A decade ago, the rock world wouldn’t give Busted the time of day. To the genre press, they were a bit of a joke. The enemy. The mainstream to rally against. You’d never have seen Busted on the cover of a ‘serious’ magazine.
Today, as they reform, there’s more than a passing interest from those same corners of the media. Fightstar’s frontman has returned to his old band. Not long ago, you’d have got better odds on flying pigs. In the time since they departed, there’s been an acceptance that – actually – though they weren’t a band that should have been playing Reading and Leeds, Busted were still influential. Even if you can’t stand their musical output, someone you know found their way through their music.
When they first split in 2005, Busted were huge. Massive. Multiple Wembley Arena dates, all over the telly box, chart success – they weren’t just changing things in terms of commercial gain. Sure – they were a pop band, that’s not up for argument – but with their guitars, drum kits and interview nods towards Green Day, Blink -182 and Simple Plan, they were so much more. They may not have been lauded by the scene, but they were important.
How many of the bands from that era owed something to Busted? It wasn’t just pop titans McFly that they set the ground for. By the time Charlie left to ‘do’ Fightstar properly, they’d successfully set thousands of young music fans down a path. When McBusted arrived, Mark Hoppus and Alex Gaskarth were happy to lend a hand, while many of the capital’s leading lights spent a Saturday or Sunday night in London’s O2 getting thoroughly drunk and having a good time. More than one – at least off the record – called it their show of the year. Through the mid 00s, every alternative act that blew up in the UK probably owed something, however small, to them.
How much of a part that link played in Charlie’s original departure, only he’d know, but from his regular name checks for Biffy Clyro and Bon Iver, credibility was obviously something he craved. Still, his band firmly sat at the pop side of the divide, drawing fans across a bridge that could eventually end up at Funeral For A Friend, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco and beyond.
Ten years on, though, what does Busted reforming really mean? In the time they’ve been away, the musical landscape has both changed, and remained remarkably similar. Many will draw a parallel to 5 Seconds of Summer – a band who supported One Direction on tour and yet, in a way Busted never did, firmly lay claim to be ‘rock’. It’s a greyer area than one might think. In the way Simpson, Bourne and Willis did, 5SOS too provide that gateway into a world of louder, weirder, less obvious gems – in five or ten years time, their fans will be the ones writing the rule book – but the two bands are not the same.
Now, boy bands aren’t like they were in the early noughties. 1D aren’t Blue or – God forbid – One True Voice. Today, they’re edgier. More dangerous (on the surface at least – they’ve got more tattoos between them than most rock bands – Ed), and, musically, far, far more assertive. Sure, they’ll have the token knitwear ballad, but really – if you want a better counterpart for Busted, look at The Vamps. A chart band with guitars, who have actually worked with James Bourne. Where Busted were the ushers of pop, 5SOS have become the gatekeepers of rock. A subtle difference, sure, but a difference none the less.
But with this new generation doing the job already, what’s the point in bringing Busted back together? Charlie can’t need the money that badly – after all, he didn’t show any indication of interest in McBusted. Straight out of the gates there’s talk of new material, and when describing it, Simpson genuinely does look as if he thinks there’s something worthwhile to uncover. The truth, though, is even in an era of all you can eat streaming, Busted aren’t likely to be drawing in a vast new generation of fans. They’re not going to turn anyone on to State Champs or The Wonder Years. Someone else does that now.
Why care? Because this is all happening in the shadow of Fightstar’s first album in a while – released only last month. Ten years ago, Busted were the band to open doors to a scene that refused to let them in. Now, they’re something different. Like all pop acts who reform a decade on, after that one big tour, they’ve got to cut the mustard all over again.
Talking to Upset a few days after the Busted rumours first started circling, Charlie described ‘Behind The Devil’s Back’ as “the best Fightstar record”.
“I like to focus on one project at a time,” he explains, “so writing riffs and all that stuff was really exciting because I hadn’t done it in so long.”
And now, he’s got two ‘projects’. He’s already confirmed this isn’t the end for Fightstar, but when he had to work so hard to find credibility, to some more hardline critics, Charlie Simpson may have to prove himself all over again.
He seems OK with that. “If people have a problem with the decisions I make then I totally respect that,” he said in a press conference this morning, “but I can’t spend my life worrying about what other people are going to think.”
And maybe, if we’re being fair, he shouldn’t have to. Just like with Fightstar, at least on the surface it seems like returning to his former band is about seeing something that excites him in new material, rather than a hurrah for money’s sake. When the twin towers of rock and pop sit as close together as ever before, maybe double agent Simpson can pull off keeping a foot in both camps. Maybe it’s about time we stopped worrying about divides. Maybe we should just let him get on with it.
“I thought we’d be Green Day in 20 years”, Matt Willis says in the band’s comeback video. It’d be one of the strangest developments imaginable, but you never know.