Monday, 8 April 2013

Old pop stars don't retire, they go digital

The first generation to have grown up listening to pop music is getting on now, so it's no surprise pop stars are also entering old age. On 8 January, his 66th birthday, David Bowie announced his first album for more than a decade, The Next Day - released last month. Its first single, Where Are We Now?, sounds deliberately frail, which many critics linked to Bowie's heart surgery in 2004, and references to Berlin sites from the Low heydays add to its poignancy.

If anything, the rest of the album bristles with the vigour of late-'80s outing Tin Machine, and a similar vitality can be found on Delta Machine - the 13th studio album in 33 years from Depeche Mode, whose band members' average age is 51. Pet Shop Boys - Neil Tennant (58) and Chris Lowe (53) - have revealed they'll be releasing their 12th studio album, Electric, in June. And French pop icon Etienne Daho, 57, has just announced new work and a series of concerts in Paris for next February.

Unlike the visual arts or writing, pop music is not known for creative longevity - it is traditionally a youngster's game, though pop musicians may go onto innovate in other fields: David Byrne has worked in film and theatre for more than 30 years; Pet Shop Boys premiered ballet The Most Incredible Thing in 2011 and scored Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin back in 2004; Patti Smith is noted as a writer and photographer, now.

While older artists may sound stupid aping new genres (Paul McCartney's the Fireman, anyone?), musicians like Bowie and Radiohead have been quick to grasp the opportunities afforded by new technologies - notably digital release - which may go some way to explaining their current, prolific output. Secure of their fan base, Pet Shop Boys will release Electric through Kobalt Label Services - which released Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Push the Sky Away in February - barely nine months after their last, Elysium.

In the concert arena, however, women lead the way, as evidenced by Blondie, Joan Jett and Laurie Anderson - or take this year's Meltdown on the South Bank (14-23 June), tickets for which go on sale this week. The 80-year-old Yoko Ono has selected Siouxsie, Marianne Faithfull and Patti Smith among her line-up. Who said girl power's dead?

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