23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking forward to the past
Reynold's book explores an essential issue for anyone interested in popular music. In fact, it's an issue for our society in general; are we already living in the "future" and just endlessly recycling the past. Or maybe it's just that boring old farts like myself and Simon Reynolds see the last 10-15 years of music as lacking any direction and originality? This is a very...
Published on 24 Jun 2011 by Dr. P. M. Graves-Brown
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More a history than a thesis.
Simon Reynolds' exhaustive overview of popular musics (and to an extent pop culture as a wholes) current obsession with reworking or recreating its recent past, 'Retromania' takes the form of hundreds of short essays on everything from 1950s trad jazz fashions to dubstep. It's never less than readable, but is occasionally repetitive and does tend to ramble into...
Published on 15 Aug 2011 by A. Miles
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking forward to the past,
This review is from: Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (Paperback)Reynold's book explores an essential issue for anyone interested in popular music. In fact, it's an issue for our society in general; are we already living in the "future" and just endlessly recycling the past. Or maybe it's just that boring old farts like myself and Simon Reynolds see the last 10-15 years of music as lacking any direction and originality? This is a very interesting read but I resist giving it a 5 (or should that be 11?) for several reasons. Firstly he does tend to meander off into areas of music history that interest him, which at times distracts from the central issue of the book. Do we need quite so many examples of the way in which the musical past is being recycled to get the point. I like the idea that things started to go sour in the mid 1960s, but it could be said that the idea of endless novelty in music or any other art form is relatively recent. e.g. until the 20th century architects were quite happy to recycle Greek and Roman styles. Perhaps the novel and the cool cultures of the post WW2 era are just an anomaly? At the same time, pop music is not unique in recycling and reusing the past as a source for new movements and styles. If I were to get all Hegelian I'd say that all novelty is a synthesis of past ideas (theses): r and b, jazz and blues did not just drop from the sky, but were themselves syntheses of earlier styles/types of music.
These criticism's aside, I hope, as Bruce Sterling claims, that the era of atemporality is only temporary (?!). Reynold's book prompts me to wonder if the future might *have* a future after all, and hence it's well worth reading.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just what I've been looking for.,
I have to admit that the sections on record collecting left me a bit cold, but when he gets onto the subject of hauntology, the nostalgia for futurism and the parallels between the state of music and the wider economy, Reynolds is completely on song.
As a child I devoured the optimistic (and not so optimistic) visions of the future that abounded in my 70s and 80s childhood and have often wondered about when and why we went from looking forward to looking back - as a teenage car nut in particular I noticed the transition from the forward-looking designs of the 70s to the advent of 'retro'. Now I find myself listening to music that harks back to childhood memories - the aforementioned hauntology and bands like Epic45 that have been described as 'psychogeographic' - fantastic music, all - but I wonder what my motivation is. Why does much of the new development that we have seen in the past decade or so, in the physical, political or cultural, seem so soulless, so manufactured, so calculated that it leads us to hark back to a past either real or imagined?
I've reached my own conclusions on the subject - that the triumph of consumer capitalism has led to an all-pervasive short-termism and conservatism, safe, market/focus-group driven evolution rather than innovation. In the all-consuming pursuit of profit, it is safer to give people more of what they want now in shinier and more friendly forms, rather than looking at what they might need in the future. Of course what we see in the economy is reflected in wider culture and vice-versa. In addition, an economic boom and a media's reliance on production of fear and paranoia to sustain itself, I believe has led to the cul-de-sac we have found ourselves in, where looking back has become a comfort and indulgence.
An interesting angle that Reynolds brings up is the progression in both our economy and culture to 'post-production' - something I found myself nodding vigorously to.
It's easy to dismiss all of this as the moaning of ageing men, but never has choice been so abundant, the past so accessible or the influence of shallow consumerism so apparent and I think that this book is just the start of the many questions that need asking.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Will Pop Eat Itself?,
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This review is from: Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (Kindle Edition)If you can put aside this book as being a thesis and think of it more as a one-sided argument with some bloke (albeit a well informed, verbose and well educated bloke) in the pub, it is actually a very good read.
OK, so it drags in places and could have probably lost 20% without damaging the argument but Simon Reynolds does make a very good point and that is, essentially, can you name a single track from the past 12 years that would have seemed out of place, beyond comprehension, in the '90's? I could perhaps argue a case for people like Skrillex, but then Reynolds would counter whether it's truly new music or is it a logical follow on to the real game changer which was early 90's rave? And has Skrillex and his dubstep contempories started a teenage movement that's infultrated fashion and language? That's why it's an argument and no so much a thesis - yes Retromania can be flawed and you don't have to agree with everything Reynolds says, but he does make a very, very good point.
Without a shadow the noughties will go down in history as the first decade of popular music, dating all the way back to the jazz age, where the technology (ipod, Youtube) were the real stars, the revolutionaries that changed everything - not the Beatles, Bowie or Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk or Grandmaster Flash. As Reynolds points out, the musical difference between the years, say 1978 to '79 or 1991 to '92 were immense but did 2004 feel any different to 1998, or 2010? Not really.
Has music stopped progressing because we favour its past? If we do, is it because there is now such a wealth of historic creativity to draw from, to inspire us, and that ocean of reference is available to everyone on itunes, Youtube or illegal download at the instant click of a button, so why do we need to keep looking forward? And even if we want to, how do we escape this omnipresent past? Do we want to live dangerously anymore? It's not in Reynold's book but perhaps a quick look at the UK's top 10 selling singles of the 2000's can go a long way to answer some of his questions: Number one - Evergreen by Will Young, two - Unchained Melody by Gareth Gates, three - Is This The Way To Amarillo? by Tony Christie. Two more of the top 10 are cover versions, and a further two TV talent show winners. Music as pure showbiz rather than heartfelt rebellion. Is this how pop will die?
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More a history than a thesis.,
This review is from: Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (Paperback)Simon Reynolds' exhaustive overview of popular musics (and to an extent pop culture as a wholes) current obsession with reworking or recreating its recent past, 'Retromania' takes the form of hundreds of short essays on everything from 1950s trad jazz fashions to dubstep. It's never less than readable, but is occasionally repetitive and does tend to ramble into irrelevance.
Postmodernism in popular music is, of course, not a new theme. The first of many books on the idea (Jeremy J. Beadle's "Will Pop Eat Itself?") was published as far back as 1993, so no matter how in depth Mr. Reynolds' research, no matter how erudite his knowledge, no matter how insightful he is about music, its' difficult to escape the fact that it's all been said before: Most of 'Retromania's idea's will be already familiar to its target readership, especially as it becomes clear on completing the book that the author has no real thesis as such. Once he's followed every last thread to it's end, we're left with the standard middle-aged music fans complaint that pop music just isn't as exciting as it used to be back in our day, and where are the young people that will kick off the new punk?
One problem, I feel, is that the author generally fails to go outside the parameters of pop music production itself when looking for reasons for its' ongoing taste for nostalgia, whereas it seems to me that considering socioeconomic issues might provide a greater insight (One of the reasons might simply be that people tend to listen to pop music to a much later age than previous generations, so that they eventually delve into the past after consuming all of the current music to their taste: It might be that post-war youth cults were a historical blip, and that the most creative of the younger generation are no longer interested in producing music, etc) There's also, to me,an issue with Reynolds seeming assumption that all culture is of of equal importance within whats ultimately a marketplace, so that obscure postrock acts selling a few dozen homemade cassettes are as worthy of discussion as Phil Collins, etc.
Having said all that, I do still recommend the book: Along with Chuck Klostermann, Reynolds is by far the most insightful critic currently writing about popular music, and many of his thoughts on pop (The music of bands like the Black Eyed Peas being 'pre-degraded for MP3' for instance) are absolutely fascinating. Flawed but still worthwhile.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wake-up call.,
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This review is from: Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (Paperback)Dismissed in some quarters as a groan stemming from a mid-life crisis, Reynolds does in fact point out what others lack the courage to point out - that pop/rock has for some time failed to move forward and has become little more than a cannibaliser of its own history. Reynolds does this with considerable aplomb, trawling over a wide range of popular music forms while tipping his hat to a number of theorists. Having taken the view that pop/rock stopped progressing once punk came on the scene, Reynolds shows this not to have been the case. On this score alone, the book was of some benefit to me and I look forward to reading his earlier book on post-punk. One absence I noticed in the book was any sustained examination of music professionals - music writers, radio DJ's and so on - and their silence about Reynolds' core issue. It strikes me that vested interests prevent them from owning up to the obvious: that if someone's 'record of the week' sounds like it was recorded 40 years ago, we have a problem. Paul Jones continues to play blues records that show absolutely no development/extension of the form; Mojo and Uncut (mentioned briefly by Reynolds) function as curators rather than - as with the old NME - cutting edge promulgators of the new; and most reviews of 'new' music are unable to resist comparisons with other bands. Yet, no-one says bugger all about it, or not publicly. It's to Reynolds credit that he has. An important book and a compelling read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Retrograde,
This review is from: Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (Kindle Edition)For an author who's works have previously championed forward thinking music and technology, I felt this book took a surprisingly retrograde approach, branding all new technology as a hindrance on creativity. I also felt like a lot of the arguments could be more fully applied to wider society, rather than technology itself. The withdrawal of state funding to art schools, universities and housing has arguably had as big, if not a bigger, impact on young people's ability to be creative and forward-looking, as the iPod, or the Internet. Still interesting though.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine insights from a great music writer,
This review is from: Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (Paperback)The great jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is famous for having dismissed the very idea of music journalism and criticism with the remark "writing about music is like dancing about architecture."
If any music writer of the last twenty years has disproved this somewhat blinkered comment it is Simon Reynolds. Previously he has written with great panache about rave music and post-punk. And now with his latest book he turns his attention to the ways in which popular culture, music in particular, has for some time been voraciously feeding on its own past rather than trying to look ahead to the future.
Reynolds writes lucidly and penetratingly. Many of his insights make for compelling reading, particularly the chapter about the coming of the ipod and what that gadget has done to our appreciation of music. I stayed up half the night reading this section despite wanting desperately to go to sleep - you know you've found a good book when you start looking for matches to prop your eyes open so you can go on reading.
The passages where he describes the ever accumulating racks of unwanted musical garbage in charity shops had me laughing out loud. And the chapters on garage punk and the phenonmenon of 'hauntology' (strange British and American electronic indie acts stitching bizarre music together out of esoteric musical odds and ends from their collective childhoods) were both insightful and intriguing - they both caused me to go scurrying off to Amazon to make some suddenly vital CD purchases.
The final chapter, in which Reynolds daringly draws parallels between the current parlous state of the world econonmy and the state of popular culture and music, is highly fascinating - although I am not enough of an economist or academic cultural theorist to be able to assess how much legitimate intellectual weight there is in his argument.
But make no mistake, this is not intended to be some dry academic treatise - this is great, though provoking, popular music journalism shot through with tremendous soul, insight and passion. If you only buy one music book in the next five years, make it this one.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great read...when it's about the past,
This review is from: Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past (Paperback)I like Simon Reynolds' books, but this one is a disappointment. Although his writing style is quality as always, he is this time not so much writing about music itself (groups, tunes, albums etc.) but is writing about writing about music. Still no problem there, only that he just doesn't deliver the answers, but mainly is posing a lot of questions using tons of Amazon forest. Because of the lack of answers Retromania seems at times to be about name-dropping, although I'm sure it's not on purpose. But in a way it sometimes reads like a tale from a rock journalist who once had an almost divine final saying on every release...those days are gone....those days won't come back (that's some progress isn't it?). The classic rock writer as cultural curator is gone; everybody owns a blog.
Sometimes he's (probably) consciously ignoring things: sixties / early 70s was THE era of the cover (everybody was covering everybody basically), that's some retro, isn't it? And how about the decline of the music industry in the 2000s, that lead to an incredible (and quite) cheap re-issuing of releases? That's a economic reason, not a arty one. And above all: why should we connect future and rock music in the first place?
I enjoyed Reynolds' Energy Flash a lot; up till the point he was writing about the now & future (the last chapters). While his writing on the past (Post-Punk for example) is beautiful, meaningful and filled with passion, his writing on the future (he is a SF fan by the way) is mediocre: his construction of the now and future is unoriginal and something you heard many times better elsewhere (he is referencing a lot to other thinkers, writers, etc.)
The funny thing is this book is best when it's dealing with the past (Part 2 'Then').
But I'm sure though that he will deliver a better book in the big 'F'.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Retro - fit! (ouch),
There are many moments in this book which made me nod my head in agreement - I found the passages on BOARDS OF CANADA's triggering of potentially fake memories particularly interesting - and being a fan of the 'hauntology' movement it was good to see its recognition in the musical canon.
Only 4 stars because like others I was distracted by the author's occasional digressions, and also while I loved the book I couldn't help thinking how much relevance a 20 year old would find in it.
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read,
This book is more accessible and chatty in style than some of his work and is thinner on Sociological theory and analysis than his previous books, which I found a bit of a shame.
Nonethless, it covers a broad range of topics and has some interesting anecdotes.
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Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past by Simon Reynolds (Paperback - 2 Jun 2011)
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