There are albums I’ve bought because I felt it would be bad form not to; so-called classics that look good on the shelf but which ultimately served no grander purpose than gathering dust. Then there are the ones I’ve bought on little more than intuition; a song title, an album cover, or a band’s name.
‘Relationship of Command’ was purchased one Saturday afternoon in September 2000 purely on the strength of seeing Omar Rodriguez-López’s afro on the cover of NME, and it was the best tenner I’ve ever spent. The album has since become one of those canonical ‘Rock History’ works, but if you’re unfamiliar with At The Drive-In and don’t understand why the internet lost its shit last night at the news of their reformation, trust me, just buy it. You’ll never get bored of it.
Everyone else, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say: holy fuck. Sure, this wasn’t entirely unexpected – there were rumours last week that the band had been booked to play a show in Russia, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala admitted a couple of years ago that a reunion was a possibility – but that doesn’t make it any less momentous.
At The Drive-In, you see, are the great lost band of the 00’s. Not in the sense that if they’d stuck around a while longer, we might have spent that decade sifting through countless sci-fried psychedelic post-hardcore outfits instead of Strokes-aping post-punk ones; their splenetic hybrid of prog and punk, not to mention Bixler-Zavala’s trilingual, Lovecraftian lyrics, made ATD-I impossible to imitate.
No, what makes them the noughties’ most tantalising ‘What if?’ is that they imploded just as the years spent slogging around the basements of the American Southwest in a battered 1981 Ford Econoline were about to pay off. They were improving and evolving at a frightening rate, and the rest of the world – my sixteen year-old self included – was only just catching up. For a few brief months they were, unquestionably, the most exciting rock ’n’ roll band on the planet. Their demise, to understate the obvious, was untimely.
They were also a ferocious live band. Sadly, this not something I know from firsthand experience (although I’ve seen The Mars Volta enough times to hazard a guess) but rather from the testimony of my girlfriend, who had the good fortune of seeing them at The Arches in Glasgow, and spent the entire night with her mouth agape in awe.
Others I know who saw them around that time tell similar stories. That’s why, for me, the wow-factor of this reunion is right up there with – and maybe even surpasses – that of The Stone Roses. I was too young to have seen the Roses in their heyday but I came of age to Relationship of Command, and I’ve always rued the combination of bad luck and rotten timing that meant I never got to see ATD-I on any of their (too few) visits to the UK. I imagine I’m not the only one.
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When these sorts of announcements are made, there are usually a few lone dissenters on comment boards everywhere cautioning against ‘Tarnishing the legacy,’ or grumbling about how ‘They’re only doing it for the money.’ Thus far, however, the reaction seems to be universally positive: At The Drive-In didn’t leave a legacy so much as a legend, and people recognize that there’s unfinished business to be taken care of here.
The answers to our many questions – the story behind their reconciliation, how long it might last, the likelihood of a new album – can wait for the time being. This station is now operational, and it is a great day for rock ’n’ roll.