10 Amazing Later Releases By Classic Rock Bands
January 5, 2023, 3 weeks ago
There tends to be a certain age limit on good rock and roll. Pete Townshend had said back in the day that he hoped he died before he got old, and most of the greatest rock bands of all time had followed suit, either fading into obscurity or staying around way too long at the party. For these acts though, age is nothing but a number. Even after years of delivering great rock ‘n’ roll music, these acts only managed to get better with time, taking bold new leaps and coming up with something that no one had heard from them yet.
Time can also be a good way to hone your craft too, and some of the biggest names on this list took all of that time to make something that was a lot more in line with what their classic sound was supposed to be. While there have been plenty of comebacks in the world of music, this wasn’t just bands coming back from the dead. This was hitting you over the head and demanding that you take notice all over again.
Death Magnetic - Metallica
Even for thrash metal diehards, hearing that a new Metallica album was out in 2008 wasn’t what people wanted to hear. Even though the band had been delivering some of the best music thrash had to offer in the ‘80s, fans had been stung too many times by them going alternative and then making something absolutely atrocious on St. Anger. 5 years can change a person though, and Rick Rubin helped get them on the right track again with Death Magnetic. Framing the record in the same way they did Master Of Puppets, this feels like the kind of Metallica that we had been missing since And Justice For All, being a 10 track album of nothing but thrash classics.
While the production job still needed a bit of work due to the loudness wars, the actual songs are some of the best Metallica had written in a decade. While there are definitely some old habits from later projects on here, “The Day That Never Comes” feels like the perfect blend between what they were trying out on the Black Album and giving it a lot more muscle. And even though the band tried to get heavier on St. Anger, “All Nightmare Long” might be the best song that they’ve made since the ‘80s, spanning over 7 minutes of concentrated kickass. After years of playing around with what worked for the band and what didn’t, Death Magnetic was the one record that got Metallica back to sounding like themselves again.
Get A Grip - Aerosmith
When a band decides to transition into a new style, the phrase ‘professional songwriters’ tends to send a chill up people’s spines. When you bring in someone new to play around with your song, it’s almost like cheapening your music to your fans, just giving everything an extra pop polish. While Aerosmith have crossed the line into pop more than a few times, Get a Grip was where everything fell into place. Then again, this is also one of the more radio friendly Aerosmith albums ever released, sporting the trilogy of videos that featured Alicia Silverstone in the ‘90s. Outside of the major hit singles like “Cryin’”, the band are actually gelling a lot better on this record, taking the old school Aerosmith sound and bringing it into the ‘90s the same way U2 did, going even more over the top and making something that’s nothing but pure rock and roll like Eat the Rich and Fever.
There are even a handful of songs where the guys decide to mix things up a little bit more, collaborating with Jack Blades from Night Ranger to write “Shut Up And Dance” and giving Joe Perry his own lead vocal feature on “Walk On Down”. When you blend all of them together though, you get something like “Livin’ On The Edge”, which might be the best single they had made to date. The soundtrack to Armageddon may have been right around the corner, but this album was just about having a good time.
Innuendo - Queen
If Freddie Mercury’s doctors were correct, Innuendo would have never been made. Following his AIDs diagnosis, Freddie was given a death sentence and wasn’t even supposed to survive the rest of the ‘80s, only to power through and keep pumping out as much music as he could while he was still with us. While Queen were still in pop mode through most of the ‘80s, the ‘90s ushered in a more operatic side of the band. Even though Queen had been known to try anything outside their comfort zone, Innuendo might be the most cinematic record they’ve ever made, crafting songs that feel like they should be the soundtrack to some grand epic. Although there are some straight ahead songs on the record like “Headlong” and even the occasional tongue in cheek song like “Delilah”, you can hear Freddie fighting through every single track, keeping that smile on his face while his health rapidly falls.
As much as a song like “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” works as a love song, it has an extra emotional gut punch hearing Freddie sing it, almost like he’s signing off to the rest of the world with one final goodbye to the fans. The title track might be a shoo in for the best song on here though, almost acting as a spiritual successor to Bohemian Rhapsody based on how many twists and turns it goes on throughout its runtime. The future was looking bleak, but Queen were always entertainers, and they were going to spend the rest of their days trying to surprise their audience.
Euphoria - Def Leppard
Nirvana killed a lot of careers once grunge hit. While Def Leppard may have gotten in early before everything crashed, their attempt to change it up on Slang left fans really underwhelmed, trading in their layers of harmonies for something that sounded like a secondhand Pearl Jam. The ‘90s weren’t meant to be doom and gloom forever though, and the band were ready to kick things back to the old days all over again. In the era of Britney and the Backstreet Boys, Euphoria gave Leppard a second wind with their fans, going back to the sounds of Hysteria and making something that could stand alongside classics like “Animal” and “Rock Of Ages”.
Although the pop sheen on songs like “Promises” might take a little bit of getting used to, the majority of this record takes the pop sounds that the band was familiar with and puts a little bit more edge into it, like the T. Rex sounds coming off of “Back In Your Face” or the high energy behind “Demolition Man”. Outside of the old standby tracks though, Leppard are still willing to push the envelope, with “Paper Sun” being a spiritual successor to some of the longer tracks that came out of their older albums like “Die Hard The Hunter”. More than anything though, this reaffirmed the one Leppard tradition that hasn’t dulled with age. As long as the album ends in an -ia, you know you’re going to have a good time.
Saints Of Los Angeles - Mötley Crüe
It was going to take a miracle to put any version of Motley Crüe back together. Tommy Lee had already found his other calling playing nu metal with Methods of Mayhem, and Nikki Sixx was already carving out a second career for himself with SIXX:AM. Mötley Crüe seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s minds, but their book the Dirt helped put everything in perspective a little bit. When the rest of the guys got back together, Saints Of Los Angeles became the unofficial soundtrack to the book.
Telling the story of the last 3 decades of decadence, every single song on here is a different chapter in the band's lives, talking about shooting the breeze in Hollywood on “Down At The Whisky” to becoming the top of the food chain on the title track. Even though there are a few guest stars on the record like James Michael from Sixx:AM and members of Buckcherry, it never stops feeling like the same Mötley that started this rock ‘n’ roll circus back in the ‘80s. The Sunset Strip might look a little bit different these days, but the back alleys of Hollywood are something that these guys know too well.
Revenge - KISS
For a band that got their start wearing makeup, the ‘80s were not very kind to KISS. Although they had their moments on MTV and strutted their stuff like any other hair metal band, seeing Gene Simmons go from his Demon persona to a glamified rock god was a bitter pill for a lot of fans to swallow. Once they got their Poison era out of their system though, they reeled things in and got raw. While KISS had no place in the world of grunge at the time, Revenge is one of the best albums to come from the makeup-less era of the band, having just as many metal moments as they do hits.
While the classic song from this album is “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”, the main draw is how eclectic the band can get here, making some Southern fried licks on “Domino”, tugging on your heart strings on “Every Time I Look At You”, and Gene finally getting his Demon persona back in full force on “Unholy”. These good times weren’t meant to last though, with Eric Carr passing away shortly before the album came out and the band dedicating the album and the final track Carr Jam to his memory. It’s almost a shame to see the original lineup get back together shortly after this album came out. Even though the band needed a shakeup, this new era of KISS was coming into its own.
Clockwork Angels - Rush
For a band that loves their conceptual songs, it’s strange to see Rush not ever do a fully fleshed out concept record. Though their songs back in the day on Hemispheres had their long runtimes and narrative focus in the lyrics, there were no interconnecting songs coming out in their prime. Right as they were about to close up shop though, the Canadian icons gave us the concept record we had all been hoping for. Based off of a graphic novel that Neil Peart was writing around the same time, Clockwork Angels is the best kind of record that Rush could have made, taking the hard edged sounds of their ‘00s work and bringing back some of the complicated ideals of their ‘70s era.
Starting with “Caravan”, it’s almost like you’re being transported into a different world, following the story of a man that’s looking to find his place in the world amid a steampunk environment. Though there are some great narrative driven moments on this record, you can hear the band flirting a lot more with new musical ideas, like bringing in strings for the first time on tour and breaking out the acoustics for “Halo Effect”. The hard rocking Rush hasn’t gone anywhere though, and songs like “Headlong Flight” and the title track are everything that Rush songs are supposed to be, balancing the sounds of hard rock with some of the most off the wall song arrangements that you would ever hear. Rush might not have envisioned this as their swan song when they were making it, but for the last record with the classic lineup, this is how you bow out gracefully.
For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge - Van Halen
The ‘90s weren’t very kind to Van Halen. Since grunge had come in to stomp out any other pompous rock and roll, The Sam Halen years should have been dead in the water once Nirvana blew up. Right before the alternative waves started crashing to the shore, they had one more golden album up their sleeve. While For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge may be a bit much to take in all at once, every song on this record has the guys expanding beyond their usual wheelhouse.
While Eddie is already finding new ways to make his guitar sound like an alien, there are more than a few songs on this record where things take a left turn, like letting the piano take the lead on the single “Right Now” or breaking out the power drill to create the opening sounds of “Poundcake”. Since the guys also brought back producer Ted Templeman, you can tell that they were trying to make this era’s version of 1984, taking the old sounds that they loved working with back in the day and molding them into something a lot more accessible than your standard rock and roll tunes. The title isn’t exactly subtle either, talking about sex every way that Sammy knows how. This album isn’t necessarily intellectual, but it’s nice to see the band actually having some fun again.
Black Gives Way To Blue - Alice In Chains
There wasn’t really any discussion of Alice In Chains continuing on after Layne Staley’s death. The entire appeal of the band came from Layne’s voice harmonizing with Jerry Cantrell’s, and the band was going to have a huge hole in them if they were to just move on like nothing happened. After putting together some benefit gigs though, there was life after death once William DuVall entered the fold. While William came from a more punk infused background, his voice blended with Jerry’s in a similar way to Layne’s. No plans were made to record an album, but Black Gives Way To Blue turned into a full resurrection from Seattle’s finest, having the same intensity of an album like Dirt while actually balancing things out a bit more.
As much as Dirt can be an abrasive listen from front to back, the band have learned to toe the line of intensity over time, delving right back into heavy territory on “Check My Brain” while also finding time to weave in the mellow side of their acoustic material like “When The Sun Rose Again” and “Your Decision”. This isn’t meant to be a tribute act though, with DuVall coming into his own as a singer throughout the record, especially on songs like Last of My Kind where he brings a lot more grit into his delivery than what Layne would have done. This next version of Alice was going to be very different, but Black Gives Way To Blue doesn’t feel like them closing a chapter by any means. This was a new beginning.
Along Came A Spider - Alice Cooper
In the world of rock and roll, shock rock always has diminishing returns. There’s only so many times you can do something shocking in front of a crowd before it starts to get dull, so you have to keep evolving. Alice Cooper may not have been the villain he was back in the day, but Along Came A Spider gave us something straight out of the crypt. Written in the mold of Welcome to My Nightmare, most of this record revolves around a character piece following a man trapped in a mental asylum looking to put together one gigantic human spider.
The Stephen King-esque story only works with good music behind it though, and Alice pulled in every heavy hitter in the game here, bringing in Slash to kick things into high gear on “Vengeance Is Mine” and having Ozzy Osbourne bring a haunting touch to “Wake The Dead”. This is still an Alice record though, and the focus is on both sides of his personality, like the tender ballad “Killed By Love” or getting into character in the studio on “The One That Got Away”, where we basically get a Buffalo Bill style scenario of a woman who narrowly avoids becoming his next victim. Shock rock might not stick around for much longer, but this is the best place Alice could have ended up.