On the return of Grandaddy
Like many break-up stories, at the heart of Grandaddy’s was money. “The realistic part is it hasn't proved to be a huge money-making venture for a lot of the guys in the band,” singer Jason Lytle said in 2006 as his band finally died after two years of disintegration during which Lytle had made a new Grandaddy album alone, and the four other members had found more effective ways to pay the rent.
That endearingly candid explanation went a long way to softening the somewhat brazen reasoning that Lytle gave for putting Grandaddy back together briefly in 2012. His stated plan then was to “get in, rock out, get paid, get out”, with no distraction of new material or pretending that artistic reasons motivated the tour. True to his word, Grandaddy appeared to grit their teeth through ten dates of playing the hits, then disappeared again.
But if four years ago there wafted a faintly opportunistic whiff of fans being milked by a much-loved band for nothing more than nostalgia, Grandaddy’s latest reanimation feels far more substantial. At the very least, there’s a new single, with promise of a new album in early 2017, and at their comeback London show last week a quarter of their set was new songs, robust, characterful and warmly received. The glazed look that characterised the 2012 shows has been swapped first for furrowed-brow conscientiousness, then for deep concentration and finally for broad smiles: while they’re surely being paid handsomely, and The Crystal Lake still sounds triumphant, a sense of purpose beyond keeping on top of the bills and running through the classics permeated their performance of both established and new stuff.
And well it should: in 2016, Grandaddy’s thematic calling card of technology becoming first sentient then either malevolent or disenchanted, while nature grows neglected and commoditised, feels queasily prophetic: just this week, Facebook’s “trending news” aggregator, itself just an unmanned algorithm, went rogue and started prioritising videos of a man masturbating over a McChicken Sandwich. Meanwhile, at the International Geological Congress on Monday, leading scientists declared the need for a new geological epoch, so profound they suggest is humanity’s impact on the planet. If the feeling that we’re all now living inside a Grandaddy album has been growing since the Millennium Bug bluffed the world into needless submission right around the time The Sophtware Slump was released, it seems now, 16 years later, we are approaching peak Grandaddytopia.
With that in mind, perhaps Grandaddy are condemned to be American indie’s tragic Cassandra figure. Their new single, Way We Won’t, decries big-box consumerism just like they always used to; the difference this time around that it resembles less prophecy than reportage. Equally, its B-side, a frail lullaby called Clear Your History, doesn’t need an Edward Snowden tweet for it to ring true.
“Bands, like marriages, have shelf lives,” Howe Gelb mused in 2006 about Grandaddy’s split. “And it's important to explain why it's okay to split up. It'll make sense later. And when it doesn't make sense anymore, maybe they'll come back together again.” That Grandaddy have done, and now, suggests a particular brand of sense that perhaps only they themselves understand.