8 Comeback Albums That Are Surprisingly Good

We all love a comeback, in theory. The idea of one of our favorite musical acts returning after a long hiatus or detour into mediocrity fills us with glee, but so many would-be comeback albums are tepid in execution, simply because things change. It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice, but some musicians manage just that, using comeback albums to recapture their former glory, against all odds. These eight comeback albums are among that rare breed that live up to the hype.

1. The Endless River by Pink Floyd

The most recent and almost certainly last Pink Floyd album, released in 2014, was partially a tribute to the band’s deceased keyboardist Richard Wright, using 20 hours of material recorded but never released as part of the sessions for the band’s previous album The Division Bell, released 20 long years before The Endless River. This album could be considered the band’s second comeback album, after 1987’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Like that album, The Endless River was made without the participation of former band leader and chief lyricist Roger Waters. Unlike that album, The Endless River is actually good, mostly because it puts emphasis on Gilmour’s spacey soundscapes and lovely guitar and keyboard solos rather than groan-worthy lyrics.

2. American Recordings by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash never really let up when it came to his steady release of new albums, but the ’80s and early ’90s saw the iconic Man in Black fading from public awareness because of a string of mostly-uninspired studio efforts and record company politics. In 1994, however, Cash regained the attention of his old listeners and a new generation of fans intrigued by his world-weary vocals and the crisp production style of producer Rick Rubin. American Recordings puts the emphasis squarely on Cash, who spends most of the album singing original and cover tunes with only an acoustic guitar to accompany his iconic voice.

3. The Magic Whip by Blur

Rather than rushing into a new studio album, the members of ’90s alt-rock band Blur spent some time touring together again before putting together their first album since 2003’s Think Tank. In their hey day, they were labeled as Britpop, despite their increasing interest in new-fangled production tricks and incorporating disparate genres into their alt-pop efforts. The Magic Whip, released earlier this year, again demonstrates that the people behind Blur, including frontman Damon Albarn, also of Gorillaz, have more on their mind than simple melodies that are easy to sing along with. Their dynamic is mostly unchanged, but each band member brings new ideas to the table to create a collection of songs that stay true to their earlier output while still covering new ground.

4. mbv by My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine almost single-handedly invented their own subgenre with their pioneering 1991 shoegaze album Loveless. That would be their last full-length effort for 22 years, until 2013, when they released their new sorta-self-titled LP without much fanfare. After such an inexplicably long absence, the band doesn’t have to do much in order to satisfy their fans. mbv more or less retains the same sound and ambiance that made Loveless an indie favorite, cloaking their lovely melodies in a wash of guitar distortion that only adds to the magnetic mysteriousness of the songs. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a damn good album all the same.

5. The Next Day by David Bowie

David Bowie worked hard to keep the recording of The Next Day, his first new album in 10 years, a secret. The stellar return album from the enigmatic singer-songwriter bears an album cover that pokes fun at the idea of a comeback, inserting a large blank square over the cover of one of his most beloved albums of yesteryear. Luckily, Bowie isn’t actually ruining or repurposing his iconic albums of the ’70s and ’80s with The Next Day, but he isn’t trying to emulate them either. Without his pansexual public image or iconic characters to fall back on, the Thin White Duke simply created an album of great songs and nothing more. It might sound like a letdown from such a major figure in music, but when the songs are this good, there’s nothing to be let down about.

6. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

After an eight-year hiatus, the French electronic duo that essentially spawned the EDM renaissance returns with an album recorded live in-studio, stripping back the bass-heavy production tricks of their previous albums as if they’re trying to kill the Frankenstein monster they created. Regardless of that context, Random Access Memories is an album filled with creatively danceable panache, using jazz and funk to breathe life into the disco-centric sound that characterizes the band and their imitators. Even when abandoning the production style that characterized their earlier albums, Daft Punk retain the core elements of their songwriting with brilliant results.

7. I’m New Here by Gil Scott-Heron

Most of Gil Scott-Heron’s music is inseparable from the 1970s, when it was created and released. His bluesy, fearlessly political brand of R&B allowed for such righteous yet contemplative classics as Pieces of a Man. In 2010, before his death a year later, Scott-Heron proved conclusively that his powerful voice can resonate regardless of the decade with his first album in 16 years, I’m New Here. Labeled as a post-industrial blues album, this collection of songs blend spoken word poetry and full-fledged songs to reflect the current times, depressingly similar to the ’70s that spawned his best material, and his own life and experiences to create one last album, a statement for the ages, as personal as it is political.

8. Time Out of Mind by Bob Dylan

Like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan’s output has never really slowed for any significant period of time, but his ’80s material is easily overlooked, bogged down as it is in born-again Christianity and general lack of inspiration. A new creative renaissance for the acclaimed songwriter began with his 1997 LP Time Out of Mind, which paired an industrial production style with a lyrical hopelessness well-suited to his thrashed vocal chords. Using such a distinct sound and point-of-view, Dylan makes brilliant use of his advanced age and knowledge of American music.

Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf

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