This Friday, Tool will release their 5th album, Fear Inoculum, and the California prog metal band’s legion of patient fans will get to decide whether it was worth the long wait since 2006’s 10,000 Days. This comes just a week after the world eagerly greeted the arrival of Missy Elliott’s Iconology EP, the first time she’s released more than a single in 14 years.
At a time when the pace of popular music has never seemed faster, and artists like Future and Ariana Grande release back-to-back albums to stay ever-present on the charts, it can be risky to go without releasing music for more than a couple years. And a prolonged wait can sometimes lead to a bigger disappointment, like the album that Guns N’ Roses took 15 years to release, 2008’s widely derided Chinese Democracy.
Still, it’s not unheard of for an act to take a hiatus for over a decade and return with a great record. Here are 10 excellent albums from across the worlds of rock, rap, country, soul, dance and pop that followed such lengthy hiatuses. (For the purposes of this list, we didn’t count reunion albums by bands that were officially broken up for most or all of the downtime — after all, you can’t actively anticipate new music from an inactive group).
Scott Walker, Tilt (1995)
British troubadour Scott Walker, who passed away in March of this year, released several albums in the last decade of his life. But for most of his career, the former ‘60s teen idol built up his reputation and a reclusive and uncompromising musician by releasing an album roughly once a decade. Tilt, which followed 1984’s Climate of Hunter, was a desolate and experimental album, dense with literary allusions. And it kicked off a trilogy of albums that Walker would take 17 years to complete, with 2012’s Bisch Bosch.
Kate Bush, Aerial (2005)
Kate Bush had been averaging three or four years between albums by the time of 1993’s The Red Shoes, and she planned to take just a year off after its release. But one year turned into 12, as Bush pulled back from public life and focused on motherhood. When she returned with 2005’s Aerial, fans and critics celebrated the dense double album’s relaxed pace and ambitious structure — particularly the second disc A Sky of Honey’s song cycle, depicting the passage of a 24-hour day.
Portishead, Third (2008)
The Bristol trio Portishead helped define the trip hop genre in the mid-‘90s with their first two albums. But by the time they returned from a 10-year hiatus in 2008, they’d moved on from the moody, downtempo breakbeat-derived sound that had made them famous. Third was more abrasive and discordant than Portishead’s earlier music, evoking krautrock and horror soundtracks. But singer Beth Gibbons’ voice was as haunting as ever, and the bold new sound was embraced by critics.
Aphex Twin, Syro (2014)
After the divisive 2002 double album Drukqs, the prolific electronic music pioneer Richard D. James laid relatively low for over a decade, occasionally issuing EPs under his AFX alias, and telling interviewers that he had six unreleased albums in his archives. But his most famous stage name, Aphex Twin, finally made a return in 2014, when a viral marketing campaign involving graffiti, dark web links, and a blimp started to give fans hints about a new album. The playfully funky tracks on Syro were some of James’ most accessible work to date, and the acclaimed album won Aphex Twin its first Grammy.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard, Black Messiah (2014)
D’Angelo’s ‘90s peer group of neo-soul stars all seem to have a tendency to take their time between albums — Erykah Badu and Maxwell frequently take 5 to 8 years between albums, and we’ve gone 21 years without a Lauryn Hill studio album. But D’Angelo in particular struggled to follow up 2000’s Voodoo, at first attempting to record an album by playing every instrument himself. Eventually, he returned to recording with an all-star cast of musicians, including ?uestlove and Pino Palladino. D’Angelo dubbed his backing group the Vanguard when he finally released the beautifully understated Black Messiah. And it was the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, protesting the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other police brutality victims, that spurred D’angelo to finally seize the moment to make a musical statement in 2014.
Dr. Dre, Compton (2015)
After releasing two of the most popular and influential hip-hop albums of the ‘90s, Dr. Dre promised for years that his third and final solo album, Detox, would cap his career in epic fashion. But after over a decade of rumors, leaks, and empty promises, Dre finally cancelled Detox. And then, he surprised the world by releasing an album under a different title, Compton, alongside the hit NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton in the summer of 2015. The album may not have lived up to the lofty pedigree of Dre sets The Chronic and 2001, but it featured plenty of cinematic beats and scene-stealing Kendrick Lamar and Eminem verses, and introduced the world to future R&B star Anderson .Paak.
The Avalanches, Wildflower (2016)
The Australian DJ collective The Avalanches took the world by storm with their 2000 debut album Since I Left You, a playful and inventive patchwork of thousands of samples. But after over a decade of sporadic news about Avalanches founders Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi recording a follow-up, Wildflower finally arrived in 2016. The Melbourne group retained their sampledelic aesthetic for the sophomore album, but introduced a focus on guest vocalists, including Danny Brown, Biz Markie, and David Berman.
Chuck Berry, Chuck (2017)
1950s rock pioneer Chuck Berry ceased recording original material after his 19th album, 1979’s Rockit, but continued to perform his oldies around the world for decades. Berry announced on his 90th birthday in 2016 that he’d completed one more album, Chuck, but passed away in March 2017, three months before the release date he’d set for it. Although Chuck featured appearances by younger guitarists like Tom Morello, Gary Clark Jr. and even Berry’s son Charles Berry Jr., the set was a return to form — one that attested to the timelessness of the old-fashioned rock & roll sound Berry helped invent.
Shania Twain, Now (2017)
Three of Shania Twain’s first four albums were produced by and written with her husband Mutt Lange, all of them enormous multi-Platinum-certified blockbusters. And after 2002’s Up!, the couple took a prolonged break from music, living in Switzerland. But after an acrimonious divorce in 2010, Twain slowly began to move toward making her first album without Lange since 1993. Her 15-year hiatus was finally broken in 2017 with the Billboard 200-topping Now, a personal and bittersweet album that retained the pop country sensibility of her ‘90s hits with a far less bombastic sound.
Purple Mountains, Purple Mountains (2019)
Singer/songwriter David Berman was the only constant member of the indie rock band Silver Jews over the course of six albums it released between 1994 and 2008. But when he returned with his first new album in over a decade this year, he decided not to revive the Silver Jews name, instead releasing the self-titled album by a new band, Purple Mountains, in July. Singing about depression and loneliness with his characteristic wit and insight on songs like “Maybe I’m the Only One for Me,” Berman’s return was celebrated by longtime fans. Sadly, Berman died by suicide on August 7, less than a month after the release of Purple Mountains, leaving the album as his final work.