audience With the Mind (1993)
The English alt-rockers re-formed with their original lineup for the first time since 1989 for Days Run Away, which featured a sound unchanged from the band's earlier works. A long-rumored follow-up has yet to surface.
Jane's Addiction Image Strays 75 (2003) 13
Ritual de lo Habitual (1990)
The on-again, off-again alt-rock band fronted by Perry Farrell re-formed (without bassist Eric Avery) to release just their third studio album in 2003, a well-received set that included "Superhero," best known as the theme song to HBO's Entourage. Another breakup followed, but the group is together again, and new album The Great Escape Artist is due in August.
Kraftwerk Image Tour de France Soundtracks 73 (2003) 17
Electric Café (1986)
Not their best work (and, also, not a soundtrack album) Soundtracks was nevertheless a decent outing for the German electronica pioneers, even if its best song was first released in 1983.
The Lemonheads Image The Lemonheads 70 (2006) 10
Car Button Cloth (1996)
Though Evan Dando was the only original Lemonhead to appear on this "reunion" album, this self-titled LP sounded like the band recorded it in their 1990's heyday -- which proved to be both a good and a bad thing.
New York Dolls Image One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This 75 (2006) 32
Too Much Too Soon (1974)
One of the unlikeliest comebacks on this list, the hugely influential 1970s glam-punk band reformed after a 30-year break, though just two of the original Dolls (David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain) appeared on the surprisingly not bad One Day, joined by several new members and guests ranging from Michael Stipe to Bo Diddley.
Nitzer Ebb Image Industrial Complex (2010) 15
Big Hit (1995)
The industrial band's comeback album slipped under the radar last year (except in their native Germany, where it was a minor hit). While it sounds similar to their 1990s output prior to the inferior Big Hit, it's also not Nitzer Ebb's best work.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark Image History of Modern 64 (2010) 14
Universal (1996)
Another band with a comeback that was appreciated far more in Europe than in the U.S., OMD returned last year with their first album to feature their original lineup since 1986. It's not great, but neither were their 1990s albums, and the new LP gave them a good excuse to tour, where they sound better.
Polvo Image In Prism 79 (2009) 12
Shapes (1997)
The 1990s-era Chapel Hill indie rockers enlisted a new drummer for their recent comeback album, a relatively short but satisfying LP that impressed most critics and fans.
Sade Image Soldier of Love 79 (2010) 10
Lovers Rock (2000)
The English R&B singer and her band took eight years to release their fourth album Lovers Rock, so the decade-long wait for Soldier of Love was not wholly unprecedented. Fans were eager to get their hands on the new LP, giving Sade her first #1 debut in the U.S.
Gil Scott-Heron Image I'm New Here 78 (2010) 16
Spirits (1994)
The poet, hip-hop pioneer, and spoken-word artist's recording career was put on hold in part due to imprisonment on drug charges, but his 2010 comeback (which also spawned a 2011 remix album) was an ambitious creative rebirth, finding him venturing into blues and electronica.
Seefeel Image Seefeel 71 (2011) 15
(CH-VOX) (1996)
After more than a decade spent pursuing other projects (including Scala and Disjecta), the key members of the drone-electronica outfit reunited -- along with several new band members -- for a 2010 EP and this year's self-titled LP, which fits in fairly well with Seefeel's back catalog, even if it isn't as groundbreaking as their early recordings.
Bob Seger Image Face the Promise 66 (2006) 11
It's a Mystery (1995)
At the age of 61, rocker Bob Seger recorded his first album in over a decade after working on it for nearly six years. Fans responded well, and it sold over a million copies in the U.S. Seger is expected to release a follow-up later in 2011.
The Soft Boys Image Nextdoorland 79 (2002) 22
Underwater Moonlight (1980)
After reuniting with his former Soft Boys bandmates in 2001 after decades of performing with The Egyptians and as a solo artist, Robyn Hitchcock stuck around long enough to record a well-regarded -- if a bit dated -- reunion album, but the band split again shortly thereafter.
Cat Stevens Image An Other Cup 65 (2006) 28
Back to Earth (1978)
Although the singer-songwriter disappeared from the pop music scene for several decades, he didn't stop recording. Instead, after converting to Islam, he released a series of religious works under the name Yusuf Islam. Shortening his name to Yusuf, he returned to pop music with the moderately successful An Other Cup, though 2009's Roadsinger was better.
Throbbing Gristle Image Part Two: The Endless Not 71 (2007) 25
Journey Through a Body (1982)
Thirty years after their first album -- and over two decades since their prior studio LP -- the original lineup of the British industrial group reunited to record a new album.
The Vaselines Image Sex with an X 65 (2010) 21
Dum-Dum (1989)
The short-lived Scottish indie-rock band -- once championed by Kurt Cobain -- returned to the studio after a long absence to record their second album, which was released last year on Sub Pop and is comparable enough to their only other LP, Dum-Dum, to be considered a success.
Versus Image On the Ones and Threes 74 (2010) 10
Hurrah (2000)
The New York indie-rockers -- coincidentally, named after the Mission of Burma album of the same name (see above) -- had a comeback of their own last year with this imperfect but solid set.
The Verve Image Forth 71 (2008) 11
Urban Hymns (1997)
While far from their 1997 masterpiece Urban Hymns, The Verve's 2008 reunion album still marks a significant improvement over frontman Richard Ashcroft's recent solo output.

Should have stayed in retirement

Our final group of comeback albums features artists that may have tarnished their legacy by returning with an album that failed to match the quality of their previous output. Also included are comeback albums that completely failed to register with the public. (They had a comeback album?)

Artist   Comeback Album / Previous Album Gap in Years
Bauhaus Image Go Away White 68 (2008) 25
Burning From The Inside (1983)
Though some critics liked it, the goth-rock band's uneven final final album added little to the group's legacy.
Big Star Image In Space 61 (2005) 27
Third/Sister Lovers (1978)
Down to two original members (Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens), Big Star enlisted members of The Posies to join them for this belated fourth album, which paled in comparison to the legacy established by the original group's 1970s albums. Chilton died from a heart attack last year.
The Blake Babies Image God Bless the Blake Babies 66 (2001) 11
Sunburn (1990)
Known for a trio of albums recorded in the late 1980s, the college-rock outfit fronted by Juliana Hatfield briefly reformed a decade ago, sticking together long enough to release one so-so album.
Eagles Image Long Road Out of Eden 60 (2007) 28
The Long Run (1979)
While the band's 1994 live album Hell Freezes Over did contain four new studio tracks, Eden was the Eagles' first new studio album since the 1970s. Though the Grammy-nominated double album was a massive hit and one of the best selling LPs of 2007-08, it lands in this group by virtue of being the band's worst album, lacking imagination, surprises, and great tunes.
Electric Light Orchestra Image Zoom (2001) 15
Balance of Power (1986)
Zoom was by no means a bad album (though the little-noticed disc failed to make an impression on the charts), but calling it an ELO album was misleading; it was a Jeff Lynne solo record in all but name, and sounded closer to his work with the Traveling Wilburys than classic ELO.
Grandmaster Flash Image The Bridge: Concept of a Culture 50 (2009) 11
Flash Is Back (1998)
Perhaps he hasn't gotten the message. The legendary hip hop DJ king seems to attempt a new comeback every decade or so, to diminishing returns. His 2009 effort was a Bridge too far, receiving poor reviews despite the presence of rappers like Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, and Big Daddy Kane.
Guns 'N Roses Image Chinese Democracy 64 (2008) 15
"The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993)
Axl Rose's mythical sixth GnR album (heck, the LP's back story itself has its own Wikipedia entry) went from being the album that would never get released to the album some fans wished were never released. It's not terrible, merely mediocre -- but that's bad enough coming from what was once one of the best hard rock bands on the planet.
Hole Image Nobody's Daughter 57 (2010) 12
Celebrity Skin (1998)
Courtney Love fooled no one with last year's Hole "reunion" album; with Love the only actual member of Hole on board, it was a solo album in disguise. And it wasn't a very good one at that: fans stayed away, making Nobody's Daughter one of the biggest flops of the past year.
Billy Idol Image Devil's Playground 52 (2005) 12
Cyberpunk (1993)
True, Idol didn't exactly go out on a high note to begin with -- Cyberpunk was even more cringeworthy than you'd think it would be -- but Devil's Playground wasn't a whole lot better, and it certainly failed to recapture his 1980s success. At least he didn't embarrass himself further by recording a Christmas album next. (Oh wait; he did.)
KISS Image Sonic Boom 57 (2009) 11
Psycho Circus (1998)
KISS' previous reunion record Psycho Circus wasn't exactly a landmark album to begin with, but it at least featured -- at least in the credits, if not in the studio -- the group's original lineup. Eleven years, later, their next comeback resulted in a Wal-Mart-exclusive album made by just two of the band's original members (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons). Necessary, it wasn't.
The Slits Image Trapped Animal 59 (2009) 28
Return of the Giant Slits (1981)
Returning after a lengthy absence with just two original members still involved, the (mostly) all-girl British punk band didn't win any new fans with their lackluster comeback LP, released a year before the death of lead singer Ari Up.
The Stooges Image The Weirdness 44 (2007) 34
Raw Power (1973)
Quite possibly the most painful comeback album on our list, the 2007 reunion of original Stooges Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, and Scott Asheton (plus Mike Watt as the latest in a long line of Stooges bassists) is a major disappointment at best, and a very, very bad joke at worst.
Suicide Image American Supreme 66 (2002) 10
Why Be Blue (1992)
The influential synth-punk duo -- who peaked in the late 1970s and early '80s -- returned in 2002 with a relatively minor album that divided critics.
Was (Not Was) Image Boo! 75 (2008) 18
Are You Okay? (1990)
The two founders of Was (Not Was) spent their hiatus working as music producers, composers, and journalists before reuniting briefly in 2004 for a tour and in 2008 for an album. While not bad, Boo! was little-noticed by the public, making more of an impression in the U.K. than at home in the States.
The Who Image Endless Wire 64 (2006) 24
It's Hard (1982)
While nothing can tarnish the legacy of The Who -- one of the all-time great rock bands and CSI theme song creators -- the group's only studio LP from the past 30 years (and their only album recorded without bassist John Entwistle) is probably best reserved for die-hard fans only.
Stevie Wonder Image A Time to Love 66 (2005) 10
Conversation Peace (1995)
Far off his album-a-year pace of his 1970's peak, the legendary artist enlisted Prince, Paul McCartney, and India.Arie for his only studio album of the 2000s. Unfortunately, it was about as forgettable as it sounds.

What do you think?

What albums and artists did we miss? What are some of your favorite comeback albums? Which artists listed above made a big mistake by trying to come back? Let us know in the discussion section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (22)

  • Me  

    That should read "most fun".

  • Izzy  

    Amazing , how Axl fan boys or should i say " Girls " come out to protect this layered vocals , layered guitars and retarded sound effect album !!! The only great thing on this album is Bucketheads solos and his not in the band anymore !! Axl and his touring Rodeo Clowns !!!

  • tommy scarcella  

    No Smashing Pumpkins on this list? I guess 7 years (?) isn't too long, but Zeitgeist was a comeback album nonetheless. I personally woulda put it in the "respectable returns" category but I could see the consensus saying otherwise.

  • Joachim Ish  

    What about AC/DC: "Back in Black"? They made the 3rd best-selling album ever, 6 months after their previous singer died. That deserves some credit...

  • Joe  

    I've recently summoned-up the courage to give Chinese Democracy another go; and here's what I've discovered: 1) It's far too long 2) The production is mostly awful - the bootleg demos that were around for years before the release sound better (The Blues/Street of Dreams especially) 3) The songs that are trying to sound like GnR are the worst on the album - 'Axl Solo Project' songs 'If The World','Sorry' & 'Prostitute' fare much better...I've made my own edited version of the album and it clocks-in at 41 minutes.

  • James R.  

    @Joachim 2nd best, actually, and 6 months is just 114 months shy of the 10 year hiatus required to actually be on the list, as stated in the OP. That said, I wouldn't exactly call the majority of the "better than ever" albums to be examples of those artists' finest work. I'd say only "The Drift" qualifies for that achievement.

  • Mike!  

    Yeah....the Weirdness never NEVER HAPPENED.

    Every single one Stooges fan.

  • Josh  

    Nitzer Ebb is not from Germany, they're a UK-based band.

  • Tom  

    The Zombies, 23 years (68 to 91)

  • Sray  

    Your list is quite okay. I do believe that G'n'R deserved the flop category as well as The Verve (which has been put to the 2nd category). But the biggest and only shame is: YOU FORGOT HURRICANE (GAP OF 19 YEARS), THE COMEBACK ALBUM OF GRACE JONES!!!!!!!!!!

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