Comeback albums are one of the things in the music world that hype me up the most. The return of an artist proving they still have a lot to show is always satisfying and intense to observe.
Several comebacks totally blew me away when they happened. I still see them as the best examples of what a good artist return looks and sounds like. Here are six of my top choices and the reasons I believe they are the best.
Artists are people like all of us. Naturally, they go through hardships and struggles in various manifestations. Sometimes that hinders the creative process and puts their careers at a crossroads.
As turbulent as that can be, it often helps artists clear their minds and figure out the direction they want to go (personally and professionally). A lot of creative energy comes as an after-effect, and depending on the situation, it can bring out impressive new music with unexpected twists in all possible senses.
It is always good to see an artist you missed get back to the scene. The new approach, themes, sounds, and inspirations that encapsulate a comeback are as exciting as hearing their music for the first time.
The original motivation to write this post came from the above-mentioned After Laughter and another stunning return that I consider hard to top. Sum-41’s thunderous odd-defying 13 Voices is a record I wanted to review for the longest time but I never found the right words. Adding it as an essential part of my best comeback picks seemed the only way.
Coming back with a bang
With two solid works as a start, I continued the threat of great artist returns and came up with a total of six records that truly impressed me over the years. They not arranged in any particular order, but I believe each one is a supreme display of artistry in its own way.
Sum-41 – 13 Voices
When it comes to comebacks, there is hardly anything more impressive than 13 Voices. The album illustrates the journey of frontman Deryck Whibley coming back from the dead and walking the most painful road to recovery.
I knew something was really bad because my mom was in the hospital, and she lives in Toronto. Nothing really made sense, but I knew something bad had happened from drinking. The doctor explained how years of alcohol abuse had left me facing multiple organ failures. He told me, ‘You’re barely hanging on. We’ll know in the next few days if you’re gonna make it.’Deryck Whibley for Music Radar
Whibley fell into a three-day coma due to excessive drinking leading to multiple organ failures. After waking up, he went through a literal hard reset. Playing the guitar was deleted from his brain as a skill, and even though he wanted to turn to music for help, he had to go back to ground zero.
My whole brain felt like it reset. Even speaking was difficult because my motor skills were so fucked up. I picked up the guitar, I knew where my fingers were supposed to go, but I couldn’t make them do it. It was almost like when I first learned how to play guitar at 13.Deryck Whibley for Music Radar
The last time we saw Sum-41 before 13 Voices was 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder. That was the first indicator that the veteran punk formation is ready to incorporate new sounds and inspirations in their repertoire.
The record featured dark, grotesque motives, heavy rock elements, more aggressive notes, and a grittier overall atmosphere. Mostly vague lyrics, telling fictional stories joined those elements. Even Deryk Whibley was unsure where they came from.
I don’t know where these songs came from. I don’t even remember writing them. The whole record felt like a gift, and I don’t feel like I had anything to do with it.Deryck Whibley for Artist Direct
13 Voices follows a chronological storyline. A Murder Of Crows (You’re All Dead To Me) introduces the disappointment and resentment towards people who left Whibley at a time of need. Goddamn I’m Dead Again and There Will Be Blood show the agony and pain of the excruciating recovery, while Twisted By Design concludes with the realization of acceptance and caution from one’s true nature.
The record expands on the aggression, heavy rock elements, and grotesque atmosphere mixed in with Sum-41’s classic punk spirit. It is one hell of a return further supported by the follow-up record Order In Decline (2019).
Paramore – After Laughter (2017)
I wrote about After Laughter on several occasions. The first time was for my 2017’s Lame Blogger Music Awards, where I classified it as the comeback of the year. Four years later, I still consider that album as one of the most satisfying artist returns in music history.
Paramore’s fifth studio album came four years after the self-titled record. It took time filled with turbulence and internal emotional collapse within the band. That is the main reason that comeback strikes as an unexpectedly powerful claim of ground for the pop-punk sensation.
After Laughter is a major step ahead for another reason. It is a complete departure from the typical pop-punk sound the band made their home ground. A way poppier melodic construction featuring elements of funk, dance, alt-rock, and electronics surrounds each track, creating the perfect atmosphere for the explored topics.
Hayley gets as transparent and honest as never before, allowing us to dive into real-life exhaustion, depression, anxiety, and emotional overwhelming with hard-hitting lyrics and interesting metaphors. The contrasting upbeat, vibrant sound completes the record with impressive coherence and smooth flow from one track to the other.
After Laughter is the most lyrically, thematically, and musically refined work of the band yet. It is a symbol of growth and change in many ways, also hinting about the deep-dive into Hayley’s personal trauma that followed with her solo records Petals For Armor and Flowers For Vases.
This woman is legend already
The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock And Roll
The story of The Pretty Reckless’ frontwoman Taylor Momsen is another one of an incredible comeback after rebirth.
Momsen faced utter devastation and emotional breakdown in the midst of riding the highest wave of success in 2017.
The tragic passing of Chris Cornell cast the first step towards the dark hole Momsen was about to enter. The next and the crushing one was the death of Kato Khandwala – Momsen’s best friend and long time The Pretty Reckless producer.
That was the nail in the coffin for me. I spiraled downward very quickly into this dark hole of depression, and I was a mess. I got to a place where I kind of gave up. I gave up on everything – on life, on music, I was looking at everything and going, ‘What’s the fucking point? Everything I love is dead. What’s the point of anything?’ And eventually, I kind of put myself into my own isolation, which maybe was not the best idea.TAYLOR MOMSEN FOR KERRANG!
The record serves as a strong comeback due to the return of the beloved hard riffs and instrumentals, the unique raspy Momsen vocals, and skeleton-revealing transparency in the lyrics. Death By Rock And Roll is by far the most vulnerable album Momsen wrote.
Another thing that makes it a great comeback is the weight the frontwoman had to push through to get back on the scene. Each song tells the story of death, rebirth, and renewed strength for life. The tracklist honours life in the most beautiful way and encapsulates Momsen’s biggest fears, downfalls, and triumphs.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
Red Hot Chili Peppers have an impressive story containing 38 years of wild experiences and musical evolution. Starting as a group of punk-funk enthusiasts, they eventually grew to one of alt-rock/punk-rock’s greatest acts.
For a band with such an intense journey, having a smashing comeback comes as a given. With Red Hot Chili Peppers, the most vivid example is the seventh studio album Californication.
After the success of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers parted ways with the fundamental member John Frusciante and took in Dave Navarro.
That led to a considerable change in the beloved Chili Peppers energy and sound. A heavier rock influence and distorted consistency contrasted the free-spirited funk/punk music and naturally flowing synergy the band stood out with.
Some great tracks came out from One Hot Minute though
Californication brought back Frusciante and restored the balance in the band. His return changed the sound of the Chili Peppers once again, however, it did it with evolution and progress in the core.
That was the album that displayed a noticeable growth and refinement musically and lyrically. Frusciante pushed the group towards more melodic and mellow progressive alt-rock while keeping the funk-punk spirit intact.
Lyrically, Californication contains various themes, including sexual innuendos, death, suicide, self-reflection, contemplation, drugs, globalization, and, in the heart of it all, California.
The 1999 record established Red Hot Chili Peppers as fundamental players in the contemporary music scene – a status they bravely keep defending.
The Offspring – Let The Bad Times Roll
The Offspring are one of the main reasons for the explosive success of punk-rock in the 90s. They still stand as a symbol of a whole movement in music history.
The reasons for the delay are numerous including, label issues, internal conflicts, and personal complications. However, the comeback is a fact, and it brings back the best of the punk-rock legends.
Let The Bad Times Roll has material written over the past nine years, but somehow it remains impressively cohesive and smooth-flowing. The record is fast, dark, and deceptively energetic. Powerful riffs and energy explosions surround each track, but the lyrics unveil a darker scene touching on modern-day issues, internal struggles, and emotional strain.
The return of the band took forever, but the wait was worth it. The beloved style and sound of The Offspring are intact, but new influences and energies are well-mixed in to deliver a stunning explosion of socio-political turbulence.
J Cole – The Off-Season
A lot of hype generated around J Cole in the past few years. As one of the most influential and respected figures in hip-hop, the artist created waves of turmoil by announcing his plans to retire after “checking off a few more goals”.
That short movie builds up the anticipation for The Off-Season incredibly well
The Off-Season hits differently than anything Cole did before. Knowing it is one of his last pieces of works is one reason. Watching the short documentary Applying Pressure also reveals that Cole had to push through a thick wall blocking his creativity and inspiration.
That makes the album incredibly empowering as it is one of his best works yet, despite the struggles that preceded the recording. It is a powerful reminder to keep pushing and never give up on your passion no matter how hard the situation gets.
The Off-Season features a range of guests, which is not typical for an artist like Cole. Each collaborator brings in their unique style and delivery complementing Cole’s parts well. A range of vocal delivery, beat construction, and themes appear in the record.
A big part of it deals with intense self-reflection and emotional, thought-provoking lines. However, J Cole does not forget his status and mercilessly claims respect in several badass tracks.
The record is diverse and truly enjoyable from start to end. A strong comeback by one of the greatest in the game.
Fort Minor – Welcome
Mike Shinoda’s side project Fort Minor took over the rap world in 2004-2006. The multi-instrumentalist and songwriter united a collective of rising hip-hop acts and DJs back in the early 2000s to produced a rap album with impressive depth, diversity, and replay value.
Fort Minor rode the huge wave of hunger for “underground” rap music with lyrical depth, powerful messages, sublime storytelling, mockery of modern hip-hop degradation, and playful wordplay.
Still relevant fifteen years later
As a side project to a fundamental part of one of rock music’s biggest bands, Fort Minor was never there to stay for a long time. However, the wonders it did to hip-hop opened an unsatisfiable desire for more. Sadly, after the promotion of the debut album The Rising Tide, a hiatus with indefinite length commenced.
What happened in 2015 was an on-point comeback. Fort Minor returned with the single Welcome – a powerful track about outcasts and not fitting in referencing Shinoda’s experience with hip-hop and music in general.
It is a conceptual piece with coordinated elements from lyrics, beats, and artwork to video location and different scenes. The themes resonated with the growing distance between people and singling out the “different”. That made it a necessary comeback not only as a Fort Minor return but as a way to direct attention in the right places.
What are your favourite comeback albums? Which artists get your adrenaline levels skyrocket when you see an announcement after a big gap in new music?
There are plenty of comebacks to look forwards that are sure to bring out the best of contemporary music. I can’t wait to experience it!
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