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The 8 Ball 02.22.14: Top 8 Comeback Albums
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 02.22.2014

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 Comeback Albums

Welcome to the 411 Music 8 Ball, folks! There is absolutely nothing topical about this list, but it still makes for a good topic. Every year there are artists that try to make comebacks and while some succeed, others fall drastically short. The art of a comeback album is a tricky thing, because the only reason that you need to come back is because you lost your audience or inspiration in the first place. Still, no small number of artists has made an album that roared them back into the basking sunlight of critical and commercial love. This week I thought we could look at the best comeback albums out there.

Caveat: For this list, the criteria is simple: the album had to be one that brought someone back into the public eye in a positive way and re-established their greatness and (in retrospect) legacy after a down period in their career. Generally these down periods are due to a loss of respect among music listeners whether because of personal or professional failures, but sometimes it is simply due to falling off the radar. For ranking purposes I am looking at overall album quality and positive impact on the artist's or acts' career.

Just Missing The Cut

Aerosmith - Permanent Vacation (1987)
Neil Young - Freedom (1989)
Santana - Supernatural (1999)
Red Hot Chili Peppers Californication (1999)
Paul Simon - Graceland (1986)

#8: Mariah Carey - The Emancipation of Mimi (2005)

A lot of people scoff at Mariah Carey because she's a pop artist who has a serious diva attitude going on, but they forget that she launched herself to stardom by virtue of one of the most powerful voices in music. Her self-titled debut album, powered by singles like "Vision of Love" and "Love Takes Time," made her an instant household name worldwide. But in the early 2000s her career took a nose dive from which most people thought she'd never recover. A lot of that can be attributed to Glitter, the movie that was so bad it made Columbia buy out her contract in order to get away from the derision she had earned. But along with that was a widely-publicized physical and emotional breakdown and her first attempt to come back, 2002's Charmbracelet, was pretty much dead in the water. It wasn't until she dug deep into her emotional well that she found her comeback with The Emancipation of Mimi. Mariah gets personal here, using her personal nickname in the title and touching on the personal and professional setbacks that had plagued her. This was the album where she threw off the yoke of label interference and displayed a new level of personal and creative independence, and the public accepted her back. She has never quite topped this one, but it was one of the most impressive pop comebacks of the twenty-first century to date.

#7: U2 - All You Can't Leave Behind (2004)

U2 is a band that has, in truth, had many comebacks in their career. The Irish rock band has a habit of creating a huge, expansive record that is a critical and commercial juggernaut, followed by Bono getting a wild hair up his ass that sends them way out into left field. Then, when things have gone far downhill and appear to be at their lowest the group goes back to their roots and delivers another standout LP. I think the post-Achtung Baby era was the best example of this. The band was at a commercial peak and had not lost much if any of their critical appeal. And then they decided that it was time to experiment with electronica and dance music. While I have nothing against EDM (as past columns have proven), U2 didn't do it well on Zooropa or Pop. The albums were rushed and audiences came back successively less with each of them; critics were mixed at best in regard to both albums. And then, just like that, they were back with All That You Can't Leave Behind in 2002. It was as if the previous seven years had never happened and hits like "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," "Elevation" and (of course) "Beautiful Day" showed that the group still had it in them to deliver rock anthems. The two albums that have followed have had diminishing returns, which bode well for their upcoming LP, but All You Can't Leave Behind was an unstoppable album that delivered on every level to boot.

#6: Tina Turner - Private Dancer (1984)

All hail to the queen of pop comebacks. Tina Turner was part of one of the biggest groups of the 1960s with her then-husband Ike Turner, but of course we all know how that went. The duo declined in the mid-1970s as Ike's cocaine habit and alcoholism got the best of him, which frankly pales to the abuse he was putting Tina through. The group missed concerts and the public turned on them. Finally, Tina walked out on Ike with thirty-six cents, a Mobil gas station credit card and nothing else, filing for divorce soon after. It was a great moment for Turner on a personal level, though on a professional level it left her deeply in debt as she was financially liable for the concerts she missed. Her first few attempts at solo albums fell on deaf ears; audiences had moved on and she left United Artists and EMI. It wasn't until she picked up Roger Davies as her manager that things began to turn around with a more rock-oriented style and an updated attitude. That set the stage for Private Dancer, which would be her return to the spotlight. It contains some of her most identifiable hits such as "What's Love Got to Do With It" and the title track, along with a cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" that was off the charts. More importantly, it showed her new, defiant and strong attitude. Private Dancer was an album of triumph in so very many ways and Turner was back to stay from that point forward.

#5: Elvis Presley - From Elvis in Memphis (1969)

Elvis Presley is such a hallowed name in rock and roll history that it is difficult to imagine there could have been a time when he was on a downward slide. But in truth, he was. The late 1960s were not kind to the King of Rock & Roll. A string of cash-in movies had left his brand tarnished and overexposed in the extreme, to the point that his career was considered to be on the way out. Sure, we consider those movies "charming" now, but in truth they just weren't very good. Presley knew it too, and what's more he knew that he was becoming a joke in an industry that was moving toward psychedelic rock and other, harder genres so he decided it was time to take back his career. That move began with his "comeback special" on television in 1968 and was solidified with this album. From Elvis in Memphis put the King back on top, delivering true music and not just cash-in tunes designed to accompany the movies he was starring in. It's not that the album was a departure for Elvis into a different style; it was that he actually believes in the music. He said that very thing during the recording of the LP, that he wouldn't sing another song that he didn't believe in, and you can tell it in his delivery. This was an album that showed how, when he actually felt in the music, there was no one in his era that could perform quite like Elvis Presley. And to make the album even better, the recording sessions spawned "Suspicious Minds," which would be his last truly great song.

#4: Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993)

Meat Loaf was probably the most unlikely comeback in music history. Part of that is because he was an unlikely star in the first place; he didn't fit the look of a rock star despite his incredible voice. If Frank Farian (he who put together Milli Vanilli) had been around in the 1970s, "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" would have been performed in the music video by a guy with 2% body fat. But anyway, the other part of why it was a surprise comeback was because Meat Loaf was clearly a relic of the over-the-top, operatic Queen style of the 1970s that he hit it big during. Vocal problems and personal issues after the breakaway success that was the first Bat Out of Hell sent him straight to the bargain bin of record stores and while he produced several albums in the interim, none of them had more than a moment's attention in the US. Luckily, no one seemed to have told Meat Loaf that he wasn't going to be able to hit his old heights because not only did he decide it was time for a comeback in 1990, he did so without changing his sound much if at all. And when Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell dropped, it shouldn't have been a hit. But it was. With "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" hitting #1 in twenty-eight countries and several other hits following, it made Meat Loaf a huge star again. It's classic Meat Loaf and is another example of how the man is unstoppable when he has Jim Steinman writing his songs.

#3: AC/DC Back in Black (1980)

AC/DC were very nearly a sad footnote in hard rock history, along the lines of Joy Division. The band was an international success, riding high on the waves of Highway to Hell when lead singer Bon Scott suddenly passed away in 1980. The band had returned to the studio to begin work on a new album and was moving along well, but Scott passed out drunk after a night of heavy drinking and choked to death on his own vomit. The death of a frontman is the kind of thing that would have meant the end of any band; it had meant the death of the aforementioned Joy Division that same year after Ian Curtis' suicide, and of course Nirvana was done after Kurt Cobain died. AC/DC were too stubborn or just too dedicated to let themselves die though, and so they pushed forward after Scott's parents urged them to complete the album. The group brought in Brian Johnson and the rest is history. Back in Black was an unheralded success and pushed the band to even new heights as Johnson slotted seamlessly into the group and delivered an album that kicked just as much ass as anything that the Scott-led AC/DC had ever done. This album includes some of the group's most iconic and enduring hits, not the least of which is the title track. It is also the sixth-highest selling album of all-time, not for nothing.

#2: Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind (1997)

It's almost difficult to say that Bob Dylan had one of the great comeback albums, because it's difficult to imagine him losing relevance in the music scene. But it's true that, indeed, the 1980s were not particularly kind to him. Nor the early 1990s either, as he went experimental and moved into different, sometimes strange directions like gospel. And in fact by the time that 1997 rolled it had been eighteen years since he'd had a major commercial hit. But he always had the music in him; he just had to figure out who he was. With Time Out of Mind Dylan discovered who he was in the modern era and it put him on a new level. For my money, his vocals are better with the gristle of age and his songwriting skills were as poignant as ever here. The album was hailed as an immediate return to form for Dylan and brought him back in a huge way, setting the stage for his return to the music scene. It's an amazing album to boot, one that is so narratively rich and emotionally layered. It was a return to form for a master of modern music.

#1: Johnny Cash American Recordings (1994)

Okay, so let's be honest here; Johnny Cash never really lost it. The Man in Black has always been a consummately-skilled musician. That being said, he absolutely got left behind by the music industry by the mid-1970s, when audiences were turning in a thousand directions that were not country-rock. That change in audiences was something that Cash truly struggled to come to terms with and it spiraled into a string of less-than-successful albums. Leave it to Rick Rubin, one of the great music producers of the modern era, to bring him around. Rubin brought Cash onto his Def American label, then known primarily for rap and metal, that Cash found commercial success. The album, American Recordings, was part of a rebranding of the label and introduced Cash to a new generation of fans. This collection of covers and originals was inspired and it proved that Johnny Cash was relevant to a new era, as were the songs he was singing. The album bought Cash a new decade of commercial success and elevated him from one-time great to cultural icon, a place he would stay for the rest of his career and still maintains after his passing.


This week's Music Video A-Go-Go is from an album that, while I couldn't quite fit it on the list, was certainly one I enjoy and a big comeback. Green Day came back blazing with American Idiot, an album that restored their critical and commercial viability after a few disappointing efforts. Enjoy one of the better songs from the LP, "Holiday," below:

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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