information and hype about
RETROMANIA: Pop Culture's Addiction To Its Own Past
By Simon Reynolds
(published June 2 UK / July 24 US)
We live in a pop era gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration. The first decade of the 21st Century saw the runaway growth of an industry dedicated to the exploitation of rock's past, encompassing reunion tours, deluxe expanded reissues, rock documentaries and biopics, rock museums, remakes of iconic albums, and even reenactments by artists of famous events in music history. An endless Eighties revival, which reached the mainstream through artists like Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas and La Roux, lasted the entirety of the decade, and has yet to subside even as hipsters are talking up the Nineties as the next big nostalgia wave. Paralleling the West's oil addiction, pop's economy grows ever more dependent on its own history.
RETROMANIA is the first book to examine the retro delirium that has taken over pop culture. But while it is focused on music, the book's span encompasses everything from fashion to the contemporary art scene to the cult British comedy show The Mighty Boosh. Blending investigative reporting and cultural critique, RETROMANIA traces the roots of retro in rock's own history and assesses its implications for the future of music. Is it a dearth of innovation that inspires the chronic nostalgia for the lost golden ages of rock's youth? Or have we become victims of our ever-expanding capacity to store, share and instantly access cultural data, a historically unprecedented phenomenon symbolized by the rise of the iPod and YouTube?
Earlier epochs had their own obsessions with what had gone before, but never before has there been a society so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its own immediate past. Does this retromania sound the death knell for any originality and distinctiveness of our own era? Are we heading toward a sort of cultural-ecological catastrophe, where pop's archival resources have been exhausted?
Early reviews and advance praise for Retromania
Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past.
Reynolds, Simon (Author)
Jul 2011. 368 p. Faber and Faber, paperback, $16.00. (9780865479944). 781.
"The best book I read recently is Retromania by Simon Reynolds. It's fantastic. Reading Simon Reynolds is like getting in a warm bath"--Jason Schwartzman, GQ Style
“Simon Reynolds's Retromania is a must read. One of the best books about music I've ever encountered”— Touré
"Astute" -- Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Giddyingly insightful"--Trevor Butterworth, The Daily
"An important and often compelling work... Reynolds makes a convincing case that today’s retromania is different in degree and in kind from anything we’ve experienced before"--Nicholas Carr, The New Republic
"A provocative and learned book... The reader is in astute hands, and while the route isn't always the most direct one, it is filled with interesting diversions, including ruminations on the nature of boredom in the digital age and on the collector's impulse"--Michael Azerrad, Wall Street Journal
"Retromania is remarkably researched, enthusiastically written, and -- although often a victim of its own enthusiasms -- truly important."-- Adam Hanft, Barnes and Noble Review
"Simon Reynolds’s infatuations with forward-thinking music and movements have been the driving force of his 25-year writing career, sparking such works as his definitive chronicle of rave culture, Generation Ecstasy, and the authoritative post-punk history Rip It Up and Start Again. Likewise, in his underappreciated collection Bring the Noise, this futurist zeal allows Reynolds to weave together a host of independent writings that span more than two decades to present an overarching case that the cross-pollination between white and black music has “served as the motor of change in pop history.’’... Retromania not only makes a persuasive case that retro-ism is impeding pop culture, but it also illustrates why Reynolds is arguably the most provocative pop music writer of his generation."--Eric Been, The Boston Globe
"What makes this book so wise is its author's awareness of his own complicity in nostalgia... Like the best of Reynolds's writing, it's elegant and urgent.. Whether or not he likes the music, his love of describing it is palpable. The search is still on for music Reynolds can describe without allusion to other music. But here, as throughout, the question is as fruitful for us as it is frustrating for him"--Tom Payne, The New York Times Book Review
"A terrifically agile and edifying spin through the logic of modern pop culture: Punk-rock reunion tours, reissue labels, and record collectors rub up against critical theory, sixties fashion, and Japanese music culture, with idea-packed detours into the modern attention span, the “franticity” of Internet use, and the rise of “curating” pop culture as a full-fledged career option. The stuff that really fascinates isn’t those artists collaging bits and pieces of older styles; it’s the huge pockets of the music world that stake out a piece of lost ground and simply camp out there, like preservation societies or Civil War reenactors. Reynolds understands the allure of that, too, and his sections on the people involved—the mp3 bloggers who post old rarities, the bands who track down vintage gear, or the scenes, like Northern Soul, that spend decades obsessing over styles that lasted only a few years in the first place—are fundamentally an insider’s take"--Nitsuh Abebe, New York magazine
"I recently read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania and it was so spot-on as far as our current attitude to music and its history. For my money he’s one of the most intelligent music writers in the last two decades"--DJ Food
"Retromania is designed to be a polemic, the kind of book you’d throw against the wall if you weren’t so immersed in it"--Timothy Gabriele, Pop Matters
"Reynolds is a keen writer, with the mind of a critic and the heart of an enthusiast, which makes Retromania easy to engage; reading it is like bantering with a smart friend, not like bristling at a lecture. In the same introduction where he states his intentions, Reynolds admits that he enjoys many aspects of retro (though, he adds, “I still feel deep down that it is lame and shameful”). If anything, Reynolds often waxes as rhapsodic about the artifacts of pop-gone-by as do the people who actually dedicate their lives to them.... As he says, this book is meant as “an investigation,” not a closing argument. And it’s a credit to his skill and wit that Retromania is such fun to grapple with."--Noel Murray, Columbia Journalism Review
*-STARRED REVIEW "In this unusual history, music critic Reynolds argues that the last decade was obsessed with what he calls retro-rock, a fascination with the sounds of living memory... A provocative and original inquiry into the past and future of popular music"--Booklist
"Reynolds.. uses critical theory to explore the retro industry and our collective obsession with the immediate past... Covering fashion, music, television, museums, and mashups, Reynolds analyzes our culture's need to acknowledge the past in an attempt to create something new and original. In a paradoxical twist, our accelerated digital world has become locked in hyperstasis. Popular culture, as a corollary, always feels familiar and alluring. Verdict This superbly written critique of popular culture reveals our deep-seated anxieties about social instability and cultural change..."--Library Journal
"Absorbing, brightly written... Reynolds fears that our obsession with the recent past has become a structural part of rock music... Important—and alarming—reading for pop-music aficionados."--Kirkus Reviews
"Reynolds visits retro impulses in fashion, architecture, movies, and painting, but focuses on what he claims are the formaldehyde-soaked horrors of retro rock music: tours by geriatric boomer bands; wistful VH1 retrospectives; the musty curatorial obsessions of rock museums and hipster connoisseurs; new bands whose music merely cuts-and-pastes hoary influences; the all-preserving Internet, where adolescents graze in every musical era without developing their own generation-specific sound... But Reynolds's mix of canny erudition, critical theory, stylish prose, and vibrant evocations of bands both famous and unheard-of, nails the appeal of retro almost despite himself; as he deplores musical nostalgia, he reminds us why it mesmerizes us"--Publishers Weekly
"Nostalgia has become the password for entry into contemporary music. With ease and elegance, Simon Reynolds describes this complex condition in Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past (Faber & Faber) and delivers an insightful polemic against it. Retromania serves as a forceful, definitive status report on today's music.... Reynolds' innovative analysis is rife with impatience and sadness. Retromania calls for action, but is not so much a manifesto as an explanation for why music is recycling and not reinventing"--Martin Jack Rosenblum, Milwaukee Express
"Frighteningly erudite, breathtakingly imaginative and a nice man into the bargain, Simon Reynolds, as he nears his 50th birthday, has no realistic rivals in the field of music criticism (other than, perhaps, Alex Ross of the New Yorker). It’s got to the stage where the publication of the English rock hack’s latest book every couple of years is more eagerly anticipated than the new albums by half the bands he writes about... Reading the book... as ever with Reynolds it was impossible not to be impressed by the sheer breadth of reference and ingenuity of argument, let alone the effortless elegance of the writing."--Jonathan O'Brien, Sunday Business Post (Dublin)
"A conversation-starter, and a valuable consideration of the wave of retro-fetishes and musical curatorship saturating the current landscape"--A.V. Club
"Entertaining"--Robert Chritsgau, the Barnes & Noble Review
"His past titles, including Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture and Rip It Up and Start Again: Post Punk 1978–1984, definitively document the musical spheres he inhabited, as both fan and critic. His most recent book is his most compelling yet, raising just as many questions as he answers along the way."--J.C. Gabel, Time Out Chicago.
"... the most stimulating contemporary popular music critic in the English language for the past 25 years. Reynolds exhibits the usual fan's obsessiveness with wide-ranging interests and relentless curiosity, but the key to his consistent readability is a keenly analytical mind that recognises the importance of sometimes coolly stepping back from the fashion and the passion to make sense of what's driving it all... [Retromania is] exhaustively researched, sometimes maddening and immensely stimulating... A highly rewarding read"--Lynden Barber, The Australian.
"Geekily erudite and sweepingly referential, focusing on music but in a broad cultural context, where Baudrillard rubs shoulders with the Beach Boys, Kim Wilde with Oscar Wilde. His accounts of arcane styles and subcultures such as “hypnagogic pop” and Japanese Shibuya-kei are best appreciated with YouTube, a portal that may, as Reynolds contends, paralyze us through distraction, but also helps make sense of Retromania. His writing is punchy and poetic, as in his depiction of the “ghost dance” of Deadheads, “an endangered, out-of-time people willing a lost world back into existence.” Reynolds makes so many perceptive points, supported with such strong historical evidence, his book can be exhilarating if you agree with it, fun to spar with if you don’t"--Mike Doherty, Macleans (Canada)
"Compendious and slightly nauseating (in a good way) account of pop-cultural backward-looking... But now pop has eaten itself. The facts—and no one has presented them as clearly as Simon Reynolds—are before us; the fix is in. What next?"--James Parker, The Atlantic.
"That rare thing, a brainy joyride... Along with his encyclopedic music brain, Reynolds brings an accessible but intellectual style that draws on a broad range of cultural artifacts and authorities—a random sampling of index entries accurately reflects the array: Adam Ant, Harold Bloom, Can, Phil Collins, John Coltrane, Sigmund Freud, Gossip Girl, Cary Grant, The Jesus and Mary Chain… It also pointed me to about a thousand blogs, videos, records, and books to investigate"--John Williams, The Second Pass
"Through surveying both the current landscape and examining how retro has functioned in music at different points in history, and putting particular focus on how the archive of the Internet has changed the accessibility of culture artifacts, Reynolds makes a compelling case that the very nature of musical creativity and the listening experience are changing in fundamental ways"--Mark Richardson, Pitchfork
"In his terrific new book, Retromania, music writer Simon Reynolds looks at how this nostalgia obsession is playing itself out everywhere from fashion to performance art to electronic music -- and comes away with a worrying prognosis. If we continue looking backward, he argues, we'll never have transformative decades, like the 1960s, or bold movements like rock 'n' roll, again. If all we watch and listen to are things that we've seen and heard before, and revive trends that have already existed, culture becomes an inescapable feedback loop"--Thomas Rogers, Salon.com
"Interesting, timely book this one… Key to Reynolds's book is his ability to crystallise an artist, scene or movement with effortless, exciting prose. He opens the doors to times you may want to investigate further, weaving in references, characters, places, events and quotes that will educate, stimulate and have you endlessly hunting around on Google and YouTube. Retromania is fascinating, addictive, superbly written and thoroughly investigated. Part history, part theory and wholly questioning, it’s the perfect read for today – and possibly all of tomorrow’s musical futures."--Jonny Trunk, Record Collector
"Reynolds's mapping of today's pop environment is often witty; his account of the way in which so many artists position themselves as curators is spot-on, as is his description of internet users – himself included – gorging on illegal downloads. His prose, casually neologistic and making deft use of sci-fi tropes, is bracingly sharp. As a work of contemporary historiography, a thick description of the transformations in our relationship to time – as well as to place – Retromania deserves to be very widely read"--Sukhdev Sandhu, The Observer
"Retromania is a terrific book. Reynolds brings profound knowledge and oceanic depth and width to his argument, tracing his theme from trad jazz through the '70s rock and roll boom to the hipsterism of today, via the hyper-connectedness and infinite jukebox of the web. Unlike many of the pop writers who inspired him as a youth, he deploys his high intelligence and vast range of reference lucidly, to argue and illuminate, not dazzle or alienate. He can mention Baudrillard and Pokemon in the same sentence and still make sense "--Steve Yates, The Word magazine.
"If pop is suffering from a fossil fuel crisis due to a perceived lack of fresh resources, the sense that there are no new sounds under the sun, then its global warming is retro sounds and hauntological memory-trips fugging the blogosphere--and this book is its An Inconvenient Truth... A hugely interesting and useful debate starter"--NME
"Already one of the greatest pop commentators of our time... A sequel of sorts to the stupidly good Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84, this meaty 458-page tome manages to weave such disparate musical elements as Norma Waterstone, Gerry Rafferty, Johnnie Kidd, the Sex Pistols, Lady Gaga, The Cramps, Massive Attack, Mo Wax, The Grateful Dead, Toots & the Maytals and, er, Mick Hucknall, into a a decade-straddling treatise on why we're all so hung-up on the rock'n'roll past. Unlike the man he's often compared to, Greil Marcus, Reynolds doesn't feel the need to batter you over the head with his intellect, opting instead for a conversational style that's not afraid to go off on seriously wild tangents."--Stuart Clark, Hot Press
"If anyone can make sense of pop music's steady mutation from what George Melly noted as its 'worship of the present', to its current status as a living heritage industry where past, present and what the author calls a nostalgia for a lost future coexist, then you'd have to trust Reynolds. he's a top-table critic whose keen ear is matched by a sharp eye for cultural context.... If there's an underlying melancholia to Retromania's state-of-the market opening address (Now), it's shattered by a brilliant dissection of the role played by the retro-urge in pop's first half-century (Then)... An erudite study of pop's eternal lock groove..."-- Mark Paytress, Mojo.
"Simon Reynolds legacy as one of the great music writers of the last thirty is assured, but with Retromania he becomes one of the great social commentators. Drawing together the worlds of music, fashion and technology, he argues that pop culture has become addicted to its own past, and that innovation and futurism are being snuffed out. Retromania is a vital rebellion against our ongoing cultural crisis delivered in the form of a fun and engaging assessment of today’s music world"--Strictly Randl webzine
“If pop music is all about right now, what happens when the past refuses to go quietly? The ever-brilliant Simon Reynolds investigates the cult of retro, the temptations of nostalgia, and the future of music culture--all with a detective’s cold eye and a fan’s hot heart"--Rob Sheffield, author of Love Is a Mix Tape and Talking to Girls About Duran Duran
“One of my favorite music writers wrestles one of my favorite musical paradoxes: what's up with the fetish for the Old in pop's Land of the Eternal New? Unpacking how YouTube makes history more lateral than linear, pondering the remarkable endurance of England's Northern Soul scene, or wondering if record collecting is indeed a distinctly masculine sickness, Reynolds' deep inquiries lead to a bigger question: does obsessive engagement with the past make it harder to invent the future?”--Will Hermes, author of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire
“The crowning achievement of Retromania is that it in no way contributes to the cultural malaise it critiques. You may struggle with the suspicion that you’ve seen it all before and heard it all before—but you’ve never read anything that approaches the idea of retro from as many entertaining and incisive angles. The present may be collapsing into the past, but this is a book for the ages”—Greg Milner, author of Perfecting Sound Forever
"The book is long awaited, and not just because Reynolds's great studies of post-punk (Rip It Up and Start Again) and dance culture (Energy Flash) consolidated his position as the ultimate philosopher-fanboy. There has also not been a comprehensive study of our collective desire for the past until now, and how endemic it is in both mainstream and alternative culture.... His explorations are, as always, breathless and readable, a mix of enthusiastic self-analysis and academic theory... He writes vividly on the dynamics of sharing - how the internet has made multiple ownership of obscure records and films possible, instead of allowing collectors to hold on to them like talismans.... A work that is vibrant and vital."
--Jude Rogers, New Statesman & Society.
"This is a magical mystery tour through the retroscape, and Reynolds finds plenty that’s interesting and, dare I say it, new among the second-hand detritus."--Kevin Courtney, Irish Times
"Looking back over the last 25 years you'd be hard pressed to name a music journalist more adept at tracking and defining the zeitgeist"--The Guardian
"A meticulous and fascinating survey of the evolution of pop's infrastructure of mis-remembering, from trad-jazz to rave nostalgia via reggae reissue labels, northern soul, and, surprisingly, Patti Smith's Horses"--The Independent on Sunday
"Musing on such disparate topics as hipster culture, tribute bands, the mash up, hauntology and MP3s, this is an essential read for anyone who realises that it is history, not piracy, that poses the greatest threat to the progress of popular music."--John Doran, The Stool Pigeon
"Simon Reynolds‘ compulsively readable new book Retromania has caused almost as much consternation amongst glib hipsterati – determined, without investing the requisite effort and intensity of purpose, to lay a claim for their generation – as it has for clueless, bloated, swinging-daddy-o rock critics clinging pathetically to their syndicated investitures.
But guess what? Reynolds is right– as the future, when it eventually arrives, will prove. Just as Lester Bangs bleated through the seventies, suffering a personal famine till punk stirred and broke, so it is the critic’s occasionally unenviable task to speak the unspeakable and admit the inadmissible."--FACT magazine
"A great exploration of this decade’s cultural ennui – namely, ‘where did all the new go’? Reynolds is a music writer but in his journey from the trad-jazz revival of the 50s to today’s hyper-connected hipster roaming the MP3 blogs in search of un-mined seams of obscurity, he draws art, architecture and fashion into his critique of our cultural obsession with the recent past, while also weaving his vast array of reference points to make sophisticated theoretical cases without ever being academic or impenetrable. You might not always agree with his assertion that this decade has been little more than a retread and recombination of bygone attitudes, genres and styles, but this passionate journey in search of our lost future is both enlightening and entertaining"-- Dazed and Confused
"Simon Reynolds is my favourite music writer by a mile, and Retromania is his best yet. It balances a breathtaking amount of research, some real insight, a lot of humour and just enough abstract theorising (which has been a problem with Reynolds’ work in the past for a lot of people). It looks at retro culture and wonders if culture as a whole, and music in particular, is at a dead end of some sort. Tackling everything from garage punk to slavish Japanese fans to garage rock to digital culture, it’s easily the best book I’ve read this year and I totally recommend it."--Speakers Push Air webzine.
UK edition published NOW by Faber & Faber
US edition published NOW by Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Italian edition published September 2011 by ISBN Edizioni
French edition published 2012 by Le Mot and Le Reste
Spanish-language edition published 2012 by Caja Negro
German language edition published 2012 BY Ventil Verlag
Info about UK and US events / appearances at this blog or via twitter: www.twitter.com/simonretromania