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Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past

by Simon Reynolds

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3681368,608 (3.76)7
We live in a pop age gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration. Band re-formations and reunion tours, expanded reissues of classic albums and outtake-crammed box sets, remakes and sequels, tribute albums and mash-ups ... But what happens when we run out of past? Are we heading toward a sort of cultural-ecological catastrophe, where the archival stream of pop history has been exhausted? Retromania is the first book to examine the retro industry and ask the question: Is this retromania a death knell for any originality and distinctiveness of our own?… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
I'm about half way through this, and two main things stand out so far. One is how there is finally a book-length take from a major publishing house on the types of conversations music lovers have been having on blogs/message boards and face to face with increasing frequency over the past decade. It's somewhat peculiar reading sentences I swear I've read, heard, said or at least thought to myself before. Not accusing Reynolds of plagiarism or even laziness, just surprised it took so long for this book to come into existence. Maybe Gaga's mainstream success was the tipping point that demonstrated just how permeating (and profitable) retro fetishism has become?
The second thing that stands out is also not that original, but it's a discussion that doesn't happen in music circles enough. Reynolds' points out that this obsession with reappropriating or outright ripping off the past is not unique to pop music, and in fact pop music is late to the game compared to other artforms and even Western culture at large. He begins the book discussing archive-mania, how academic and governmental agencies have become obsessed with documenting and preserving every last scrap of information, and how digital media has accelerated that impulse. Later he notes the '80s art world went through the kind of interest in the past and lack of concern for originality that pop music has been going through the last decade or so.
Interesting topics and an interesting book, but I'm not sure Reynolds is the guy who should have written it. He's obviously knowledgeable and scholarly, but he seems to rely too much on accepted knowledge and conventional wisdom. He assumes a lot about "listeners" and makes sweeping generalizations, things that are hard to avoid when taking on a topic this large, maybe, but he does it to excess. And like most music writers of today, he seems enamored of/suspicious of the elusive, hard-to-define hipster, which he at least goes to the trouble of positioning in the upper middle class (he is English, after all), which seems rather limiting. And his editor really should have caught him using the term "ultra-hip" three times in three pages, especially when he referred to Matador Records as such. I may accept an argument for Matador as hip, but ultra-hip? Not even in the '90s.
Unfair maybe to critique a book when only halfway through, but maybe the best thing it has going for it is its very topic, which stirs up all sorts of ideas and opinions, whether you agree with Reynolds or not. It's a quick read, but I'm making myself slow down to stay with it a while longer. ( )
  ecdawson | Jan 22, 2024 |
The running timelines at the beginning made it hard to get started—but after that, it was smooth sailing: an interesting and insightful look at US and British pop from the mid-twentieth century on.

Plus, it helped me think through high school reunions, of all things: https://walkingthewire.substack.com/p/proving-nothing-to-the-past
  KatrinkaV | Jun 5, 2023 |
Ich habe gefühlt noch nie so lange an einem Buch herumgekaut, wie an diesem. Nach über einem Monat habe ich das Namedrop-Dauertrommelfeuer des Hrn. Reynolds nun überstanden.
Wirklich gefallen und angesprochen hat mich dabei eigentlich nur der Teil 3 "Morgen" und da insbesondere Kapitel 10 "Die Geister der vergangenen Zukunft - Sampling, Hauntology und Mashups". In diesem Kapitel arbeitet er recht gut den Begriff "Hauntology" auf und geht auf aktuelle Strömungen wie Chillwave ein.
Besonders genervt hat das Herumgeprahle mit Wissen über alle Spielarten des Folk, einem Genre, mit dem ich null anfangen kann. Dieses Genre dürfte ihm beim Niederschreiben des Buches gerade gefallen haben und es taucht ständig an verschiedensten Stellen des Buches als Namedropping von Superunbekannten Weird-Folk Artists auf.
Alles in allem war das Buch für mich größtenteils ein riesengroßes BLA und es blieb wenig, bis gar nichts hängen. Eine Herausforderung ist gegeben, wenn man das Buch als Anleitung zur Schnitzeljagd sieht, aber letztendlich ist mir das auch zu blöd und bzgl. Hauntology blieb hängen: Boards of Canada ist superwichtig für dieses Genre und das war es auch schon wieder und aus. ( )
  chepedaja3527 | Aug 23, 2022 |
4.5 - Reread of this. Reynolds goes a little too much into music nerddom at times and parts are slightly dated now, but this is still an excellent piece of academic yet highly accessible work. ( )
  arewenotben | Jul 31, 2020 |
This book would alienate readers less if it didn't set out its goal immediately - it mostly is a history, rather than the dismissal of contemporary music that it kind of sets itself up as. Reynolds has always been honest about what do or doesn't excite him about music while he does outstanding musical analysis in the context of social history; this one is no different. ( )
  triphopera | Apr 14, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)

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We live in a pop age gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration. Band re-formations and reunion tours, expanded reissues of classic albums and outtake-crammed box sets, remakes and sequels, tribute albums and mash-ups ... But what happens when we run out of past? Are we heading toward a sort of cultural-ecological catastrophe, where the archival stream of pop history has been exhausted? Retromania is the first book to examine the retro industry and ask the question: Is this retromania a death knell for any originality and distinctiveness of our own?

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