No, Really, Don’t Call It A Comeback: Candlebox Returns, And Other Has-Beens Aren’t Far Behind

Al Shipley | June 26, 2008 3:00 am

Many people find it hard to tell the great from the godawful when it comes to 21st-century mainstream rock. To help figure out which is which, here’s “Corporate Rock Still Sells,” where Al “GovernmentNames” Shipley examines what’s good, bad, and ugly in the world of rock and roll. This time around, he takes a look at a couple of old reliables who have re-entered the rock charts.

There’s no dancing around the fact that rock radio in 2008 is ruled largely by pretty much any monsters of 90’s alt-rock who are still roaming around the major-label landscape. One need look no further than the current Hot Modern Rock Tracks, the top three slots of which have been filled by Weezer, Offspring and the Foo Fighters for three weeks now, to prove this point. I say some variation of this line every other column, I know, but said landscape is much than it used to be, so the survivors are bigger now almost by default, even as bands of more recent vintage nip at their heels.

Rock programmers must be among the most loyal in their profession, because name recognition seems to triumph over all in their arena; consider that the rock charts have recently seen the return of even more onetime hitmakers, some of whom no one particularly wanted to hear from again, and others who are remembered fondly even though they’re indisputably past their peak.

One of the more surprising familiar names to reappear lately is Candlebox, the Seattle hard rock band who got signed and went multiplatinum at the tail end of the early-’90s grunge explosion. The band never got much respect from the alt-rock crowd, lacking the cred of any connection to the ’80s Sub Pop scene, and fared better on Active Rock stations. (I remember seeing the video for “Change” on Headbanger’s Ball months before MTV started giving the band heavy Alternative Nation exposure.) But they became frigging huge for a brief moment, and each of their first three albums yielded at least one top 5 Mainstream Rock hit, even the infamous sophomore slump Lucy and 1998’s Happy Pills, which I didn’t even really know existed. By that standard, the newly reunited Candlebox’s current No. 19 single, “Stand,” can’t quite be considered a comeback–but it’s also the chart’s airplay gainer this week, so it may be getting there. And it can’t hurt that the song’s opening riff is so similar to that of the band’s breakthrough single, 1993’s “You,” that when I first checked the song out on YouTube, I initially did a double take to make sure I didn’t click on the wrong search result.

There’s a lot riding on Mötley Crüe’s Saints Of Los Angeles, the first album by the band’s original lineup since 1997’s Generation Swine. And while the first-week album sales and the summer tour receipts haven’t come in yet, things look good on the radio front, where the title track hasn’t dipped out of the Mainstream Rock top 10 since debuting there in April. (It’s currently peaking at No. 7.) But that’s a little less impressive when you consider that “If I Die Tomorrow,” the Simple Plan outtake (seriously!) that the band recorded for a greatest-hits comp in 2005, peaked at No. 4, and Nikki’s side project Sixx: A.M. hit No. 2 just a few months ago. And if you’re still wondering about the unconfirmed rumors that Mötley cut a 360 deal with concert-promotion giant Live Nation, which would give the company a cut of any of the band’s possible revenue streams, there might be subliminal hints in “Saints,” which features refrains of “we signed our life [sic] away” and “give it up, give it up.”

Over on the Modern Rock chart, one of the format’s longest-running dynasties, The Cure, has been back in business as of late. The band racked up four Modern Rock chart-toppers in its heyday, and probably would’ve had more if Billboard had created the chart earlier than 1988, just before Disintegration came out. Of the band’s contemporaries from that era, only U2 and, to a lesser degree, Depeche Mode, are still making occasional runs at the chart. The latest from Fat Bob and co., “The Only One,” is one of four advance singles planned for the new Cure album, which won’t be out until September and hasn’t yet been given a title. The track, a pretty faithful approximation of the band’s most radio-friendly Wish-era songs, has only peaked at No. 34 and already seems to be slipping off the charts, while the second single, “Freakshow,” has yet to chart since being released earlier this month. I’m pretty curious to see if The Cure’s experiment with so many singles in quick succession will have any impact on radio play, or if those songs will end up functioning as early leaks for die-hard fans to snap up. Perhaps one of the singles released in July or August will get a surge of airplay once the album comes out this fall, or maybe “The Only One” will drop off months before its release, never to return. Time will tell.

So who’s definitely not staging a comeback, at least on the radio? Filter and the Black Crowes come to mind. Both bands recently reunited and released new albums, but their lead singles peaked at No. 27 and No. 33, respectively, on Mainstream Rock, then quickly fell off the chart. Likewise, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale’s “Love Remains The Same,” from his recent solo debut, dropped off the Modern chart after hitting No. 33, which can’t be more embarrassing than his song with the Blue Man Group, at least. And Judas Priest, who scored a minor hit in 2005 with their first new single after the return of frontman Rob Halford, “Revolution,” have yet to chart with any of the songs off of their admirably ludicrous concept album Nostradamus. But if so-called rock stations can’t embrace a seven-minute single about a 16th-century prophet, let’s face it, that’s their problem.