T’pau: What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Earlier this year when my best friend of a billion years died of pancreatic cancer I embarked on a Facebook search of some old high school/university buddies who needed to know. One replied “*Sigh* Well, we are all of actuarial age now.”

Getting old is a serious issue for musicians. After a certain point fans no longer care about hearing your new material. When they go to a show, all they want is the hits.

U2 was able to stave off this problem for more than 30 years, the reception of No Line on the Horizon and Songs of Innocence show that fewer fans than ever are interested in new stuff. Give them credit for attempting to keep moving forward in an effort to stay relevant, but they’re run into some pretty fierce headwinds,

This is a lesson the Rolling Stones learned (and embraced) as far back as 1989. They can record all the new albums they want, but the only thing that will hold anyone’s attention is another rendition of “Satisfaction.”

Billy Corgan refuses to turn the Smashing Pumpkins into a nostalgia act, But in doing so, he’s alienated longtime fans–old Alternative Nation kids from the Lollapalooza generation–who want to hear “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” again in order to relieve their youth. And while his output has been inconsistent in quality (at least to my ears), there’s no doubt that there’s been more than a few gems in the last ten years. Sadly, few people have shown any genuine interest.

Then there’s Madonna, one of the biggest stars we’ve ever seen. How much airplay are the singles for her current album getting? Can you even name her current album? You see the problem.

Which brings me to T’Pau, the Shropshire band best know for a string of hits in the late 80s, including this one.

T’Pau’s golden years were from 1987 through to 1991. After a short breakup, singer Carol Decker brought the group back together in 1998 and have been working steadily ever since, trading on their big hits. But given the music industry environment, they stuck with live performances and largely stayed away from recording new material.

That is, until earlier this year, when they issued their fifth album–their first since 1998–entitled Pleasure & Pain. It’s a fine record, too. As 80s/90s-tinged pop goes, it’s quite good. A quick search will turn up a number of 5-star reviews for the album.

It’s full of 80s-ish synths supporting a surprising number of angsty tracks that are tempered by lost love songs. Here’s the first single.

But as I embedded this video, I noticed that despite being posted on January 6, 2015, it’s only had 7,659 views.  Why? A couple of reasons:

  • It’s a true DIY indie release. There hasn’t been much in the way of promotion of the album.
  • Contemporary radio isn’t interested in this sound. The radio that does play T’Pau only wants to play “Heart and Soul,” “China in Your Hand” and “Valentine.”
  • The packaging ain’t great. But when you’re on your own, compromises have to be made.
  • T’Pau is an old construct. Pop music is for and about the young. Cruel, but true.

Carol Decker is most discouraged with the lack of exposure this record is getting. Artists exist to create art. All hope to be able to do that forever. The problem lies with the rest of us when, inundated with a stupid amount of new material on an hourly basis, we let music created by our former favourites–and often very good music–slip though the cracks unnoticed.

I’d expect that if they ever sat down to tea together, Carok and Billy Corgan would have a lot to talk about.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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