It is the habit of successful musicians to stay in the game long after their muse has departed. Like the drunk who doesn't know when to leave the party, they remain oblivious to their dwindling audience, their increasing irrelevance and their ability to bore the pants off anyone who crosses their path.
Certainly, it takes a pop star of some calibre and class to know when to quit. So, bravo Mike Skinner, the Bambi-eyed artist formerly known as The Streets, for announcing his retirement after five albums and 10 years as one of pop's prime movers.
A decade ago, Skinner was a fresh, witty and articulate artist who encapsulated what it was to be young, British and male at the start of a new century. Fast forward a decade and, even though his music is still feted by critics and fans, he has come to understand that, as a wealthy pop star whose life consists of interviews and awards ceremonies, he no longer speaks for the masses. More to the point, his heart isn't in it.
Now, compare Skinner's actions with those of Girls Aloud, the multi-million selling girl group who were formed in 2002 out of the TV talent show Popstars: The Rivals. In nine years they have transformed themselves from identikit pop wannabes to a precision-tooled, hit-making machine with 20 consecutive top 10 singles under their diamante-encrusted belts. Recently, in attempt to dispel the doubts continually cast as to their future, Kimberley Walsh announced that the group are not going their separate ways. Indeed, she says that they will never, ever split up. Really? Not even when they have fallen out of gossip-mag favour, when their music has descended into self-parody, when their looks have been stretched into Desperate Housewives-style grimaces and they have been usurped – as they inevitably will – by younger, fitter models?
Besides, surely they must know that if they don't split up, check into rehab, and retreat behind outsized shades to the countryside, they will never be able to get back together in ten years for the triumphant, money-spinning reunion a la Take That.
In fairness, Girls Aloud's musical cachet is still high, with no real challengers to their girl-group crown. But with their de facto leader Cheryl Cole's TV diary block-booked until 2064, Sarah Harding nurturing both acting and modelling careers and the other three releasing solo LPs, Girls Aloud's long-term future doesn't look especially workable. So wouldn't now be the ideal time to go? Apparently not, especially when there's still a brand name to cling to.
Then again, rare is the musician who bows out gracefully during their creative and commercial peak. Would that Oasis have given up after two brilliant albums rather than limping on, making increasingly dreary music while airing their sad sibling rivalry in public. The same might be said for Aerosmith, once the height of Seventies blues-rock cool who later sunk into sappy balladry that proved depressingly popular among the soft-rock brigade.
Of course, it is the luxury of wealth that allows the more sensible and far-sighted pop star to get out while the going it good. But that doesn't make it any less laudable. With his announcement of retirement, Mike Skinner may well have been following the lead of Brian Eno, who left Roxy Music when the band was at its height, after he found himself thinking about the laundry while on stage. Talk Talk handed in their resignation on a similarly creative high, following the release of their post-rock masterpiece Laughing Stock. More recently, Lily Allen announced her retirement last spring after four highly successful years in the business.
Like Allen, Skinner now has the opportunity to take stock, take a holiday and ponder his next move. Meanwhile, as long as he resists the lure of the comeback tour, the music and legacy of The Streets will remain gloriously unblemished.