Posts tagged ‘Rock’

February 11, 2008

Creative youth

It struck me during a conversation the other day that rock musicians are kinda like footballers, they peak during the twenty’s.  This does seem at odds with the rest of the artistic world, in film, art, writing & theatre age is appreciated and like a fine wine maturation often enhances the performance.  While having a discussion on music, my brother pointed out that hardly any bands or artists flourish – producing their best body of work – barely after they’ve entered their thirties.  All the creative genius is distilled in a few short years during their youth, he said.  I found this statement to be both bold and foolhardy, though when thinking of a quick riposte I struggled to think of any major artist to disprove his theory.  So I decided to look into it……………………..,,2253660,00.html

Starting from the 60’s pioneers and vanguards – The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Neil Young, etc, etc.  With the exception of The Beatles these bands have continued to furrow their own particular musical path. However when analysing their perceived classics not many of them delivered masterpieces at a later age. 

  • Bowie produced ‘Scary Monsters’ at 33, while not his best album it can certainly feel worthy in such distinguished company. 
  • Bob Dylan is another who many critics feel produced some of his seminal work during his thirties, ‘Blood on the Tracks’ & ‘Desire’.  Even in his late 6o’s his productivity hasn’t dimmed, although his greatest period was undoubtedly before he reached 40.
  • Pink Floyd produced ‘The Wall’ in their mid thirties, selling millions of albums on a global scale, but never quite matching the transcendental brilliance of some of their earlier albums.
  • Neil Young still manages to defy age and vitality by producing some wonderful songs, but when asking someone their favourite Young album they will nearly always mention a 70’s composition.    
  • Fleetwood Mac are one of the only representatives of  the 1970’s  to create something of genius at a mature age.  ‘Rumours’ was released when they were all approaching their mid thirties.

Not much inspiration from the 80’s, though the 90 ‘s throws up a few artists that created – maybe not their defining piece de resistance – but works that inspired, challenged and brought critical acclaim.  

  • Beastie Boys – ‘Hello Nasty’/mid thirties
  • Madonna – ‘Ray of Light’/late 30’s
  • Moby – ‘Play’/mid 30’s
  • REM – ‘Automatic for the people’/mid 30’s
  • Paul Weller – ‘Wild Wood’ /mid 30’s

So to the current decade…..There are a few intriguing anomalies here that suggest the theory of youthful genius isn’t completely water tight.  Most notably………

  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, who arguably produced their masterpieces well into their 40’s, ‘Californication’ and ‘By the way’ were beautiful examples of a band maturing and displaying a new found creativity for melody & harmony.  This allied with the bands hard edged experience and wisdom of the mind contrived to produce works of harnessed brilliance.
  • Often dubbed by the media as ‘Mr renaissance man’, Damon Albarn certainly bucks the trend.  His latest work with, first Gorillaz and now The Good, The Bad and The Queen easily outshines his previous work with Blur and disproves the theory of mid life burnout.  Now in his 40th year Mr Albarn is becoming more inspired with age.
  • Radiohead are often confounding critics.  Constantly pushing the envelope, they have no bounds to their collective talent and imagination.  Having just released the album of 2007 with ‘In rainbows’ while all approaching 40.  It will surely go down as a classic and who’s to say there isn’t more to come?
  • Flaming Lips are another band who just improve with experience.  While clearly not producing work that is quite as radical as there earlier form, they are now enjoying the fruits of their labour with highly skilled journeys of psychedelic rock.
  • U2 did release ‘All that you can’t leave behind’ recently, which is considered by many to be one of their best albums.  Like Bjork though – who still manages to surprise and entertain – they will probably both be defined by their earlier work. 

 There are many artists I haven’t even considered, Soul & Blues singers are exempt from this particular study.   I wanted to focus on rock/pop music as these genres are often feted with the roman candle tag of burning bright and short.   There are many incidences where artists relive some of their old magic: ie, Bruce Springsteen.  Though in all of these cases there is no doubting that their most captivating pieces of work were  written during their formative years.  There are very few artists that actually buck this trend,  if you look at any top 50 album-of-all-time-list in any of the music press you will discover that all of those great albums were written by musicians in their youth.