This morning I woke up to find new music from Judas Priest, a band who has been steadily making tunes since 1968. Rob Halford, the bands front man is 72 years old. Most people of that age would rather be home retiring with their grandkids, but Halford and the band sound just as spry as they did on their debut. Later this month 80-year-old Mick Jagger and decrepit (in a good way) Keith Richards will release a new Rolling Stones album. The material released so far finds the band playing with a purpose and a passion they haven’t had on a record since the 90’s. It’s not uncommon for bands to release new material, the question is, will people listen if played live and should bands leave recording new music to younger acts?
The Rolling Stones are about to drop a new LP on us. Oh god, most people would decry. They have every right to do so. When an older band announces new music, that typically means it would be listened to once, then tossed away. The fan base would rather stick with their classic output as new music from older acts comes off as feeding the band’s own ego rather than creating something meaningful. Roger Waters re-release of Dark Side the Moon, I’m looking at you.
However, upon hearing the new singles “Angry” and “Sweet Sounds of Heaven”, this is not a band looking to recapture past glories. They are using everything fans have come to love, their same sound, but introspective songs about getting older, loss, and of course, having a good time. The new songs resonate with fans. The songs are made to feel like you want to hear them live.
On the other side of this coin, there is the ego stroking side of making music. Roger Waters is a good example of this. Rather than creating something new and meaningful, a thoughtful reflection of a life and career well lived, but instead, this happened. During the Covid Lockdowns, Waters released stripped back acoustic versions of Pink Floyd songs leading to his decision to remake his biggest selling LP. Rogers’ approach was to see how the album would sound from the perspective of his 80-year-old self. Rather than waste time and money, why not just play it live that way? People will flock to the original anyway.
Older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser in Waters case. The new version was deemed to be too slow and does not feature David Gilmour. Playing it live seemed to be a chore as well. Fans, if they stuck around had to endure (suffer) an hour of Waters reading 4 chapters from his biography. In addition, they had to watch a 20-minute-long video about the making of the record. Some artists should just know when to call it a day.
Even more egregiously, bands like Van Halen, whose 2012 record A Different Kind of Truth just rehashed a lot of their old songs. Taken from the groups Gene Simmons produced demos in 1976, the band tarnished their legacy by remaking what came before. Rather than be the innovators of the genre they are, they played it safe. “Stay Frosty” was “Ice Cream Man” part two. “As Is”, a sped up “Hot for Teacher.” If I wanted to hear these songs, I would just seek out the demos. When played live, not one audience member stayed for them, conveniently returning in time for the classics.
Other bands, however, know that less is more. Using their love of the artists they grew up on, U2 came back in 2023 in a big way. The new single “Atomic City”, a one-off release is an ode to the band’s past. Paying tribute to their influences Blondie and The Clash while paving the way for the band to continue to make fun rock songs. The song won’t be in anyone’s way the way a whole new album would be performed live, but it’s just enough to let audiences know the band is still active and making quality content.
As for older bands making new records, it comes down to the reason behind it. If there is passion behind the desire, a willingness to give fans what they like (and not just rehash old songs), then there is a demand for new music from older bands.