Originally published in Edition One (2023).
For artists, there is nothing more inspiring or potentially fatal than a comeback. Audiences hate witnessing the crash and burn of beloved artists; yet, in spite of reservations, the chance to hear the old and new sounds of a favourite band is a dream fans hold close to heart. But, while the effort to revive old tunes is colossal, a musical rebirth doesn’t just exist as a reunion tour after a decade’s silence, even if that is how we’ve come to know the comeback .
The perception of a musical rebirth as a return to a ‘classic sound’ is far too simplistic. It seems—even during an artist’s career—audiences tend to confuse constancy with continuity. What listeners truly desire is to hear continuity across a discography, thus listening to the same artist at different points in their lives. Constancy undermines that growth and leaves us music that is bored of itself. Not every artist should feel the need to reinvent the wheel, but if the comeback is viewed as another ‘next step’ rather than a return, then maybe it would be easier for audiences to celebrate the beloved artists who re-enter our lives.
For Farrago, here is Radio Fodder’s list of notable artists who have hit reinvention-era gold.
- The Wiggles: Their popularity has grown with fans who now flock to concerts and adults-only shows as though they are five years old again.
- Shania Twain: While fans adored Twain’s impressive strides into mesh pop, rock and glam, rock and pop critiques have regularly disavowed her style. She is unique for the sole reason why she didn’t change—we did.
1. Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins (2019)
The explosive joy from fans following the release of the brothers’ 2019 reunion album Happiness Begins was unmistakable, not to mention the surprise approach to their reunion with commercial pop. After their 2013 break-up, Nick and Joe appeared to signal some semblance of adulthood in the pop–R&B–soul scene, but songs on Happiness Begins, namely ‘Sucker,’ re-present the classic Jonas Brothers set-up of drum-bass-guitar from their old albums and passionately display their artistic growth with self-aware lyrics and a 2019 staple of stripped back beats to create headbanging momentum. It’s a full circle reunion that finds new joy in a genre they once left behind.
2. Beyoncé’s Lemonade (2019)
Beyoncé’s Lemonade opens in the middle of the realisation of her husband’s (rapper Jay-Z) infidelity and breaks the once-cardinal rules of albums inspired by the vortex of family drama. Instead of hiding her outrage, Beyoncé turns the album into a cinematic testimonial that borrows from the lyrical styles of indie rock, in order to frame her emotional turmoil as a captivating narrative. Though she would return to traditional hit-making on Renaissance (2022), the audacity of sampling Led Zeppelin into the country strumming ‘Daddy Lessons’ and even doing away with her perfectionist control of ‘realness’—as she puts it in ‘All Night’: “nothing can be real”—makes Lemonade her own version of a reinvention era.
3. Alanis Morissette’s The Storm Before the Calm (2022)
Almost three decades since Alanis Morissette’s ‘90s post-grunge record, Jagged-little Pill, the Canadian singer proves she knows how to toe the lyrical line between raw and thoughtful. While Morissette has always been known for her poignant lyricism, she decides to take a step back on her tenth studio album The Storm Before The Calm to rely on instrumental-heavy tracks. The lyrics that do appear on songs like ‘purification- the alchemical crunch’ are golden touch stones that hone in on the singer’s meditation of stillness. The soft blend of haunting vocals, sparse piano chords and electronic strings is claustrophobic yet achieves a serenity that Morissette yearns for coming out of COVID.
4. Miley Cyrus’s ‘Slide Away’ (2019)
Since 2013, Miley Cyrus has dedicated herself to the freedom of hip-hop to better express herself. The Nashville protégé’s 2019 single – which follows her 2013 Bangerz album – is a resigned yet yearning track that signals the end of her decade-long search for self-hood. ‘Slide Away’ is out of this era, taking after the slower songs by ‘90s British rock artists. The single blends hip-hop drums, forlorn strings and a buttery smooth guitar into a piece that deals with the singer’s hurt from her break up with Liam Hemsworth. It is raw, authentic and voids the notion of tabloid fodder.
5. Travis Barker’s ‘I Think I’m OKAY’, featuring Yungblud (2019)
This is perhaps the most unique slot on this list. In the two decades since their break-up, the former Blink-182 drummer has since managed to cement himself as one of the most influential musicians in the rock scene. Instead of releasing a typical solo comeback, Barker sought to reinvent himself as a producer and artist by putting his talent behind tracks like ‘I Think I’m OKAY’ with Yungblud and ‘Thought It was’ with Machine Gun Kelly. It’s becoming clear that Barker is the key reason Blink-182’s songs have continued to remain staples of the rock genre long after their dissipation.
6. Taylor Swift’s Folklore (2020)
It’s official, Taylor is the new comeback queen—sorry Cher. Fans are likely to name 2013’s Red as the Taylor Swift comeback album, seeing as it served as her redesigned break into the pop market. Her innovation era, we argue, would be her recent Folklore album. A surprise alternative-folk album, heavily driven by narrative, that came from her using her own lyrics to look inward. The musical and lyrical threads across each song tell a stunning, meditative story that we had yet to see from Swift prior to its release. Most surprisingly, Swift’s chance at self-introspection later inspired her own retrospection at her past albums, which prompted her to re-record them. Swift has very clearly done the homework on herself and is bringing with her an era that reconnects with the innovation behind all her albums.
7. David Bowie’s The Next Day (2013)
After the release of Bowie’s Reality album in 2003, many fans assumed the veteran artist had unofficially declared retirement. It was an unexpected surprise then that in 2013 they put out The Next Day, an album they had created in near total secrecy. The record itself would qualify as a typical comeback if it weren’t so different from his back catalogue. Unlike the majority of their discography, TND is stripped of unsettling eeriness; they knew how much they’d been missed and instead cultivated a collection of songs that radiates warmth. What Bowie channels becomes a passionate ode to ‘70s melancholy, interpolated with references to their 50-year career.
8. Lily Allen’s No Shame (2018)
No Shame is Lily Allen’s fourth studio album overall and first post-divorce. Her 2013 album, Sheezus, teetered on the edge between cutting points on gender and irony, however unfortunately had little to say. In No Shame, the blunt hold-the-bubble-gum singer brings forth a wonderful layer of nuance by deciding to lend an honest focus on her own embarrassments rather than the ones she sees around her. It’s quite unlike divorce albums in that way, as Allen chose to write about her own setbacks. The level of brash bluntness is there—still intrinsically Lily Allen in style—but now with the evolution into starkness.
9. Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018)
Although the Arctic Monkeys have grown since their first handful of New York shows, they are never too far away from their hair flipping, teen energy despite having been around for over two decades. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is a conceptual record inspired by sci-fi films and literature, likely drawn from lead singer Alex Turner’s passion for reading, which he first discovered during his first bouts of touring and writing. It’s a totally unique transformation from 2013’s AM in concept and narrative, as after five years of silence the band gave themselves the chance to show off their true colours as a harmonious collective.
10. Childish Gambino’s Awaken My Love (2016)
From the wistful stylings of Because The Internet and Kauai, Childish Gambino introduces a soulful reinvention in their follow-up project, Awaken My Love. The album is an ostentatious throwback to ‘70s R&B, but not without its fallbacks. Songs like ‘Have Some Love’ and ‘Stand Tall’ are forward in their R&B inspirations, however with the added flair of cartoonish accents—which largely arrive in the form of zany cackles, vintage clavinet and greasy guitar slides—Gambino delivers a clear message of self-awareness regarding his own experiences of these references outside of his era. The result is a carefully curated dance album rife with nostalgia, that somehow meshes humour, sensuality and outlandish futurism.