Friday, December 23, 2011

#508: Retrophobia

I'm a sucker 4 nostalgia, so you'd think a book like Simon Reynolds' RETROMANIA (2011) -- about how popular culture & especially pop music celebrates & wallows in its own past -- would B right up my street. But it wasn't.
Doesn't mean you shouldn't track down a copy & read it tho -- especially if you're 1 of those people (like me) who finds that most newer music doesn't seem 2 hit very hard.
Reynolds' thesis is that a majority of pop-music artists R busy getting their inspiration from the past -- & making music that SOUNDS like it's from an earlier decade -- Bcos no1 can imagine a workable future that's NE diffrent from Right Now.
You might want 2 think about this the next time you hear Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" or NEthing by Adele on the radio. What was "Rehab" but an old Aretha Franklin R&B number with updated lyrics? Replace the lyrical content & it coulda come straight outta the '60s. Adele seems almost a throwback 2 those sensitive singer-songwriters of the late-'60s/early-'70s -- Carole King or Laura Nyro, say. Janis Ian, maybe?
Reynolds doesn't critique any particular artists. He's not zinging NEbody 4 some kinda massive artistic Failure Of Nerve. He'd just like 2 hear Something New. & he hasn't heard it lately.
& the problem isn't just in pop music. It takes Reynolds a pretty in-depth, fairly Ntertaining 430 pgs 2 outline this. Along the way there's side-trips in2 other popular art forms showing that EVERY1's stuck -- no1 can imagine a real future anymore. He looks at fashion, filmmaking (endless re-makes), modern classical music, fine art, architecture, even science-fiction writing (more obsessed with what's happening right now than with NE imagined future)....
He also Xamines in-depth dozens of diffrent genres of pop music -- everything from hip-hop 2 techno 2 New Wave 2 rave & punkabilly & something he calls "hauntology" -- which sounds like some of that droning, decaying, spooky stuff that my buddy Gardenhead sometimes writes about over at ASLEEP ON THE COMPOST HEAP (
Reynolds finds Xcellent works & talented artists everywhere he looks. But he fails 2 find what he calls "the rush of the New."
This is a little frustrating, even tho I agree with him & you probly do 2 if you've ever shut off the radio in frustration Bcos "everything sounds the same" or Bcos they're always playing the same old stuff....
But tho Reynolds finds good work in every genre he looks at (& if nothing else this book will give you a list of new artists 2 check out), at times he sounds like those music fans & critics who were eagerly awaiting "The New Beatles" even B4 Elton John came along....
Reynolds stops short at the end of the book from saying that the whole world is "stuck." But that's the picture his book paints. Nobody in the arts seems able 2 break on thru & find something Totally New on the other side. & after the economic collapse of the past couple years, it seems even LESS likely that pop music will Xplode with some new sound.
If something Totally New were 2 arrive 2morrow, I'm not sure I'd B able 2 hear it. & I'm sure I wouldn't B alone. Some might nominate Lady Gaga 4 this; Reynolds refers 2 her as a "cyborg diva." Again -- it's not artists he's critiquing, it's the structure of pop music -- & by Xtension the rest of Reality -- as it is 2day.
There's LOTS more -- how the Internet & YouTube have helped create a reality where pop's complete past is available at the click of a mouse, & how musicians & artists have used that EZ access 2 further borrow & scramble sounds & influences.
There is a GREAT chapter on record-collecting as hobby, obsession, neurosis -- how it can become an anxiety sink, a way 2 shore yourself up against (or block out) the things in life that bother you, how it becomes a place 4 yer mis-directed energy & anxiety 2 go. Reynolds coulda written a whole book on this. I unfortunately have no trouble at all relating 2 this stuff.
There R also some laff-out-loud moments -- Reynolds cracks a great music-related joke on the 1st page that will have all of you out there shaking your heads in agreement. But there shoulda bn more moments like that. Reynolds' side-trips in2 other art forms help bolster his thesis, but the book gets long & kinda dry in places.
I kept reading hoping there'd B a big summation at the end. There isn't.
Hey, the world's a grim place right now. Nobody knows what's ahead -- nothing but big ugly questions nobody wants 2 face. Maybe the 2000's Rn't what we dreamt of when we were growing up. No suprise so many people would rather look backward. Ghod knows I do.
I don't much care if the music I listen 2 is "Totally New" or cutting edge. I'd just like 2 hear some more great new songs. Something that'll stick with me & maybe haunt me 4 awhile.
If you feel up 2 a lengthy, pretty serious, in-depth cultural study, check RETROMANIA out. If nothing else, you'll come out with a long list of new artists 2 track down.
I found a copy of Reynolds' RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN -- a history of late '70s/early-'80s post-punk -- & plan 2 dive in2 it soon. Reynolds sez it's 1 of his favorite musical periods, & it's 1 of mine 2. More soon.

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