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Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,538 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
One of The Telegraph's Best Music Books 2011

We live in a pop age gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration. Band re-formations and reunion tours, expanded reissues of classic albums and outtake-crammed box sets, remakes and sequels, tribute albums and mash-ups . . . But what happens when we run out of past? Are we heading toward a sort of culturalecological catastrop
ebook, 496 pages
Published July 19th 2011 by Faber & Faber (first published October 1st 2010)
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Sep 13, 2011 Tosh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think "Retromania" is the best music book of the 21st Century so far. But of course I am not including the great rock n' roll memoirs, but just talking about "music books" as a cultural thing. And this is a very important book to me, with respect to how music fans react to pop in general. If you are like me, a long term fan of pop music and its trends, and you are middle-aged, one thing comes to mind. There is nothing new happening in contemporary music. In fact its a shocking fact. If i get a ...more
Jun 06, 2012 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With some editing, this would easily have been a five-star book. The subtitle is a little inaccurate. It's really about pop music. Other aspects of popular culture are introduced, but only by way of making points about the relentless recycling of ideas in current vernacular music. Reynolds is an astute thinker with astonishing rock and roll erudition and a terrific prose style - he manages a tone that successfully combines academic respectability and hipster elan. I told a friend I was reading R ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Edmole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was odd reading a book by Simon Reynolds that wasn't positive and excited, as with Rip It Up and Energy Flash, but there was still a lot of brain food and enjoyment to be gleaned.

Having been born in '78 and become a music fan/fanatic/know it all in my teens, most contemporary music has always been recombinant and more aware of its past than its future, but Reynolds is right in saying that that mode has become more total and more acceptable in the last decade.

Previously Reynolds' books have se
Sep 22, 2011 Al rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Though the subtitle of this book refers to "pop culture's addiction to its own past," it's really about 95% about music. Mileage may vary depending on how interested in music the reader is, but I would recommend this without hesitation to anyone with even a general interest in the arts or culture (everyone, probably?). The one caveat would be to skip section two, which essentially catalogs selected musical genres/styles and the various retro tendencies of same, and which was slow going even for ...more
Nov 07, 2011 Keith rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Simon Reynolds defines his modernist aesthetic as a "belief that art has some kind of evolutionary destiny, a teleology that manifests itself through genius artists and masterpieces that are monuments to the future." For me, that simultaneously asks too much and too little from pop, but Reynolds' previous books, where he's argued for the importance of that aesthetic in driving post-punk and electronic music forward, have encouraged me to pay attention to music that I may under-appreciate.

Here, t
Wilbert Herzog
Nov 09, 2015 Wilbert Herzog rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my youth i was reading Melody Maker, NME, Sounds, Rolling Stone and nearly every book i could get on the topic of Pop/Rock-Music. Sometimes i was reading so much about it that i got to make room for the books and mags; names like Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Roy Carr, Ingeborg Schober or Franz Schöler were the writers who brought me to the right albums and artists. But after the 80s it seemed to me that the change of the music and the media in the 90s reduced the importance of the written crit ...more
Amy Laurens
Thought provoking and trivia-studded exploration of retro culture from Simon Reynolds, who I'd count as one of the most intelligent and considered music writers. I mean intelligent without descending into the florid, convoluted self-indulgence that makes some music writers borderline unintelligible. Naming no names (PAUL MORLEY cough cough).

Occasionally this was very smart, but it peaked with the prologue and intro and was a bit conflicted thereafter. This End Of Dayz mentality that assumes no-
Jeff Golick
Or really, 3.5 stars. Reynolds is a very good writer, and a very good thinker on music and popular culture. Here, he tackles the current state of pop music: pop is essentially eating itself, digging into the past and endlessly recycling old tropes rather than coming up with something new. Some don't see a problem with this state of affairs; Reynolds laments it.

The book is knee-deep in examples of this kind of recycling, so much so that it almost becomes simply another cog in the retromanic machi
Feb 02, 2016 Jeroen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I see rose-tinted glasses on the cover. Presumably, these are meant to convey the effect nostalgia has on us, barring out the bad times, remembering the good, and even remembering the bad as good. But to me, they represent Reynolds himself, a man who - I ultimately think - projects his own jadedness about pop music onto the scene as a whole. He admits as much at the end - that he misses the feeling of newness in music. And while he makes various interesting arguments and analyses, I think the la ...more
Kate Sherrod
Jul 20, 2012 Kate Sherrod rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not 100% convinced by Reynolds' arguments. He makes the case that pop has been eating itself perfectly well, but he didn't convince me it's bad. This was, however, a great history lesson, and I discovered some new-to-me music, so it gets back one of the stars it would have otherwise lost 8)
As a 22 year old man I may not seem like the target audience for this book. But its premise seemed interesting enough that I'd pick it up for my Kindle (which is decorated with Apple stickers defaced with slogans I believe in, Banksy and Beatles Yellow Submarine stickers because desecrating the slick digital items of today is punk rock maaannn...).

It's a decent analysis of where pop music is headed, and considering I don't like much auto tuned atrocities hurled at us from the radio like those da
Jurgen Van den Brand
Difficult to review, this one. Reynolds is obviously an intelligent author with a lot to say on the subject. A lot of the examples he gives on why music has become so fixated on the past instead of the future (the way it used to be) are known to me, but I'be never put them in perspective (nor could I have done that). Or connected these dots. He does in a well written manner and comes to the conclusion that the noughties were a decade where nothing new happened, musically. He calls it a situation ...more
Vuk Trifkovic
Aug 07, 2011 Vuk Trifkovic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very timely book tackling some big issues in culture, technology and society today. In fact, it is as much a book about the technology as it is about pop music. The questions of medium / message pops up very heavily and illustrates some of the discussions in the likes of Carr or Lanier.

The second half of the book slacks somewhat. Partly because it loses bit of a balance. Good thing is that he comes up with an interesting critique of sample-based music. But you feel that he just pours too much sc
Feb 04, 2013 Joerg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sachbuch
Ich habe gefühlt noch nie so lange an einem Buch herumgekaut, wie an diesem. Nach über einem Monat habe ich das Namedrop-Dauertrommelfeuer des Hrn. Reynolds nun überstanden.
Wirklich gefallen und angesprochen hat mich dabei eigentlich nur der Teil 3 "Morgen" und da insbesondere Kapitel 10 "Die Geister der vergangenen Zukunft - Sampling, Hauntology und Mashups". In diesem Kapitel arbeitet er recht gut den Begriff "Hauntology" auf und geht auf aktuelle Strömungen wie Chillwave ein.
Besonders genervt
Feb 16, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even if I didn't agree with the author all the time, this book was fun to engage with. There are a lot of interesting points brought up regarding the evolution of modern music and the changes in the way we consume it (and how this feeds back into the music itself.) Part of what makes this book work so well is that Simon Reynolds is so knowledgeable. Knowing his writing mainly from his excellent earlier book, Rip It Up And Start Again, about the late 70s early 80s post punk scene, I wasn't expect ...more
Tom Sanders
Jun 30, 2012 Tom Sanders rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books on music I've ever read by one of the finest writers on the subject around today. Reynolds manages to weave an exhaustive and comprehensive narrative around practically all areas of popular and alternative music of the past 50-60 years, connecting the dots from doo-wop to dubstep to paint a pretty thorough picture of recurring musical trends and ideas throughout the development of popular music, and what that tells us about the future of music and of society at large.
This i
Darran Mclaughlin
Clear eyed, depressing overview of the current situation in popular music and pop culture altogether. I had to read this book because I've been thinking and feeling that pop culture is in the doldrums for years now, so I was very interested to get Simon Reynolds take on it. I thought Rip it up and Start Again was superb and this book confirms Reynolds as my favourite music writer since Lester Bangs. He points to phenomena such as endless re-issues, classic bands reforming and the wholesale recyc ...more
Nov 06, 2015 Drew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

An effective, if not already somewhat dated look at nostalgic trends in 21st-century music. Loses steam at the end, as Reynolds doesn't seem to have much of a thesis to prove; rather, he is correct that we've always been backwards-looking both on a macro and micro scale. It's not indicative of better or worse taste to invoke the past artistically, but I do think the transcendent creators find a way to engage with the familiar in a refreshing way.

Too bad Vaporwave was only in its inchoate stages
A posteriori, mi rendo conto che mi aspettavo un libro diverso. Senza dubbio più ottimista, e senza dubbio più oggettivo, che non si fissasse soltanto sui due generi preferiti dall'autore e che non fosse così parziale (emblematico il paragrafo su Meat Loaf, demolito su tutta la linea). Quando riesce a prenderti con un ragionamento interessante, o una digressione particolarmente azzeccata, ecco che parte una lunghissima sequela di esempi a dimostrare la sua tesi, ossia che i fenomeni di "retroman ...more
James Everington
Simon Reynolds is probably my favourite music critic, and this book doesn't disappoint. Or rather it does, but not because of its writing but it's central thesis: music is eating its own past rather than forging into the future... Reynolds writing is exhilarating and erudite though, full of references to music and other art-forms. A self-confessed 'modernist' he still believes cultural theory can be cool, and he proves it (again) here.
Aug 26, 2014 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"On the Internet, the past and the present commingle in a way that makes time itself mushy and spongiform."

I've been contemplating the experience of using Youtube to watch videos and live performances of bands from my youth that I did not get to see live or on tv. It's very strange. Sometimes I forget if I saw them or not because watching them on Youtube makes it feel like I did see these things as they happened. There's this uncomfortable fluidity of reality and time.

Anyway, I was hoping for mo
Nov 14, 2014 Tim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first I thought this book was going to be one of the best things I'd ever read, giving an insightful analysis, or at least a vivid analytical description, of the predicament of culture in the digital age, the age in which everything is recorded, recycled, permanently available, and everything can be discussed, admired or derided or remixed or mentioned by everyone and all those responses are added to the heap of secondary culture, while the primary stuff proliferates like (to use one of Reyno ...more
Isis Mendoza
Jan 21, 2016 Isis Mendoza rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Una lectura importantísima para entender la experiencia social en relación con la música que describe procesos sociales que explican la supervivencia de una pieza, artísta o género y suelta líneas a seguir de la experiencia de todos como consumidores de música "ajena" a nuestro tiempo. Una joya.
Oct 23, 2014 Innerspaceboy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, music
Music critic Simon Reynolds is perhaps best-known for his coining of the term, “post-rock.” He is also regarded for his incorporation of critical theory in his analysis of music. His 2011 book, Retromania was my first encounter with his writing.

“I recently read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania and it was so spot-on as far as our current attitude to music and its history. For my money he’s one of the most intelligent music writers in the last two decades”
— DJ Food

Retromania turned out to be much more
Oct 16, 2011 Jamie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, music
My favorite music writer puts his thoughts on shuffle. I don't feel, when I read simon Reynolds, as if I'm reading grand pronouncements, but rather just theories and thoughts and conversation starters.

And I learn more about music than I could have ever imagined.
Gunnar Hjalmarsson
Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past eftir Bretann Simon Reynolds er þéttur hlunkur sem ég var loksins að klára eftir langt hark. Í bókinni er gríðarmikill fróðleikur umvafinn pælingum Simons um þróun poppsins og spurningin: “Afhverju er ekkert nýtt að gerast lengur” borin fram og reynt við svarið.
Eins og augljóst má vera er þróun poppsins fólgin í stanslausu endurliti og endurnýtingu. Ekkert verður til af engu (nema kannski allt, skilst mér). Poppið er eins og einstaklingur. Í fi
Dec 31, 2014 Rob rated it really liked it
There is a real drawcard in Reynolds' trademark combination of popular culture minutiae and an intellectual's search for insight. Here he turns his gaze on himself and his peers, at least for part of this substantial argument on cultural recycling. Acknowledging from the outset that he and his ilk - the critics, collectors and curators, not to mention the superfans - have created the conditions in which culture's cannibalisation of itself has played out, he starts to look at parallels with other ...more
Mar 15, 2012 Rob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After Energy Flash and the wondrous Rip It Up and Start Again , a book that inspired me to overhaul my record collection and plug its gaps with an assortment of post punk and new wave highlights, Simon Reynolds calls upon a bevy of sociocultural theorists to analyze pop’s obsession with its past.

A very strong introduction looks at the retromania phenomenon across a range of media and even Prêt à Manger’s retro prawn sandwich gets a mention. The rest of the volume doesn’t quite live up to th
David Gallin-Parisi
If the next or current generation are the people who go beyond instant gratification, who expect that things are already there, what does that mean for music? Not in the sense of organizing music files and downloading entire libraries, but in the sense of creating new music? Making? Reynolds asks these questions and more in Retromania. The middle part of the book lags with explanations of retro-ist music genres like garage rock, freak folk, and hauntology, however the sections suggest how embedd ...more
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iShuffle vs listening to the LP 1 10 Nov 06, 2012 05:05AM  
  • 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day
  • Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music
  • Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music
  • Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco
  • Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King
  • How Soon Is Now? The Madmen & Mavericks Who Made Independent Music (1975-2005)
  • KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money
  • Krautrocksampler
  • Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds
  • The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa
  • White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s
  • Faking It: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music
  • The Best American Essays 2004
  • Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City
  • Come in Alone
  • The Big Payback
  • Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany
  • Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader
Simon Reynolds is one of the most respected music journalists working today, and his writing is both influential and polarizing. He draws on an impressive range of knowledge, and writes with a fluid, engaging style. His books Rip it Up and Start Again and Generation Ecstasy are well-regarded works about their respective genres, and RETROMANIA may be his most broadly appealing book yet. It makes an ...more
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“Time wounds all wholes. To exist in Time is to suffer through an endless exile, a successive severing from those precious few moments of feeling at home in the world.” 8 likes
“The danger of restorative nostalgia lies in its belief that the mutilated 'wholeness' of the body politic can be repaired. But the reflective nostalgic understands deep down that loss is irrecoverable: Time wounds all wholes. To exist in Time is to suffer through an endless exile, a successive severing from those precious few moments of feeling at home in the world. In pop terms, Morrissey is the supreme poet of reflective nostalgia.” 6 likes
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