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Tuesday, December 23, 2003  
You Can Never Go Back

Frodo is so scarred by his adventures at the end of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy that he can no longer live in The Shire, and finds himself heading for the West in the company of elves. After you've been away, discovered something of yourself, been through the mill, you can never go back. No one can ever go back.

There's a lesson to be learnt here for musicians as well as questing hobbits. U2 decided to return to the sound of their youth and The Joshua Tree with All That You Can't Leave Behind, and it was rubbish, a blight on their memory that only those blinded by faith in the band's genius could not see for the folly it is.

REM experienced the exact same phenomenon with Reveal, which was meant to retread the melodic pastures of their late 80s, early 90s peak. It didn't.

Orbital tried to find the dancefloor again with The Altogether. They failed.

Plaid tried to regain something of their Black Dog days with Spokes, and ended up producing the weakest LP of their career.

How many times do you hear tell of a band "harking back to the sound of their earliest material" or "recovering the raw edge of their early days"? And how many times do bands actually manage to achieve this? I suspect this will always be a trend, as people stop to take stock of where they are and realise that they're not sure who they are anymore, and feel the disconcerting twinge of panic in their necks. So they clamber backwards over the rocks they spent so long trying to pass in the first place, back in those heady, youthful days of discovery and joy.

And so, lapsed fan that I may be anyway, I don't hold out much hope for Embrace's return next year. A return to the muscular, confident sound they emerged with? Possibly. But probably not.

12/23/2003 09:39:00 pm


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Nick Southall is Contributing Editor at Stylus Magazine and occasionally writes for various other places on and offline. You can contact him by emailing auspiciousfishNO@SPAMgmail.com

All material © Nick Southall, 2003/2004/2005