We’re only halfway through 2023, but already enough great albums have come out to fill a full year’s top 10. Interestingly, many of those works were created by some of our most seasoned artists, including Paul Simon, John Cale and Taj Mahal, who are all 81. The collections they created, along with the others below, not only offer remarkable music, they prove conclusively that creativity hardly wanes with age.
Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers
Those who wonder where all the great pop melodies have gone should spend time with Late Developers (January), the latest by the Scottish indie pop band Belle and Sebastian. In track after track, they blend the R&B flair of ’60s Northern Soul with the fleet sound of Brill Building pop. Better, their lyrics have the detail, character and plot you’d find in a Ray Davies song for The Kinks. It’s the kind of classic pop that never gets old.
Everything but the Girl: Fuse
It’s been 24 years since the married duo who comprise Everything but the Girl, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, reunited for an album under the group’s name: Fuse (January). Elements of their comeback pick up right where they left off. Again, the album focuses on electronic instruments and honors the wan brand of club music the pair patented in the ’90s. At the same time, their synths have taken on new tones and Thorn’s voice has wondrously aged. It’s deeper in pitch and chestier in texture, lending her even greater character. The lyrics also reflect their stage of life — they’re both 60 — by expressing a carpe diem urgency. Like all their best recordings, EBTG’s latest has both an intellectual perspective and a sensual sweep.
John Cale: Mercy
Most long-running artists start to recycle their sound at a certain point. Not Welsh musician and composer John Cale. In his 80s, he’s still finding new styles to conquer. Over the decades, the founding member of the Velvet Underground has created rock, pop, punk, classical and avant-garde solo albums. His latest, Mercy (January), dives into fresh electronic sounds to create a synth-drenched meditation on our current world. Inspired (or, rather, repelled) by multiple topics — including COVID and Brexit — it’s not always a pretty picture he paints, though he does take time out for some lighter songs covering his relationships with departed stars like David Bowie and Nico. Together, it creates a work with both political and personal resonance.