Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, by Simon Reynolds

(pb; 2005: non-fiction)

Review:

Landmark book – there aren't many non-fiction books covering this musical era with such singular focus – about the musical genre largely spawned by the Sex Pistols' implosion, as well as the industrial squalor of England's lower classes. Reynolds covers many bands, including PiL (John Lydon's post-Pistols musical endeavor), Warsaw (who later became Joy Division, and even later, The New Order), The Talking Heads, Culture Club, The Residents, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the New York Dolls, Depeche Mode, and other bands, and how they got together, became well-known, and influenced (or became stars on) MTV in the early 80's.

Appropriately, little mention is given to the larger rock bands of the era (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, et cetera), but one thing I found annoying was that Reynolds defends bands like Scritti Politti and Dead or Alive, who obviously were “sell-out” bands, yet criticizes Floyd and Zeppelin for the same characteristic (becoming popular).

Also, Reynolds neglects key bands like The Cure (they literally get a line or two), Shriekback (featuring members of XTC and Gang of Four), The Residents and others, who had more influence than Reynolds gives them credit for.

Flawed as it is, Rip It Up, for the most part, graphically represents and overviews that six-year pop-culture period in colorful and confident language. The breadth and fervency of Reynolds' prose makes for an often-invigorating read.

On a related note, for those who are into that era of music, there's an interesting film that centers around the bands The New Order and The Happy Mondays (whose lead singer, Shaun Ryder, later formed his post-prison group, Black Grape): 24 Hour Party People (2002).

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