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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 15 August 2011
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.
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on 26 April 2015
Retromania is a history of modern pop obsessed with the “rift of retro”, which is to say, the moment in (Reynolds thinks) 1983, when people stopped looking for new things and simply started cannibalising the old. It’s fascinating for me, not only because it’s my own life that I see stretched out for consideration, but also the most exciting elements of cultural studies for me, such as Situationism, and Futurism. Reynolds has some wonderfully Foucauldian approaches, including a section where he writes the history of the “I Love the [decade]ies” TV shows, in which he delves into the changing aims of the programme makers, and observed that the “I Love the Noughties” was so premature that it was actually broadcast in 2008.
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on 29 February 2016
A brilliant analysis of popular music's current malaise i.e. an almost total lack of originality, meaning, and emotional resonance. By extension, a critique of Western culture's current state of stagnation:

"It's glaringly obvious that all the astounding, time-space rearranging developments in the dissemination, storing, and accessing of audio data have not spawned a single new form of music".

Artists of the Western world, read it and weep...
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on 20 August 2013
I'm a big fan of Simon Reynolds and this book is a decent overview of the subject of Retromania.
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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on 9 February 2015
It was like having someone whispering truths in my ear, and has had listening to music, both new and retro, with more attention to what's being played and why. It's also very readable, and doesn't disappear where the sun doesn't shine in its attempts to put its points across.
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on 4 November 2011
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'.
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on 22 February 2012
I came to this book after hearing a lot of criticism that in it Reynolds was making the argument that there's nothing new in music and that we're just eating our own past. After finishing the book I can't believe how wrong those critics are. Yes, Reynolds does point out the unique position of western music culture at this point in history, but he accounts for it with a certain amount of inevitability in that we are now so exposed to our musical past via YT, the overabundance of reissues etc that we can't help looking back - he also suggests that looking back is endemic to the human condition. RETROMANIA also makes a great case for how the past has been used to stimulate genuinely innovative contemporary musical creations, and that it is our technological advancements (which might not be the same ones us fiftysomethings were encouraged to believe via episodes of THE JETSONS) which have made this possible.

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.
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on 2 March 2013
A very good and well written book! Useful and contemplative. It is a pageturner of high quality. I strongly recommend it!
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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!
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on 12 September 2011
There can be few journalists more cerebral (but also accesible) than Simon Reynolds. A former journalist in Melody Maker, at the time he would be championing more 'challenging' musics. Since departing the weekly newspaper, several of his published works have become definitive. This latest book, however, towers over everything else and is an urgent assessment of the state of pop culture.

The basic treatise of the book is to ask whether pop culture's addiction to its own past is, in fact, killing a culture that needs constant new and creative input to go forward. The analysis is very wide-ranging: this is not only a problem of reissue culture, of 'old' bands reforming, of a nostalgia culture. It's new bands who sound like they are old (without the context the first time around). It's the role that the internet has played: paradoxically, access to everything has meant that archives of all pop culture is available to everyone. It's the development of a collector culture and a curator culture, of a formalisation of pop culture (museumification). Even apparently left-field musical movements appear to depend on this addiction: the chapter on hauntology, on hypnogic pop, on sampling and mash-ups makes clear that recycling elements from the past, even in fields that we could consider creative, are actually contributing to the idea that there is little new left to discover. There is also an astonishing chapter on the reactionary roots of punk which is excellent in slaying a sacred cow.

And the referencing in this book is extraordinary. Pretty much all of my favourite bands made an appearance: from the description of Saint Etienne (as if the 1960's took a left turn) to Sonic Youth (not positive, if only due to their decision to tour on the back of the reissue of 'Daydream Nation'). It is jarring that he can find several pages on Oneohtrix Point Never not only as an musician but as an artist. And honestly when Reynolds wrote about 'the future' (talking about the influence of the past on contemporary musical styles) I read the book with a notepad by my side to check out several of the artists mentioned.

Don't think that the book covers only music, either. When he talks about 'pop culture', it is because he's also taking in other aspects linked to music: fashion, publishing ... the record industry as a whole.

The basic thesis (that by chasing its own tail Pop Culture is strangling itself) could be depressing for those of us who consider that music should advance and challenge. And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of this addiction, it is hard to close the book and feel pessimistic. To start with, there is nevertheless so much vital music out there and constantly coming out, even if it is not 'new' and despite the constant referencing to the past. And, above all, pop culture's loss has become publishing's gain through such an extraordinary book.

If you care about music and pop culture, you can, should and must read this book. It is not only the best book about the state of pop culture in 2011, it is the best book about music that I have ever read, an accolade that I do not bestow lightly. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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