Sometimes, a comeback story cements a rock band’s immortality. Here are twelve of the best classic rock comeback albums.
1. Van Halen: A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
After Van Halen released their final studio album Van Halen III, many critics considered this their worst record. Maybe it was the right time for the band to call it a day, but fast forward to 2012, and fans were delighted to see a new album featuring Diamond Dave himself back on vocals with the original lineup. Boy, did they make up for lost time with A Different Kind of Truth!
2. Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (1975)
Although Fleetwood Mac was a well-established act with Christine McVie on vocals and Bob Welch on guitars, their transformation with this self-titled album was epic. The heavy lens-framed spectacle-wearing guitarist was out, replaced by Lindsey Buckingham’s mysteriously lush style. However, the game changer came in the form of iconic vocalist Stevie Nicks. Fleetwood Mac went seven times platinum, smashing all their prior release sales. Their next album, Rumours, would eventually go double-diamond.
3. AC/DC: Back in Black (1984)
Although the Australian rockers hadn’t gone anywhere, their original vocalist Bonn Scott departed the stage for good the year before. So, when the band made their comeback with new singer Brian Johnston, nobody would have imagined they would go on to release their biggest album ever — which is what they did.
4. Metallica: Death Magnetic (2008)
When you release an album that sounds like it was recorded in a garage with three dusty microphones — such as Metallica’s weirdly successful St. Anger — you best follow it up with something strong. Death Magnetic was Metallica returning to their high-production Black Album sound: all big drums and slick, crunching guitars. Moreover, they let Rob Trujillo’s rampant bass talent shine through in the sound.
5. Iron Maiden: Brave New World (2000)
I remember watching Maiden’s final live concert with frontman Brice Dickinson on British television when I was a schoolboy in 1993. The band then went into a dark age for most fans: Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley replaced the exquisite talent of Bruce Dickinson following guitarist Adrian Smith’s departure. Then, after discussions in 1999, the band reformed, keeping Smith’s replacement, Janick Gers, for a three-guitar attack flanking Dickinson’s unassailable vocal presence.
6. Black Sabbath: Heaven and Hell (1980)
Replacing a legendary frontman doesn’t usually work in a band’s favor. However, in Black Sabbath’s case, former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio stepped in and made it work. Heaven and Hell exceeded what most fans expected, shattering the idea that Sabbath fans wouldn’t accept life after Ozzy. Heaven and Hell went on to chart in the U.S. Top 30 and U.K. Top Ten.
7. Meatloaf: Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993)
The late rocker’s eponymous Bat Out of Hell album launched the singer into classic rock immortality, though he wasn’t finished. After almost two decades in the wilderness, he returned in 1993 to release the second of the album trilogy, selling 14 million copies, making it Meatloaf’s biggest success.
8. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Californication (1999)
When John Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the band went downhill fast, bringing in complete misfit Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction. Losing their original guitarist exposed his huge presence in their sound, so fans were in raptures to discover he would rejoin the band for what is now their most successful album ever. Following their double disc release, Stadium Arcadium, Frusciante left and recently rejoined.
9. Alice Cooper: Constriction (1986)
Featuring a hilariously fake snake constricting Cooper’s face on the album cover, the dark rocker’s Constriction ended a decade in the musical doldrums. On a run of three commercial record failures, Cooper was suffering from substance addiction and also lost his Warner Bros record deal. However, drawing strength from faith and family, Cooper became clean and sober, signing with MCA and releasing his strongest album in years.
10. Heart: Heart (1987)
Before Heart released their self-titled album, they were known as ’70s has-beens in a rapidly-changing world of hair metal and new sound technology. So what did sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson do? They embraced their inner hair metaller, brought in outside songwriting help, and gave the world a five-time platinum hair metal album. Diehard fans cite this period as their least favorite, but it is right up there as comeback albums go.
11. Aerosmith: Permanent Vacation (1987)
Technically not a comeback album per se, Permanent Vacation came at the end of a slump in the American rockers’ career. The band members’ well-publicized drink and substance abuse issues almost caused their downfall. However, a switch to Geffen Records and outside writing help (albeit following a flop in the band’s debut Geffen recording, Done With Mirrors) brought the band a five-times platinum record. Permanent Vacation laid the groundwork for the band’s hugely successful albums, Pump and Get a Grip.
12. Tool: Fear Inoculum (2019)
Okay, Tool may not be a classic rock band (maybe a classic prog rock band?), and Fear Inoculum is not technically a comeback record. However, this album falls into the same category purely because of the time it took to release — 13 years. Tool fans always joke that they are musical camels, living off scraps of Tool music for up to a decade at a time. Fear Inoculum gave fans their first taste of the Californian quartet’s elusive music and showed the band had matured into middle age with grace and — dare I say it — happiness.
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