A semi-sequel to 'This Is Uncool', Mulholland's rather ace list of the greatest singles since punk and disco, `Fear of Music' is not quite as good as its predecessor but still an entertaining read.
Mulholland's selection (an arbitrary 261 albums) are interesting - a mix of the canon and the off-beat - as is his writing; even when he's discussing music you don't know or don't particularly care about, he can make it exciting. He says with passion exactly WHY he loves these albums. The chronological format once again works in Mulholland's favour: he catalogues the shifts of genre and subject matter across the decades with ease but with enthusiasm. However, it is where Mulholland attempts to describe the albums' responses to the changing societies and cultures they were made within that the book falls somewhat flat.
Mulholland's strategy in 'This Is Uncool' was to have a couple of pages at the start of each year detailing the events that had gone on - politics, economics, personal change - and in broad strokes paint how they effected the singles made and they way he listened to them. All very interesting; it coloured your reading of that year's songs, making Mulholland's discussion of his favourite singles more mutli-faceted and prfound.
However, Mulholland does away with this format in 'Fear of Music', instead choosing to flag up each album's politics within its own, small passage. The way music responds to society and politics can be highly interesting, but 'Fear of Music' is not academic or detailed enough to achieve this level. Instead, Mulholland seems to use any excuse he can to flag up his own personal problems with Western culture; racism, homophobia, sexism. You can't fault his ideals, but Mulholland isn't a political writer, and, even if he was, the list-making, sound-bite, pop-light format he has chosen isn't the right place to be repeatedly talking about his personal politics. Over the course of the book it becomes grating. In 'Fear Of Music' Mulholland his shifted the focus, in part, from the music to himself - he's not giving us his personal response to these albums, some of the time. He's just giving us him. 'Fear of Music' indeed.
It doesn't have 'This Is Uncool's' lovely, full page pictures, either... But enough comparison with its predecessor. 'Fear of Music' has its faults, but it is still full of enthusiastic, enlightening prose about a bunch of fantastic albums. It also has, in spades, the two best things about any list-making book; it makes you dig out records, rediscovering things you'd forgotten, discovering albums for the first time, and it's highly interactive. 'I've got that, you know,' says Dad. And you say, 'he picked "Hallowed Ground", over "Violent Femmes"?! Preposterous!'