I'm a graduate student in religion and the arts, and I consulted this book as part of my master's thesis. I am also a Gen X indie-folk singer/songwriter who was raised on the rock and pop traditions that Till references. I have experienced the transcendence of rock concerts. So I was looking forward to this book. But I was pretty disappointed.
Till appropriates the standard approach of interpreting "the arts" - in this case popular music - as "filling in" where mainline religion has supposedly failed. This line of argument comes straight out of the 1800s, when French bohemians and Romantics declared that artists were the new "priests" of Europe, a line of thinking that many scholars think is a bit dated and ethically questionable, and I tend to agree with them. Till also employs here the notion of functionalism, which is really en vogue among sociologists of religion right now and which is also problematic - the idea that if it looks like a religion, if it smells like a religion, then it is religion. I think we should not be so hasty. There is a lot offered by what have been traditionally called "religions" that pop culture communities, and other new religious communities do not and can not offer. The conversation surrounding culture and religion is really quite complex, and since I can't imagine that Till is unaware of this complexity, I question how his book seems to gloss over all of that in order to serve its point. It's a little...dare I say?...manipulative. At the very least it comes off as kind of defensive-sounding.
The title says its a book about "religion" and popular culture, but it is primarily talking about "Christianity" and pop culture, and more specifically about a certain kind of Christianity that Till doesn't like. He attempts to describe with some historical details the development and harms and dangers of this particular kind of Christianity, but the overall caricature is not a fair picture of Christian history. Additionally, true to anthropological form, he presents "New Religious Movements" (the "politically correct" term for a "cult") with no consideration of ethics.... That is, all religious communities, no matter how small or manipulative or harmful they, are undeserving of the derogatory labels placed on them by that evil cult Christianity. But by saying that Christianity itself is a cult, he thinks that this shows how all religious groups are really the same, which is really not a very intelligent argument since it employs the very critique that he seeks to dismiss.
The biggest problem I have with this is that the total lack of critical analysis underlying a lot of Till's arguments about the "pop cult" itself. It does not seem that he is at all aware that sexual exploitation of women, drug addiction, hetero-normative scripts, capitalist marketing strategies, or even suicide are actually bad or harmful. His allergy to value considerations makes it sound like he is actually defending these things against any such critique. The patriarchal misogyny of "cock rock," for example, is defended by showing that the men donning long hair and tight jeans are participating in a kind of gender-bending. That didn't quite do it for me, I have to say. It bothers me to think that in all of his many years of involvement in pop and rock culture, he somehow avoided any confrontation with the lack of real pastoral support for human beings who face the real human catastrophes that are common to these communities such as rape, overdose, homelessness, exploitation, and suicide.
I imagine that Till has probably had a lot of transformative, liberative experiences at rock concerts, and that in the context of the UK and post-Christian Europe, he has probably experienced Christianity as either absent, irrelevant, or harmful. And so perhaps it is not surprising that what you get in the end is just a book of Till's arguments against fundamentalist Christianity's "uptight" views on things like cults, sex, drugs, and even evil and death, mixed in with some very bright-eyed nostalgic defenses of pop culture and its perfectly wonderful examples of rebel rousing.
I too have had the bulk of my sacred experiences in the so-called "secular" world, and I too am interested in finding a way to talk about that academically. But the range of my life experiences - both good and bad - demands a deeper analysis of human culture than this book has to offer.