“A setback can be a set-up for a comeback if you don’t let up.” So sang David Berman on his 2019 comeback album under the alias Purple Mountains. As far as setbacks in the lives of professional musicians go, they don’t come any more intrusive than the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
The pandemic, of course, continues, but its disfigurement of life as we once knew has led to the re-emergence of several artists who’d either packed it in or were taking an unusually long breather from the spotlight.
Here are the five best comeback albums of 2021.
ABBA’s new album, Voyage, came out almost exactly 40 years to the day after the Swedish foursome’s previous LP, The Visitors. The latter was the eighth album in a hit-filled career that began with the single, ‘People Need Love’, in 1972.
1974’s ‘Waterloo’, the title track and lead single from ABBA’s second album, kicked off an unmatched chart reign that lasted for the rest of the 1970s. History has generally viewed the group’s unofficial breakup in 1982 as judicious, preserving their reputation as pop artists of the highest order.
But Voyage does nothing to jeopardise this reputation. In fact, it raises the question, what if they’d just kept going? Would we now have a 90-song version of ABBA Gold? Hypotheticals aside, fans and newcomers alike can’t argue with the effortless pop hooks and refined glamour of Voyage songs like ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ and ‘Just a Notion’.
In an era where content is king, keeping your fanbase engaged is imperative, and bitesize pieces take precedence over substantial volumes, Adele is an outlier. The London artist’s fourth album, 30, came out 5070 days after her debut; her previous record, 25, is now more than six years old. But despite being the most popular artist of her generation, and one of the most commercially successful artists of all time, on 30, Adele remains as unhurried as ever.
Each new Adele album breeds discussion about the timelessness of her music, implying a lack of communion with contemporary trends. In a superficial sense, this is true – 30 isn’t decorated with trap beats or disco throwbacks, but it does feature a Max Martin co-write (‘Can I Get It’) and multiple songs produced by London’s most exciting new producer, Inflo (Little Simz, Michael Kiwanuka, Sault).
And sure, we could’ve done without pop-rock cheese of ‘Can I Get It’, but the Inflo-produced, ‘Hold On’, and the breathtaking Tobias Jesso Jr. collaboration, ‘To Be Loved’, make 30 another essential addition to the Adele catalogue.
Crowded House: Dreamers Are Waiting
Crowded House’s seventh album, Dreamers Are Waiting, continues along the path taken by 2007’s official comeback album, Time On Earth, proving Neil Finn can still write impeccable pop-rock songs with the best of them. But never before has the New Zealand band drilled into its idiosyncrasies to such a degree.
Mainstays Finn and bass player Nick Seymour are joined on the album by Finn’s adult sons, Liam (guitar) and Elroy (drums), and keyboardist Mitchell Froom, who produced Crowded House’s first three albums in the 1980s and early-’90s. They’re a tight-knit bunch and Dreamers Are Waiting is a group effort.
“Dad really wanted it to feel like a band again,” Liam Finn told Music Feeds. “A group of people that all bring something unique to the table and also have a strong will.”
The outcome is an album of generous artistic depth and uplifting songcraft. Highlights include the hypnotic, Beatles-esque ‘To The Island’, the angular eco-collapse premonition, ‘Playing With Fire’, and the perfectly spellbinding ‘Bad Times Good’.
Julia Stone: Sixty Summers
Julia Stone hasn’t been missing in action: in early 2020, she coordinated the Songs For Australia covers album, a bushfire fundraiser featuring the likes of Laura Mvula, The National and Paul Kelly; the most recent Angus & Julia Stone album, Snow, came out in 2017. But before Sixty Summers, Julia hadn’t made a solo record since 2012’s By the Horns.
Not for lack of trying, as it turns out. The songs on Sixty Summers came together in a series of New York recording sessions over the course of five years. Stone and producer Thomas Bartlett accumulated 30-plus songs, but still didn’t have an album. Enter Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, who co-produced the record and helped Stone carry off a mid-career artistic rebirth.
Sixty Summers swaps the gently plucked, harmony-laden complexion of Stone’s earliest solo releases with glam-pop and electro-psych escapism that slides in next to artists like Goldfrapp and Air.
Hiatus Kaiyote: Mood Valiant
In an on-point review, Pitchfork described Hiatus Kaiyote’s long-awaited third album, Mood Valiant, as “vibrant and psychedelic”. It’s their weirdest, most lived-in album, and a strong indication the four-piece of Nai Palm, Perrin Moss, Simon Mavin, and Paul Bender, are headed for artistic longevity.
The Melbourne band has long been admired by titans of US hip hop such as Q-Tip and Questlove. Mood Valiant is their first album to come out via Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, and it lives up to the future-freak prestige conferred by such an endorsement.
The band members don’t sound like they’re trying to be anyone other than themselves on Mood Valiant – or, more to the point, to be anything other than Hiatus Kaiyote. They sound fearless, but not indulgent, and completely in control of their uniquely bent, neo-soul and jazz-rock fusion.