A thorough and intellectual (sometimes a little too thorough and intellectual) overview of British and American post-punk art rock and pop. The first...moreA thorough and intellectual (sometimes a little too thorough and intellectual) overview of British and American post-punk art rock and pop. The first half of the book explains the lofty intellectual and musical ideals the drove bands such as Public Image Ltd., Pere Ubu, Joy Division, Gang of Four, and the Pop Group, while the more fractured second half explains how this post-punk movement spawned goth, neo-psychedelia, synth pop, 2-tone, the new romantic scene, and finally the New Rock and New Pop that dominated MTV in the mid-to-late eighties. The path from the droning nihilism of Public Image Ltd's first two albums to Madonna's "Material Girl" doesn't seem clear at first, but Reynolds does a great job of making all the pieces fit. And while Reynolds clearly reveres post-punk for its ambition, innovation, and intellectual depth, he doesn't let its artists off the hook for their many shortcomings: their snobbishness, their political naivete, their stupid fascination with Nazism, and their sometimes condescending views of race. The book is overlong though, and sometimes Reynolds paints in very broad strokes when describing the political/economic/cultural environment from which post-punk emerged. Fewer half-assed attempts at sociology and a little more discussion of the individual personalities that shaped the post-punk scenes would have gone a long way here. Still, any book that can inspire me to listen to Pere Ubu's "Dub Housing" and Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" again can only be a good thing. (less)
As the synopsis above states, this book is divided into three sections. The first section is wonderful. Klosterman does excellent celebrity profiles a...moreAs the synopsis above states, this book is divided into three sections. The first section is wonderful. Klosterman does excellent celebrity profiles and writes intelligently about music, basketball, and diverse aspects of junk culture. The second section is beyond horrible. Klosterman should never, ever be allowed to write about politics, interpersonal relationships, history, or basically anything that isn't music, basketball, or junk culture. He comes off like the obnoxious know-it-all who drunkenly accosts strangers at a bar to tell them his half-baked philosophies on life, then proceeds to argue self-righteously if they disagree with even a little bit of what he has to say. Reading these articles made me actively want to punch him in his silly, bearded neck. The third section? It's pretty entertaining I guess, but by the time I got there I was sick of Klosterman and not really in the mood to give his writing a fair shake. (less)
More than other entries in the 33 1/3 series, this one feels a bit like a padded magazine article. There are multiple dull stretches where Sisario rep...moreMore than other entries in the 33 1/3 series, this one feels a bit like a padded magazine article. There are multiple dull stretches where Sisario repeats himself ad nauseum about the influence of Surrealism on Thompson's lyrics or about the "sex and death vibes" that permeate the recordings. His sometimes slangy prose is also annoying at times. The book also suffers a bit from relying too much on repetitive, none-too-illuminating interviews with the band members. As anyone who's seen the documentary "loudQUIETloud" can attest, Joey Santiago, Dave Loverling, and Charles Thompson are immensely talented individuals and horrible, shy, awkward, cipher-like interview subjects. Kim Deal refused completely to be interviewed for this book. The person who gives the most interesting insights is actually producer Gil Norton.
The saving grace of this book comes in its final third, where Sisario delves into a song by song analysis of the album, detailing the lyrical inspirations, writing process, and production details for each song. This is where Sisario's writing is the sharpest and where readers get a clear sense of the disparate elements (lurid but amazingly literate lyrics, professional pop production, bent guitar notes, cooing back-up vocals) that make "Doolittle"such a fun, wild, entertaining mess of an album.
If you are a Pixies obsessive, I'd recommend picking this book up. Everyone else would do well to skim through it at their local library or bookstore. Pay attention to the song-by-song breakdown at the end, then go home and play "Gouge Away" on repeat as loud as possible.(less)
The structure is a little chaotic - Cavanagh skips the formation of the band entirely and jumps straight to the recording of the album, interspersed f...moreThe structure is a little chaotic - Cavanagh skips the formation of the band entirely and jumps straight to the recording of the album, interspersed freely with interesting anecdotes from the Swinging London scene at the time. I learned a lot about the intersection of the counter-culture and the British recording industry. I also gained a better, more even-handed understanding of Syd Barrett's talents. He wasn't an otherworldly genius, or just a crazy person who took lots of drugs. Those were elements of his persona, but more importantly, he was a gentle, talented middle class boy barely out of his teens. He was simultaneously shy and charismatic, and he was charmingly enthusiastic about Kenneth Grahame, JRR Tolkien, and Marvel Comics. He liked painting, jazz, and pop music in equal measure, and he never really wanted to become famous, even though the rest of his band mates did. Cavanagh's greatest achievement in writing this book is presenting a recognizably human image of Syd at the time when he was first making his mark on the world of music. In doing so, Cavanagh also gives credit to Nick Mason, Roger Waters, Rick Wright, and their team of managers, producers, photographers, scene-makers, friends, and fellow travelers - all of whom contributed to the making of a truly original, fun, and occasionally haunting album. (less)
Scott Tennent's entry into the 33 1/3 series opens with a family tree of sorts, a graphic organizer listing every band that each member of Slint has e...moreScott Tennent's entry into the 33 1/3 series opens with a family tree of sorts, a graphic organizer listing every band that each member of Slint has ever played in. What follows is a thorough and heartfelt love letter not just to Slint, but to the fruitful Midwest underground scene that they were a part of. I've read a few of these 33 1/3 books now, and Mr. Tennent's is the best-written one that I have yet encountered. He writes in a direct, unpretentious manner that reveals his deep, geeky love for his subjects and for the singular musical community which they took part in. He doesn't get too caught up in the technical aspects of recording, nor does he focus excessively on the cultish mythology of Slint that arose after their break-up. He affectionately describes the way that the band took elements of their punk and metal pasts and used them to create something singular and new. He marvels at the band member's modesty and obsessive work ethic, and he effectively breaks down why "Spiderland" is still an object of adoration and obsession for music fans two decades later.
The book's one major flaw is not Tennent's fault at all. Brian McMahan, the driving force behind both "Spiderland"'s erudite, depressing-as-all-hell lyrics and the band's break-up shortly after the album's completion, did not make himself available for interview. Tennent and his primary interview subject (guitarist Dave Pajo) do a good job of filling in some of the blanks without speculating too much about McMahan's widely-rumored mental instability at the time. Still, McMahan's insight is sorely missed. Without it, the image of "Spiderland" that emerges in this book is thorough but still somewhat incomplete and elusive. I guess that's as it should be. A little sense of lingering mystery can only help one's appreciation of an album, especially one that is already as beguiling and dream-like as "Spiderland." (less)
Andrew Hultkrans' analysis of "Forever Changes" does for me what the best books of the 33 1/3 series do - it changes the way I listen to the album, an...moreAndrew Hultkrans' analysis of "Forever Changes" does for me what the best books of the 33 1/3 series do - it changes the way I listen to the album, and gives me a new-found appreciation for its particular brand of brilliance. Before reading this book, I took Arthur Lee's lyrics as simple drug-fueled paranoia. Hultkrans acknowledges the twin influences of LSD and debilitating mental illness on Lee's outlook at the time, but also does a thorough and convincing job of connecting Lee's lyrical choices to his interests in Marat/Sade, Gnosticism, and American Transcendentalism and Spiritualism. The close readings that Hultkrans gives to songs like "The Daily Planet," "Andmoreagain," "Live and Let Live," "You Set the Scene," and "A House is Not a Motel" changed the way I heard Lee's lyrics, and made me realize just how much deeply thought, deeply felt poetry there was going on behind the cloud of druggy imagery.
So, why only three stars? Well, this book felt very short, even by 33 1/3 standards. It really only feels like half a book. Hultkrans devotes himself so much to analysis of the lyrics, that he all but ignores the MUSIC that makes "Forever Changes" such an idiosyncratic and hypnotic listen. I wanted to learn more about the choices that Lee and the band made in the studio. How did the rest of the band feel about Lee's decision to add string and horn arrangements? How did Lee feel about the inclusion of the two (admittedly awesome) Brian Maclean songs? What were some of the band members' prominent musical influences at the time? What ideas did the producer, arranger, and each individual player bring to the recordings? We don't learn the answers to any of these questions, making the book feel incomplete, no matter how insightful and interesting its reading of the lyrics is.
Fun fact I learned from this book: Love's original guitarist, Bobby Beusoleil, went on to become a member of the Manson family and a convicted mass murderer! (less)
This is an exhaustively researched but accessibly written financial history of the commodification of hip hop music and culture. Despite its massive l...moreThis is an exhaustively researched but accessibly written financial history of the commodification of hip hop music and culture. Despite its massive length, this is a quick read. Most of the stories will be familiar to avid hip hop fans and/or people who watched too much VH1 when they were younger, but Charnas does a great job of describing the characters involved and giving you a sense of the cultural import of hip hop's ascendance as an art form and mainstream youth culture. He also hits on some fascinating but under reported stories like the founding of Wu-Wear, the tortuous early months of Vibe magazine, and Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign and its revolutionary embrace (or co-opting, depending on your perspective) of hip hop culture and iconography.
What keeps this from being a five star rating is Charnas's obvious biases. He breathlessly praises his former bosses at The Source magazine, but doesn't even mention in passing the magazine's scandal-ridden buyout, idiotic feud with Eminem, or complete loss of journalistic credibility around the turn of the millennium. Likewise, he does a good job of showing the conflicted corporate reactions to the initial explosion of gangster rap, but he stays away from the much muddier ethical issue of how corporations learned to enthusiastically market the gangster image once they realized that it sold well. Charnas openly admits that he sees hip hop's financial history as one of triumph, and that causes him to look at the industry's progression through rose-tinted glasses. The only executive about whom he doesn't find at least something nice to say is Puff Daddy. Take from that what you will. (less)