Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye

Musical comebacks that are worth the wait.

Musical reunions have taken centre stage in recent showbiz news, from The Cure to The Stone Roses, with the comeback gigs for the latter selling out in just 14 minutes. Here are other acts who are making an exciting return:

Leonard Cohen

Next year, the 77-year-old Canadian poet, novelist and singer-songwriter will release his first new album since 2004's Dear Heather. It will be called Old Ideas and will consist of ten previously unpublished songs, he told journalists in the town of Oviedo in northern Spain. In Oviedo, Cohen collected Spain's most esteemed prize for non-Spanish writers. Will there be a tour to accompany Old Ideas? Cohen replied: "God willing, I never quite know whether there's going to be a tour or not."

Mazzy Star

Longing romantic lyrics sung serenely by Hope Sandoval and David Roback on guitar, keyboard and piano is Mazzy Star. The dreamy and mysterious Californian group have digitally released Common Burn 15 years since their last single. It is accompanied by the B-side Lay Myself Down and a vinyl release will follow. The alternative rock band was formed in 1989 in Santa Monica and is best-known for the hit Fade Into You.

Garbage

The rock group has announced that their first album since 2005's Bleed Like Me should be released in spring next year. Singer Shirley Manson told Spin.com: "The overriding themes [of the record] are pretty much about being a misfit, a geek, a nerd, a forgotten-about, in a way." Manson, drummer Butch Vig and guitarists Duke Erikson and Steve Marker are working on the album, which is currently untitled. The group was formed in in 1994 in Wisconsin and their debut album, Garbage, was astoundingly successful, as were their singles of the mid-1990s, such as Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains.

Kate Bush

The eccentric singer-songwriter's first album of original material for six years - 50 Words For Snow - will be released on 21 November 2011. Now aged 53, Kate Bush's rise to fame began when her debut single Wuthering Heights made her the first woman to have a UK number one with a self-written song. 50 Words For Snow will feature seven new tracks, an exciting prospect after Bush's album Director's Cut, released on 16 May 2011, divided fans with its new versions of songs originally on The Sensual World (1989) and The Red Shoes (1993).

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys' 50th anniversary will be commemorated by a world tour next year and follows years of legal battles between band members. Al Jardine announced the news to Rolling Stone magazine and said that "We'll do maybe 50 amphitheaters [in the US] and 50 or 60 overseas." There are archival releases on the way, including the Smile Sessions, which will come out on 1 November. However, only Jardine, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston are regrouping; Brian Wilson said that he would not in a solo interview with Q Magazine. Back in May, Wilson said that he was considering rejoining the group.

Splits and a departure

It's not all glorious reunions though...

Bloc Party

The band responsible for the stunning debut album Silent Alarm has not split, but its lead singer and rhythm guitarist Kele Okereke has left, according to NME. In September, the band confirmed that they would audition new singers and claimed that they were on good terms with Kele. Losing Kele's distinctive vocals would undoubtedly be a great loss to the band. Kele's band membership seemed unsure after his release of the electronic solo album The Boxer last year. Publicly, this did not appear to be seen as a betrayal by the rest of the band, given that the record was advertised on Bloc Party's official website. Currently, this website states that "Bloc Party is still Bloc Party- See you soon" and features a picture of The Simpson's version of the band, including Kele.

Sonic Youth

Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon's separation after 27 years of marriage has cast doubt on Sonic Youth's future, according to their record label's parent company. The rock group will still carry out their their South American tour in November. "Plans beyond that tour are uncertain. The couple has requested respect for their personal privacy and does not wish to issue further comment" said Catherine Herrick, a spokeswoman for Beggars Group, the owner of the band's Matador label. The band has made albums roughly every 2 to 3 years since their heyday in the late-1980s and early 1990s, the most recent of which is The Eternal, 2009.

Westlife

Kian, Mark, Nicky and Shane have finally done it. In a statement, the Irish pop group announced that their split was "wholeheartedly a united decision."

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Eighty pages in to Age of Anger, I still had no idea what it was about

When Pankaj Mishra describes a “postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”, he inadvertently summarises his own book.

Most books arrive on the market dragging a comet tail of context: the press release, the blurb on the back, the comparison with another book that sold well (sometimes this is baked into the title, as with a spate of novels in which grown women were recast as “girls”, variously gone, or on the train, or with dragon tattoos or pearl earrings). Before you even start reading, you know pretty much what you will get.

So I was particularly disconcerted to reach page 80 of Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger and realise that I didn’t really know what it was about. The prologue starts with a recap of the tyrannical career of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, namechecks The Communist Manifesto, describes how Europeans were enthralled by Napoleon’s “quasi-autistic machismo”, links this to the “great euphoria” experienced in 1914, mentions that Eugene Onegin “wears a tony ‘Bolívar’ hat”, then dwells on Rimbaud’s belief that not washing made him a better writer, before returning to D’Annunzio to conclude that his life “crystallised many themes of our own global ferment as well as those of his spiritually agitated epoch”.

Psychologists have demonstrated that the maximum number of things that a human can hold in their brain is about seven. The prologue is titled “Forgotten Conjunctures”. I might know why they have been forgotten.

Two pages later, Mishra is at it again. How’s this for a paragraph?

After all, Maxim Gorky, the Bolshevik, Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-advocate of “pure” Islam, Martin Buber, the exponent of the “New Jew”, and Lu Xun, the campaigner for a “New Life” in China, as well as D’Annunzio, were all devotees of Nietzsche. Asian anti-imperialists and American robber barons borrowed equally eagerly from the 19th-century polymath Herbert Spencer, the first truly global thinker – who, after reading Darwin, coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Hitler revered Atatürk (literally “the father of the Turks”) as his guru; Lenin and Gramsci were keen on Taylorism, or “Americanism”; American New Dealers later borrowed from Mussolini’s “corporatism”.

This continues throughout. The dizzying whirl of names began to remind me of Wendy Cope’s “Waste Land Limericks”: “No water. Dry rocks and dry throats/Then thunder, a shower of quotes/From the Sanskrit and Dante./Da. Damyata. Shantih./I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.”

The trouble comes because Mishra has set himself an enormous subject: explaining why the modern world, from London to Mumbai and Mosul, is like it is. But the risk of writing about everything is that one can end up writing about nothing. (Hang on, I think I might be echoing someone here. Perhaps this prose style is contagious. As Nietzsche probably wrote.) Too often, the sheer mass of Mishra’s reading list obscures the narrative connective tissue that should make sense of his disparate examples.

By the halfway point, wondering if I was just too thick to understand it, I did something I don’t normally do and read some other reviews. One recorded approvingly that Mishra’s “vision is . . . resistant to categorisation”. That feels like Reviewer Code to me.

His central thesis is that the current “age of anger” – demonstrated by the rise of Islamic State and right-wing nationalism across Europe and the US – is best understood by looking at the 18th century. Mishra invokes the concept of “ressentiment”, or projecting resentment on to an external enemy; and the emergence of the “clash of civilisations” narrative, once used to justify imperialism (“We’re bringing order to the natives”) and now used to turn Islamic extremism from a political challenge into an existential threat to the West.

It is on the latter subject that Mishra is most readable. He grew up in “semi-rural India” and now lives between London and Shimla; his prose hums with energy when he feels that he is writing against a dominant paradigm. His skirmish with Niall Ferguson over the latter’s Civilisation: the West and the Rest in the London Review of Books in 2011 was highly enjoyable, and there are echoes of that fire here. For centuries, the West has presumed to impose a narrative on the developing world. Some of its current anxiety and its flirtation with white nationalism springs from the other half of the globe talking back.

On the subject of half of us getting a raw deal, this is unequivocally a history of men. We read about Flaubert and Baudelaire “spinning dreams of virility”, Gorky’s attachment to the idea of a “New Man” and the cultural anxieties of (male) terrorists. Poor Madame de Staël sometimes seems like the only woman who ever wrote a book.

And yet, in a book devoted to unpicking hidden connections, the role of masculinity in rage and violence is merely noted again and again without being explored. “Many intelligent young men . . . were breaking their heads against the prison walls of their societies” in the 19th century, we learn. Might it not be interesting to ask whether their mothers, sisters and daughters were doing the same? And if not, why?

Mishra ends with the present, an atomised, alienated world of social media and Kim Kardashian. Isis, we are told, “offers a postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”. That is also a good description of this book. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era