on 24 June 2011
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.
on 29 May 2012
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?
on 3 June 2012
Rather than sticking to the predictable and endlessly covered, Simon Reynolds tends to bring genuine insight to some lesser-covered areas of modern music. Having read and loved 'Rip It Up and Start Again', I couldn't have been happier to see him writing about something that I've been obsessed about recently - the future I expected as a youth that never happened.
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.
I have a couple of years on Simon Reynolds....but seems like our minds are tuned in.
I remember the moon landing of '69...and have been I guess ever since a "Space Child"..not Cadet I may add.
My life has been full of music..i played it, listened to it and perfomed it...and loved it. I was fortunate enough to be around and old enough to "get" punk...Simon Reynolds BIG thing was Post Punk.
I didn't "Get"rave or acid house....I guess I was always more guitar orientated rockist.
So anyway ..I was also an avid reader of William Gibson and Alvin Toffler....so I was expecting so much more from the "Future" than we have got. Worrying that Gibosn no longer writes books based in the future...but the present.
I think his conclusions are valid and true.....the last two decades have provided for me as a music lover ..with nothing really very exciting...i have avoided the use of "Original"...because we all know....blah blah blah..
At first,I just thought it was my age...that I had seen the "what comes around turns around ".
But it is deeper than that and Simon Reynolds has put it done in black and white
So retro is not cool...nobody likes to admit they are retro....but there isn't any where else to go for input and influences but back....rehashes of rehashes but rather than say...going back ti the fifties.....musicians are only stepping back ten or twenty years.
A very enjoyable read as have his other books been. Kept me interested all the way through...although the last section does seems to drift off a little.(Cue the stylophone break as Space Oddity fades out....)
If you have any interest in music/sociology/literature...or arts in general this is an excellent read.
on 5 June 2014
What has Simon Reynolds done with "Retromania"?
I'll tell you what he has done. It's taken a book like this to confirm what most of us knew all along but were too afraid to admit. Pop culture has hit a dead end with very few original ideas to take us forward. The biggest problem facing musician's of today is that they are no longer given a few albums to find their feet. If the first album flops they get punted by money hungry and unforgiving labels. We must remember that Bowie was a relative unknown until his 5th studio album.
Through the book Simon takes us on a journey that explains our obsession with all things retro. Too many media outlets are stuck in time warps and refuse to give new, progressive and talented artists a go because they don't have enough money making potential. He also covers, in great detail our general love for retro in the arts, fashion and pop culture in general.
Simon puts forward many arguments for and against each cause within. His writing leaves you in deep thought at times, questioning your very own standards.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's time you ordered yourself a copy and got cracking on a jolly good read!
This is the first book that I've read by Simon Reynolds and, by and large, I enjoyed it and liked the way in which he spelt out in detail the well-known but rarely examined phenomena of pop music almost constantly revisiting its past. Not a new trend of course and one that has also occurred in classical music and jazz, as well as fashion. I did think that the book ran out of steam towards the end and that Simon couldn't really draw all the threads together and form a satisfactory conclusion (if indeed there is one). I also thought that the book was not exhaustive, with Simon concentrating on the music that he was particularly interested in, punk and rave, to the exclusion of others i.e. blues wasn't mentioned at all even though, along with rock and roll, it has spawned an industry to recreate the 50s with vintage equipment including guitars, amps etc and also vintage clothing. He also didn't mention this general fascination with retro guitars - over 50 years after they were first introduced the Les Paul and the Stratocaster are still the best selling guitars today, that is like going into a garage in the 21st Century and being confronted with a Morris 1000 and a Ford Popular!?!
on 30 April 2013
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.
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.
on 27 August 2011
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 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.
on 19 January 2014
I bought this for my partner Matt, as he has started an online retro music web site selling old vinyl records. He was really pleased with it and says that its very interesting and comprehensive. I was looking for gifts related to this and I am really pleased that I chose this.It was also delivered much earlier than expected which was an added bonus