Comebacks are common currency. They have been for ages, but seem even more so now that constant touring and ‘presents-the-iconic-album-in-full’ gigs are the only way for a large portion of older acts to keep the wolves from the door.
Recently we’ve had the surprising – and surprisingly good – return of (most of) Guns n’ Roses, the news of a partial reformation of The Smashing Pumpkins, the less about which is said the better, and, in the last week, the return to the stage of sometime 6 Music DJ/sometime Pulp icon Jarvis Cocker.
But comebacks aren’t often as unexpected – or, as naysayers would have it, quite as unwelcome (but that’s naysayers for you, always saying nay) – as the return of Karen ‘Daphne’ DiConcetto and Celeste Cruz, aka Daphne & Celeste. They’d barely been heard of since their ignominious pelting at the 2000 Reading Festival, slotted between Rage Against The Machine and Slipknot, gamely and unapologetically delivering their gleefully obnoxious megahits under a hail of bottles. Unfortunately, that crowd preferred their nonconformity a little more conformative.
And it’s also not often that you get two comebacks in one, as here. The pair were initially coaxed out of retirement by Commodore Amiga-wielding mad pop genius Max Tundra, himself semi-retired, whose last album – Parallax Error Beheads You – was released in 2008.
Tundra’s approach to Celeste, via Twitter, led to 2015’s surprise return with the single You And I Alone. Low-key but still maddeningly catchy, a staccato, slinky ode to the things we love and leave behind, it featured a spoken Losing My Edge-ish mid-section citing David Foster Wallace, Flann O’Brien and Marmalade Atkins. Unexpected barely covers it. But then, nothing. Until now.
After just enough time away to convince us that the single may just have been a one-off, the trio – with Tundra’s writing and production firmly front-and-centre, have returned to Save The World, as well we might have hoped they would. And for the most part, it’s a triumph: a perfect collision of Tundra’s everything-at-the-wall Mattel machine music – with bits of Warp Records, Todd Rundgren and Cardiacs – and DiConcetto and Cruz’s no longer helium-pitched wit and fun.
It’s a partnership that’s as happy to namedrop Stephen Hawking (Save The World) and the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (Song To A Succulent) as to empty bin bags full of balloons over the crowd at London’s Boston Music Room at a chaotic live return.
Taking a swipe at the pop scene 18 years after their fleeting heyday, BB (or Basic Busker) has the smarts to decry ubiquitous loop-pedalling faux-folk (“Each time I tune to that show/ There’s a basic busker on the radio”) while referencing the 13th-century Sumer Is Icumen In, while Whatever Happened To Yazz? reflects, knowingly, on the whereabouts of flash-in-the-pan hitmakers.
Musically, Tundra’s invention is everywhere. Paint Can employs ultra high-speed chord changes and sudden tempo lurches, Golden Doldrum is an inside-out and back to front bit of burbling robot pop, and recent single Alarms is O Superman turned banger, with rhythms crossing rhythms.
The final track, Kandy Korn, might sum the project up perfectly, recasting early Captain Beefheart as buoyant synthpop while remaining surprisingly faithful – it’s unexpected, you might not have wanted it, but you’ll be glad it’s here.
Will this particular comeback lead anywhere? Perhaps it doesn’t want to; like so much of the Very Best Pop, it’s as sincere about its inconsequence as it is inconsequential in its sincerity. And will it save the world? Perhaps. But the world will have to want to be saved.