Ben Watson's trademark knowledgeable, vigorous, and rhetorically angry style has never been put to better use than in this collection of essays and reviews in defence of the great Theodor Adorno, who was a committed musician and musicologist, as well as an insightful theoretician of the horrors of modernity (all of them - not just capitalism and fascism). Adorno's deeply negative views on popular music, and indeed of the ways in which commodity capitalism has used music in general, tend to annoy popular music fans. In other words people who think that whatever music they happen to like - rock, hip-hop, jazz, grime or whatever - is the authentic voice of people who are somehow able to capture the zeitgeist from an observer's position unsullied by commodity capitalism, simply can't cope with Adorno's views. So much so that they don't actually read them, as you'll find out if you ever attend one of the stupefyingly awful academic conferences on popular music which seem to happen with annoying frequency these days. Such events set up Adorno as a pantomime villain (including ritual booing). Which just about sums up the need for books like this.
The polemical intent means Ben Watson's hero is presented as Deus Ex (or should that be Anti??) Machina, and that as any god should be, he's always on the side of the angels, those of the Trotskyist left in this instance. Maybe, but to this observer there's something obstinately German about this particular refugee from Nazism. Like Schoenberg and Schenker, he seems to be in thrall to a very particular tradition which produced great music, no doubt, but wasn't and isn't the only way to go. Let alone his hostility to jazz, or the urbane harmlessness of neoclassical Stravinsky, his attitude to Sibelius basically gives him low marks as a symphonist for Not Being German Enough. Yes, Adorno was a great musicologist, and yes, his suspicions about pop were and are entirely justified, but all too often he walks in the shadow of Beethoven. The cave is bigger than that.