Everybody loves ’em. Josh Hamilton goes from phenom to crackhead to Home Run Derby winner in front of a packed and screaming Yankee Stadium and a global TV audience . Mickey Rourke goes from great actor to…something, and back to the actor that just might have turned in the performance of his life in The Wrestler. The 2004 Red Sox, down 3 games to none to the Yankees in the AL Championship series, get off the mat and sweep them on their way to their first World Series in 86 years and the start of their recent dynasty. Yeah, Flannery O’Connor was right: whatever rises must converge. (Huh?)
They don’t call me Captain Segue for nothing. Let’s talk about some musical comebacks in 2008.
Elvis Costello: OK, you say he hasn’t really been anywhere. I counter and say he’s been all over the place, dabbling in blues, jazz, country and with whatever and whomever would have him. (You know, like that other Elvis guy who made all those movies?) But more importantly, every time he puts out a record I’m being told that it’s the one early Elvis fans – that’s me! – will see as the return to form. Except they’re not. To be fair, expectations are high for one of the best of his generation, and albums like The Delivery Man and When I Was Cruel have several solid moments. But with Momofuku(look it up, I did) he sounds like he’s really having fun for the first time in years (apparently sleeping with Diana Krall isn’t enough to make him happy). His songs have always boasted lyrics to die for, but these are also approachable enough to tempt new fans to take a plunge.
Rick Springfield: Noah Drake lives! This Dr. Bristol look-alike (back in the day) has been making records fairly steadily through the years but he hasn’t been chart fodder in the States in a very long time. Most fans assume he stopped in the late 80s with Rock Of Life, but after a ten year break he has put out decent but ultimately underwhelming albums like Karma and The Day After Yesterday. Then he drops Venus in Overdrive on us in 2008, and it’s like a lost album from the prime years. He’ll probably never eclipse the 1-2 punch of Working Class Dog and Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, but who would have thought he could rekindle the flames and sound so rejuvenated?
Paul Collins: Like Mr. Costello, many thought his best work was long behind him and the sheer exuberance of his early albums was something he was no longer capable of nor interested in. And while true fans know that The Nerves and The Beat were two of the most important powerpop bands bands in history, neither made the commercial splash that Springfield or Costello did at their peak. After getting sidetracked first by the same-named UK ska band, then watching The Knack take their thunder, Collins and company all but disappeared from the populist radar. He recorded a more adult-sounding album with yet another version of Paul Collins’ Beat, followed by a couple of countryish solo efforts. Revered in Spain and other overseas markets, he wasn’t starving. But somehow he took a deep breath and gave us Ribbon of Gold, an album that is close enough to classic Beat without sounding too retro. There’s half a dozen great tracks here and “Falling In Love With Her” is roll-down-your-windows, quit-you-job pop nirvana.
Glen Campbell: Talk about being blindsided! A career so far removed frpm present day that the tounge-in-cheek title Meet Glen Campbell will probably sail over many heads. It’s a covers album; you might say “so what – James Taylor did one this year too!”…but did Sweet Baby James cover The Replacements, and Green Day? When Rod The Mod covered rock tunes from the 90s (When We Were The New Boys) and 70s (Still The Same) it was nice but not unexpected. This ia a career leap. I don’t know if this album will bring Campbell to the attention of a new generation (like Johnny Cash’s “Rick Rubin quartet”), but it’s a solid album that doesn’t have to apologize to anyone for anything. And if it gets young listeners to realize the amazing journey that is Glen Campbell’s career, that’s a bonus.
Any Trouble: Never a first-tier band, they were too smooth for skinny tie pop and too quirkly for commercial radio. Ther loss, because Clive Gregson’s songwriting chops are first rate. “Girls Are Always Right”, “Trouble With Love”, the brilliant “Open Fire”…the list goes on. Making even Abba covers sound great, the band issued one smart record after another until commercial apathy drove them to split up two decades ago. Gregson next forged a nice career teamed with Christine Collister, and both were eventually drafted into Richard Thompson’s band in a low-key Buckingham/Nicks maneuver. Life In Reverse came out of nowhere in 2007; so obscurely promoted that it took this fan over a year to know about it. Original producer (John Wood), original label (Stiff Records) and original sound add up to a record fans must get and others must at least listen to.
And that’s just five artists off the top of my head; I have others. I’m sure you have yours. I’m equally sure at least one person will try to convince me that Brian Wilson reallycame back this year. Just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before, and…hey, get in line behind the McCartney fan pitching the same story, willya?
(I thought about loading a track clip for each, but come on…go to the artist site or MySpace or Amazon or wherever and take at least a quick spin through the album. Maybe if I get inspired I’ll at least insert the links for you, but I don’t know you well,anonymous reader, and how hard do you want a guy to work on a Friday night?)