Planet of Sound


New age or old hat? Grace Duffy looks at the struggle that older acts face when trying to stay contemporary.

Relevance and music are two things that go hand in hand. A truly timeless song is one indiscernible from the age in which it was born, but which retains the ability to move future generations with the same power and influence.


However, in an industry constantly evolving and expanding, is it still possible to achieve such longevity? Moreover, in an époch of overnight successes and 15-minute sensations, how long will it be before the appreciation for music from a bygone era dwindles with the aging fans that represented its true audience?

The question must be posed thus: what is relevant in music in 2009? After all, no band can remain the same in a career that spans decades. Composing and performing will only get a group so far and ultimately those who survive will be those who conquer the seemingly insurmountable task of adapting their music to suit current trends, while still staying true to their roots.

The success rate is limited, and most of the time an older band embarking on a tour in support of a new album will find themselves packaged with a younger and more contemporary group to ensure the shows sell out.

It is rare that a band’s name is so synonymous with greatness that it can continue to thrive without some help from its latter day peers. The one obvious name that springs to mind from that illustrious group is Metallica, whose support bands are often younger versions of themselves but whose crowds come to see Metallica, and Metallica alone. Looking closer to home however, can Ireland’s ubiquitous example of worldwide success be construed in the same manner?

U2 came from nothing and conquered the world, achieving commercial and critical success based on foundations laid in the drummer’s kitchen. The merit of their rags-to-riches story cannot be faulted, but following a certain dodgy tax decision their credibility must be.

Is it still possible to truly move an audience for whom circumstances are so entirely different to those of the band themselves? Some would argue that Bono’s attempts to promote charitable causes surpass the need for the music to strike a genuine chord with their listeners. However, others would be of the opinion that if philanthropy is what is necessary to remain relevant for contemporary listeners, then he’s in the wrong career.

Music is something that builds upon itself, and every artist is a summation of what has gone before, reshaped for a new generation. The old schoolers will always have a place amongst the youngsters they inspired, but whether their compositions actually speak to the audience in the same way is questionable. If the mark of a great band is its ability to linger through the ages and experiment successfully with changing trends, then perhaps those like Metallica can excel, but ultimately tired palates will always seek out something new.