on 23 January 2009
A book of this kind is bound to elicit cries of "why on earth did you miss out such and such an artist/album", so I make no apologies for throwing in my penny's worth.
I was looking forward to getting my hands on this book as I am on a real mission at the moment to explore new stuff, and I had a feeling the book might be a good place to start. Have no doubt about it, this brick-like publication IS a stimulating and handy tome, and one which I am sure is meticulously well researched. It's obviously going to come in handy and I am grateful to have it.
However, some of the author's omissions of albums which quite simply ARE either utterly vital cornerstones of modern music, or just plain great records beloved the world over, which everyone should hear once before they die, leads me to wonder what else he's left out within the genres of which I am somewhat ignorant.
It looks to me that while Moon has a huge passion for jazz, classical, blues, American rock, World Music and certain classic British rock acts, he has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to vast swathes of important UK alternative/electronic/indie music. As a concrete example, here is just a short list of some of the artists/records that get no mention at all: Low and Heroes by David Bowie (yes, you read that right, no Low or Heroes in a book which is claiming to be a definitive guide to vital and great recordings!), no Metal Box by PiL (or indeed any other album by that crucial band), nothing by a whole raft of influential post-punk bands (Scritti Politti, Orange Juice, Soft Cell - how can he overlook Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret??), no Wire (Pink Flag?!? Where is it?!?!) nothing from The Fall, Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock, Lloyd Cole, OMD, The La's, The The (Soul Mining?!?) Fun Boy Three. Are you detecting a pattern here? Even New Order's Technique doesn't get a look in.
It's not just the post-punk stuff either. There's no Madness (Rise and Fall?), no Frankie Goes To Hollywood, NO IAN DURY (!!). There are also major, major omissions in the dance field - nothing by Orbital or Underworld, nothing by Leftfield. Oh, The Prodigy do get an entry, but of course, it's for Fat Of The Land, the band's breakthrough number one American album.
For a while I thought it was maybe just my imagination telling me that the book has a definite (as far as rock and pop is concerned) US bias, but the more I delve into it, the more sure I am the author's tastes lean far more States-ward than they do towards the UK, and that this has inevitably clouded/coloured his judgement. I mean, OK, you can get away with including no recordings by either Supergrass or Super Furry Animals in your top 1000 (even though both have recorded, in their time, some truly fantastic and timeless guitar based pop music), but if you're going to leave them out, then do me a favour, leave out Ryan Adams too would you?! And, if you're going to include The Roots, how about a passing nod to Roots Manuva?
As well as ignoring many classic British acts, Moon on a broader level does seem to prefer older music to new stuff. While contemporary acts are certainly not absent from the books' pages, you have to dig a little to find them, whereas there seems to be endless consecutive pages of old blues, jazz, classical and early Americana. In some ways, I can see the logic here - older music after all has had time to make its mark and show its staying power, outlasting all the ephemera out there. But then Moon will suddenly come out of nowhere with some arbitrary proclamation that a particular (US, naturally) contemporary work (eg. Arcade Fire's somewhat blustery and tiresome Neon Bible) is "The First Rock Masterpiece Of The New Millenium" - a classic, unsubstantiated rock critic pronouncement which seeks to create long-term history and heritage out of what is essentially a flavour-of-the-month album by a flavour-of-the-month band. Let's give it a bit of time shall we, and see if this particular record ages as well over time as older (and ignored, by Moon) albums by Tindersticks, The Beta Band and The Eels.
Now, don't get me wrong, I fully understand that books of this kind have to be subjective, and that some of your favourtie artists are always going to be left out. And I wouldn't like to give the impression that Moon leaves out all interesting new music, or alternative British stuff in particular (Joy Division, Portishead, Chemical Brothers, The Streets and even Dizzee Rascal are all present and correct). But when music of the calibre, clear quality and historical significance of Metal Box, Soul Mining, Sreamadelica and Pink Flag get left out in favour of albums by Norah Jones (for example), you do slightly begin to wonder where the author is coming from.
My other slight gripe about the book is the way the Moon frequently chooses the most crashingly obvious records by the famous acts. Dark Side of The Moon anybody? A Night At The Opera? Revolver? I mean, surely anyone who has not heard these albums by now must have gone out of their way not to, and so are unlikely to be tempted to go and check them out now?
Instead of always plumbing for the big, breakthrough album (The Flaming Lips's Soft Bulletin over their noisier and more challenging Clouds Taste Metallic, AC/DC's Mutt Lange-tooled stadium monster Back In Black over the barn-storming, rebel-rousing Powerage), why not spotlight a slightly more obscure but equally (if not more) worthy album which the glossy music mags HAVEN'T already told us to go out and buy a hundred times before?
Phew (towel myself off).
Despite all these reservations, as I said at the beginning, this IS clearly going to be an invaluable companion in my search for new stuff, although (to end on a completely personal note) I could probably have done without 70% of the classical recommendations ( of which there are very many - how many genuine classical buffs are going to bother with a book of this kind, with its extensive tracts of rock, blues, country and soul anyway?). Particularly if that had left more room for albums by all the great alternative British UK pop artists he's left out!