Rock band reunions, eh? Tricky blighters. It’s a subtle, elusive ingredient which separates a blatantly cash-grabbing, lacklustre reformation from a genuinely creative, energised, let’s-play-this-shit-like-it-was-supposed-to-sound-the-first-time enterprise. But everyone’s at it. In the last fifteen years they’ve all been falling to the temptation like… tempted fally things. Ride, The Stone Roses, The Police, Pixies, Guns N’ Roses (sort of)… and, of course, the hands-down winners of the land-speed reunion world record, LCD Soundsystem, who announced comeback shows approximately 48 hours after the last flightcase was hauled out of Madison Square Garden. There’s only one thing wrong with bands getting back together, and it’s bands announcing they’re splitting up, with much fanfare, in the first place.
All this casts fascinating light on the few major pop acts who’ve never been overwhelmed by the desire to jump back onto the rock’n’roll roundabout. Why are they resisting the enormous big fat cheques (surely) being waved at them almost perpetually by the world’s promoters? And who is the least likely to ever budge from their zero-tolerance standpoint? Let’s not forget, The Stone Roses’ John Squire even went as far as a Newsnight appearance to insist he would “absolutely most definitely not” rejoin the band; two years later there was a photo of him with his arm round Ian Brown, wearing a grin which said nothing as much “mortgage sorted”. So, here I present the top five bands who’ve never reformed (but who still could), in my own personal reverse order of unlikeliness.
On the face of it, this one is a total no-brainer. George Michael’s solo career not exactly troubling the world’s stadiums much these days, he calls up his old chum, they lose a bit of weight, grab a few session musos, rehearse all nine hundred number ones they had between 1982 and 1986 with some funky dancers and ultra-kitsch stage decor, book one enormo-tour with stockbroker-friendly ticket prices… and mop up the cash. There is one problem with this otherwise seamless plan, and his name is Andrew Ridgeley. I’m not talking about his absence of youthful hair or even his ever-questionable musical abilities (neither of those things having stopped Right Said Fred, after all), more that he enjoys a happily retired existence in Cornwall where he surfs, goes to the pub, lives in a manor house and occasionally gives the fit one from Bananarama a seeing to. Who in their right minds would want to leave all that for a bloody rock tour, of all things?
4. THE SMITHS
“Only number four?” I hear you cry. And yes: 10 years ago The Smiths would have been number one with a meat-free bullet, the famous court battle with drummer Mike Joyce and Morrissey’s basic stubbornness (not to mention Johnny Marr’s hectic solo and collaboration schedule) putting well and truly paid to any slight glimmer of hope for Smiths fans the cosmos over. But lately… I dunno. Something about Morrissey’s sheer bloody-mindedness in recent years makes me think he might suddenly do it, just to be controversial. It is without a doubt the very last thing people would expect of him, and his canyon-wide perverse streak might relish that. In fact, that’s a challenge. Do it, Mozzer. I dare you.
3. TALKING HEADS
Awkward one, Talking Heads. Superficially, they firmly dwell in the same “three members might, one definitely wouldn’t” town as The Smiths, David Byrne having repeatedly muttered things like “I don’t need the money badly enough” and “Musically, we’re miles apart”. As you can imagine, this hasn’t gone down massively well with the other Heads, with good ol’ spiky Tina Weymouth describing her silver-haired former-frontman as “a man incapable of returning friendship”. Miaow! But as I’m sure he will be thrilled to know, I’ve thought of a way for the relentlessly forward-thinking, art-obsessed Byrne to lift the band out of the stalemate: do the whole thing as an elaborate piece of performance art. If PJ Harvey can do it with the recording of an album, why can’t Talking Heads do it with a whole comeback tour? Hold initial meetings with agents in a glass box or even a theatre with a one-way mirror, and sell tickets to it. Display planning emails with promoters and tour managers on giant public-access messageboards. Record phone conversations about merchandise and rider requests and put them on Soundcloud. Hold rehearsals with invited audiences, have a webcam in the tour bus and the dressing rooms… open up the whole damn thing for the world to see, and then ask art critics to write huge arty tomes on the subject. Harrison, Weymouth and Frantz could finally bank that whopping cheque, and Byrne could relax in the knowledge that he’s maintaining his fiercely guarded originality. Huh, Dave? Like the idea? Do you? …. please?
The craving for ABBA getting back together is so intense that it only takes the four of them humming a few bars of one of their album tracks in a restaurant somewhere for the world’s media to utterly cream themselves at the imminent possibility of a giant arena tour. Which is laughable really, not only for the desperate unlikelihood of it, but mainly because they were never much good at playing arenas in the first place. Even Björn himself cited one of the main reasons for not reforming as “all the stress of disappointing people night after night”. So, it’ll never happen. And yet: I can’t help thinking that it could happen, if only the four of them would stop thinking of it as this… big thing, if you’ll forgive the technical language. It really doesn’t have to be night after night in the world’s stadia, with all the huge arrangements, silly costumes, massive stage sets, super, indeed, troupers that would entail. What about a few stripped-down evenings at the Royal Festival Hall, Sydney Opera House, some posh theatre in Stockholm, the Carnegie in New York – that kind of thing? Jools-Holland style? (Without Jools Holland, of course.) Call it something low-key like A Low-Key Stripped-Down Evening With ABBA And Some Music And Stuff. Yes, it would sell out in half a nanosecond, but maybe they could film it, stream it live, have a laugh, be a bit more lighthearted about it. And it doesn’t have to be all full-tempo Gimme Gimme Gimme/Voulez-Vous disco o’clock. Play some introspective tracks, some ballads, perhaps some B-sides. Okay, maybe not the B-sides. But wouldn’t that just be awesome? Come on Agnetha, you know you want to…
1. THE JAM
Having remained resolute for many years, Sting apparently woke up one morning and – apropos very little at all – thought to himself, “Gotta call the boys.” Out of nowhere The Police’s globe-swaddling and small-country’s-GDP-earning 2007 reunion tour was born. The same moment of clarity could, in theory, happen to Paul Weller. The two men have similarities: massive post-punk career, massive slightly-jazzy solo career, slightly over-earnest interview manner, annoyingly youthful appearance. Where they differ is the passion with which they’ve denied any impulse to reform. The most vehement Sting ever seemed to get on the topic was to say, “if I ever reform The Police, I should be certified insane,” before adjusting his tantric yoga position and knocking back his fizzing glass of vintage champagne. Paul Weller, on the other hand, was asked the big “R” question during a recent Jam documentary. “Absolutely, categorically, fucking no,” he barked, with a look on his face like a Woking mugger about to pinch your iPhone. I’d say that was fairly conclusive. Other two blokes in The Jam: I’m sorry.