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The day before yesterday, I listened to the new Judas Priest album, Angel of Retribution. As far as reunion albums go, it’s okay. It’s clearly a Priest album, but it doesn’t break new ground and it pales in comparison to their output between Hell Bent for Leather and Defenders of the Faith (to be sure, I stopped in the middle for a classic Priest break, making sure that I wasn’t just jaded by time). Occasionally, it offers a reminder of their heyday, but most often it just seems like a nod to the past by guys too tired to relive it, let alone take a step forward.

After listening to it, it had me thinking about other reunions and how they fared. Some have been fairly good, others dismal and others, Like the Priest reunion I just listened to, fair. But none, not a single one that I can think of, have been really important. I really liked Jane’s Addiction’s Strays album. It was solid. It was worth doing. But it didn’t stand alone. It was good enough that it might have generated interest in Nothing’s Shocking with a younger generation. Deep Purple’s Perfect Strangers was good enough that it got me interested, at 13, in the real Deep Purple albums. But it wouldn’t stand up if it hadn’t been built on a foundation that included Fireball, In Rock and Machine Head. Other things, like the Sex Pistols reunion, are so bad that they call the original body of work into question. How legitimate were the Pistols if they pull that Filthy Lucre thing? I guess renting a barge and playing “God Save the Queen” for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee speaks for itself, but I wouldn’t even question it without that Filthy Lucre nonsense.

The closest thing to greatness in a reunion that I’ve witnessed was last summer’s MC5 tour. The songs were still relevent and the three original members were hungry to play and to rock again, but maybe the biggest factor was that there were three new guys in the band and they were so well-chosen that it was the new MC5. Old songs, new energy. Still, the bottom line is that it wouldn’t stand up without the foundation.

Maybe this isn’t even related to reunions, but more broadly to bands continuing on beyond their days of artistic vitality. Everything I said about the reunions could be just as easily applied to the Stones. Maybe it could even be applied to (gasp) the Ramones. Did anything really matter after End of the Century?

Some artists can continuously reinvent themselves like Bowie and U2 and that keeps them from becoming stale (even when the experiment doesn’t work), but a lot of times, it doesn’t work that way. Bands either stick to the same outdated sound or they try to superimpose themselves into something new and take the process out of change.

This leads me to the real question: Are they wrong because they don’t know when to stop playing or are we wrong because we don’t when to stop buying?

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

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