Friday, July 6, 2012

50 Book Pledge #14: Simon Reynolds — Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984

The post-punk era of music charted in Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up and Start Again constitutes my favorite period of popular (sic) music of the last century. Reynolds' broad overview gives a fair encapsulation of why that is: he persuasively argues that the punk movement quickly reduced itself to regressive rock riffs and a simplistic, unadventurous rebellion that actually reinforced the rock it was meant to destroy. Post-punk, on the other hand, delivered on the promise of their '76 and '77 forbears. Reynolds displays an admirably open appraisal of the various forms of music produced during this six-year period of explosive creativity, lending equal artistic credence to the extreme noise pollution of industrial and just plain out-there bands as well as androgynous, image-conscious synthpop bands. Reynolds finds certain links between all these offshoot genres, noting the intellectual, even Brechtian approach to pop that defined some hit-makers looking to corrupt the machine from within and without, or the debt owed to producers like Giorgio Moroder and Lee "Scratch" Perry. Compared to the purist tone of so much punk writing, Reynolds almost verges on the anti-rockist, and he puts forward the case that Donna Summer had as much impact on this fertile period as the Velvet Underground or Can.

The book falters in its lack of focus, suffering the typical overview's flaw of giving just enough information to intrigue the reader before moving the next group of scene. And if Reynolds critiques so much of punk's values and value judgments, he is not so unlike them in his routine estimation of a group's first work as their best. Not only does he cease exploring this kind of music at the 1984 mark, he rarely even makes vague reference to what some groups did after this cutoff. For example, he speaks of Depeche Mode's early promise without ever touching upon its true creative peak at the end of the decade. Nevertheless, Reynolds at least differs in his appraisal of the early peaks of punks vs. those of the next wave: where punk bands generally fell apart because they could only muster enough energy and spark for one statement, so many post-punk bands assembled out of such varied tastes and intellectual goals that they collapsed from too much artistry, not too little. I added more than a dozen groups to a list of bands to check out reading this book, and I've already discovered some great gems from it. Recommended

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