Too old to rock? The Professor of Pop thinks they may be

Click to follow
The Independent Online
In the fickle world of rock 'n' roll, where overnight sensations frequently become overnight has-beens, only the truly gifted (or the truly fortunate) can make the distance.

At 50-years-old, Sir Paul McCartney can teach young hopefuls, like Oasis, a thing or two about writing a tune. Likewise David Bowie. The Irish supergroup U2, with tens of millions of album and ticket sales behind them, have shown a rare talent for reinventing their sound and hanging on to their audience, as they try to stay at the cutting edge.

But while the music industry prepares for the annual Mercury Prize - its equivalent of the Booker Prize for fiction - at least one man is less than impressed with the old-timers of pop.

Indeed, as he announced the award shortlist yesterday, the chairman of the judges, Simon Frith, who is Professor of English at Strathclyde University and the country's leading academic specialising in rock music, poured scorn on the latest efforts of some of Britain's longest established and successful musicians, while singing the praises of its latest superstars.

While the Spice Girls' debut album made it into the 10-strong list of finalists for the Mercury Album of the Year, the old guard got the brush- off. Even the latest offering from Blur, who enjoyed massive critical acclaim only months ago, was unable to make the grade.

Professor Frith said: "McCartney never came through strongly enough for the judges. Bowie was discussed for a very long time. He is an interesting artist. But he was trying to use a form, a dance effect, an electronic effect, that he didn't use as skilfully as the Chemical Brothers, whom we have shortlisted.

"Blur are as good as their songs and their latest songs weren't considered to be good enough."

U2, he said, were simply taking songs and trying to make them sound modern.

Defending the decision to place the ubiquitous Spice Girls in the final line-up, he added: "This is girl gang music as opposed to girl group music. It is a unique image. They clearly work with the backroom boys on the lyrics to fit the image.

"There is a long tradition of British crafty pop, very clever pop songs which are hard to get out of your head. It is an aspect of British pop that has always been underrated.

"My own feeling as an academic is that they have a place in the history of British pop.

"They have good songs. I play their records at home and I would certainly lecture on them. But I very much doubt they will be around in five years' time. Part of the essence of a pop group is seizing a moment and an image."

The Mercury Music Prize for British and Irish albums will be presented on 28 August. The full shortlist is: Trailer Park by Beth Orton; Dig Your Own Hole by Chemical Brothers; Svyati by John Tavener; Your Rockaby by Mark-Anthony Turnage; Vanishing Point by Primal Scream; The Fat of the Land by Prodigy; OK Computer by Radiohead; New Forms by Roni Size; Spice by the Spice Girls; Coming Up by Suede.