Like sportspeople and mathematicians, pop stars’ powers are supposed to wane when they enter their 30s. So how do I explain the fact that 2007’s most mouthwatering albums are being made by geriatrics? Either young people have become strangely inept at pop music or age limits no longer apply. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both. (That myself am slumping towards my mid-30s obviously has no bearing on this observation.)
Nick Cave’s new band, Grinderman, a side project formed with several members of his usual band The Bad Seeds, is a case in point. Clearly fed up with his public profile as a settled family man who has renounced the wild ways of his junkie past, the 49-year-old seems to have resolved to make an album so delinquent it sounds as if it wants to drink your house dry and steal your daughter.
One song opens with him groaning “My face is finished, my body is gone” like a character in a Martin Amis novel, before a degenerate squall of guitars kicks in to soundtrack a tale of failed middle-aged seduction (“I combed the hairs over my head, sucked in my gut but still she said she didn’t want to”). It is, needless to say, brilliant and I trust the rest of the album, out in March, will also put the “id” into “mid-life crisis”.
Mark E. Smith, another 49-year-old (although hard living and a curmudgeonly temper mean he looks more like a pensioner), returns next year with his band The Fall’s umpteenth album, Reformation Post TLC. Smith is impervious to fashion but there are signs the prickly Mancunian is on his way to “national treasure” status, which is bound to infuriate him. I expect him to be barking out his opaquely bilious lyrics with extra bite this time while his young bandmates, a shifting crew owing to Smith’s frequent purges of personnel, stoke the fires in the musical boiler-room.
More than a decade on, Britpop’s main players have almost all faded away. Blur’s frontman Damon Albarn, creator of the
hit cartoon band Gorillaz, is the exception. He has formed a new group, The Good, The Bad And The Queen, whose terrible name hasn’t damped my high hopes
for their album, due out next month. Joining him are Paul Simenon of The Clash, Tony Allen, the Nigerian drummer who created Afrobeat, Simon Tong, formerly guitarist with The Verve, and Danger Mouse, the American DJ who produced Gorillaz’s Demon Days – a cosmopolitan crew of collaborators who have apparently helped Albarn make his most London-centric album since Blur’s Parklife in 1994.
Bands that stay together for ages either get stuck in a rut or learn to adapt as their members get older and develop different interests. Radiohead are examples of the latter camp: their line-up hasn’t changed since they formed in 1989 but they never give the impression of treading water. Their seventh studio recording is expected next year, and the songs they premiered at live shows recently were promising omens.
So are the old guard making all the running? Not quite: I’m looking forward to The Arcade Fire’s follow-up to Funeral, the Canadian band’s majestic 2004 debut, which is expected in the spring. But otherwise Generation Y is looking pretty threadbare music-wise. Age and experience threaten to prevail in 2007.