Attack of the '90s Music Stars

Of course, it helps that so many of these songs, with their charging hooks and huge choruses, have held up surprisingly well. ''If you look at modern-rock radio playlists,'' says Cob-Baehler, ''there's definitely a lot of older '90s music represented. A lot of these singles just keep coming back. And some never go away — if you think of a band like Sublime, they don't ever get dropped off of those playlists.''

Everclear frontman Art Alexakis gives that credit where he believes it's due: ''My philosophy in life as far as music goes is 'It's not about me, it's about the song.' The song is king,'' says the man who's spent the summer selling out venues on a joint tour with Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit, and Marcy Playground.

But Alexakis may be underselling the continued power of personality. He first tasted fame in an era that necessitated narratives: If you wanted to be on the radio, you had to have a good story, and those details — the struggles with sobriety, the intra-band conflicts — gave the audience another thing to attach themselves to. (Counter that with 2012 acts like Gotye and fun., who've had huge chart smashes but whose success is almost entirely independent of personal biography.) ''The '90s was artist-driven, and now it's become more song-driven,'' says Sirius XM's Steele. ''Which is why I think ultimately this is a revival to go back toward 'Wasn't it great when you were fans? Wasn't it great when you went out and bought T-shirts of bands?'''

Sometimes, of course, nostalgia can be toxic, tamping down the evolution of culture in favor of looking endlessly backward. And some returns can seem like coldhearted, hairline-challenged attempts to cash in. But the current crop of revivalists — from continuing superstars Green Day (who will release three albums over the next five months) to less flashy acts like the Wallflowers — carry on because they still have something to say, and hopefully an audience that still wants to hear it. Time may have grounded their dreams of private jets and Behind the Music excess, and they may never hit the peaks of a ''You Oughta Know'' or ''3 AM'' or ''One Headlight'' again. But they'll keep the fires burning for a time that was a little simpler, a little sweeter, and way more obsessed with cappuccino.

Originally posted Aug 10, 2012 Published in issue #1220-1221 Aug 24, 2012 Order article reprints
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