on March 27, 2008
Don't make the mistake of buying the US version
Get the whole story and buy the UK version. It contains chapters on US bands on the SST label, 2nd Gen. Industrial bands (Foetus, Test Dept.) a very important part of the post-punk aural landscape.
Ironic (or maybe typical) that a book on the highly political post-punk era is as cut up and censored as the US edition is.
from Simon Reynold's blog:
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE UK AND US EDITIONS
* the chapter sequence is different from the UK version
* three chapters are cut for reasons of space: the Devoto/Subway Sect chapter; the Conform to Deform Second Wave of Industrial chapter; and the SST/Blasting Concept chapter
* two chapters compressed into one for reasons of space, the Goth chapter and the Glory Boys/Big Music chapter
* Timeline is absent for reason of space
* in the US edition, the Appendix on MTV and the Second British Invasion is folded into the chapter on New Pop's peak
* no illustrations in the US edition
* the Mutant Disco chapter is written up as proper historical prose in the US edition, as opposed to the oral history in the UK edition
* no bibliography in the US edition
I don't understand this "reason of space" explanation. Wonder if they cut out some words from the dictionary for "reason of space"?
Approximately 200 pages missing from the US edition.
Very Very Lame
Don't waste your money. Get the UK edition and skrew the US publishers.
on February 23, 2006
A definitive history of post-punk has been long in coming. Though this may or may not be that definitive history (one book can't possibly fully address this fertile era), it is well worth a read.
True fans of post-punk should read this book, however they should read the UK version and not this shortened US version. Three chapters have been cut in their entirety and portions of other chapters have been cut or shortened. In total, the US version of the book is nearly 200 pages shorter.
The cover of the UK edition is also much cooler.
Let me admit right up front that I am not a fan of 95% of the music chronicled in this book. But several of my friends are, so I thought I'd dip into it to see if it would make a nice gift. With that in mind, I read the one chapter that covers music I really love, the chapter about the rapid rise and fall of the 2-Tone ska movement. Those twenty pages were enough to convince me that Reynolds is best kind of music writer, able to write evocatively about the music itself while providing the social, economic, and political context for its creation. He hits the nail firmly on the head in his analysis of The Specials' songs as "cheerless" -- tying them to social-realist cinema and the bleak post-WWII concrete jungle of their native Coventry. Reynolds also does a nice job of describing the origins of ska, it's development in England, and rather complicated ties to the mod and skinhead subcultures. He's also brimming with details about the major bands and why it all fell apart so quickly. Two quibbles do present themselves. One is that some of the transitions are a bit choppy, and I later learned that the US edition I read is an abridged version of the UK edition (nowhere is this obviously stated on the US edition). Some 300+ pages were cut, which would explain some of the choppiness I found, and I have to say that I'll be buying the more expensive UK version for my friends. The second reservation I have with the book is the total lack of documentation. It's great to quote Dammers, Hall, Staple, and all these other musicians, but it would be nice to know where these quotes came from so that one could do follow-up reading or research -- there's not even a bibliography! These cavaets of abrdigement and referencing aside, this appears to be an excellent, well-written account of an overlooked era of music history and should stand as the definitive work for many years to come.
on December 16, 2010
Simon Reynolds' Rip it Up and Start Again is an engaging look at the British side of the collective of genres we call "post-punk": the dub reggae experimenters, the Burundi-beat-plundering New Romantics, the "angular" guitar-wielding do-it-yourselfers.
However, my purpose in writing this review is not to discuss the book. It suffices to say that despite the two-star review, this is really a four-star book, and is highly recommended to anyone with post-punk listening experience who wants to understand the sociopolitical, economic, and musical histories of post-punk. Instead my purpose of this review is to advise you against buying the US edition, since it is an abridged version of the longer (and more comprehensive) UK edition.
What's been cut from the US edition is a little over a hundred pages of material, including three complete chapters. Off the top of my head, there's a chapter on Magazine that got cut, a chapter on industrial music that got cut, and a chapter on the American SST scene that got cut. I'm also told, though I didn't get the chance to do the comparison myself, that there are bits and pieces of the chapters themselves that have been cut out of the US edition.
In short, don't be afraid to spend a couple extra bucks on the UK version for the complete experience.
Heard about this book in a review in Wire magazine, and my girlfriend kindly ordered the book from amazon.co.uk for me for Christmas. When the book came to the States it had lost about 200 pages and any sections on music that wasn't "as popular" on this side of the ocean. In the day of global information and the lowering of borders, this is just absurd. Buy the full book (a 5 star proposition), it's worth it.
on July 2, 2011
Simon Reynolds, who previously wrote the definitive early history of electronica, Generation Ecstasy, is simply one the best music historians and critics alive, an exhaustive researcher with encyclopedic musical, literary and historical knowledge who possesses, thankfully, a solid sense of humor.
A major problem with the postpunk movement, though, and Reynold's superhuman efforts in researching and chronicling it, is that an enormous percentage of the music has not survived the test of time. Too much of it was modernism in its best and worst senses: extreme experimentalism and a rejection of past norms (tunes, for example) by young musicians and non-musicians of admirable ambition but questionable talent and inspiration. Many postpunk songs were slapped together in a day by young guys who had picked up guitars, drums and synths for the first time a week before. I often suspect that Reynolds put more effort into researching and describing certain obscure songs than the bands originally spent in writing and recording them.
That said, there are many diamonds in the rough to be found by exploring the bands and songs mentioned in this book. I made many musical discoveries through Rip It Up, something that's become extremely easy thanks to the Internet. The ability to dial up 60- or 90-second samples on Amazon or iTunes of all of the songs Reynolds describes is half the fun.
Reynolds accomplishes what he sets out to do: write the definitive history of post-punk, convincingly define what it was (in short, a period of modernism), and explain its important role in music history, namely as the bridge between punk and the British "New Pop" of the early 80s and a movement that planted the or some seeds of goth, hip hop (via Art of Noise's "Beat Box" and Malcolm McLaren's surprising post-Pistols career), rave, and a host of contemporary bands. He argues, successfully, that postpunk was extremely influential even where the original music hasn't stood the test of time.
Many of the Amazon reviewers here exhort you to buy the longer UK edition of Rip it Up. My advice: don't... unless you're already into postpunk. The US edition is long enough for the general reader at 388 pages.
In the final chapter, Reynolds sets the stage for his next book, Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past, which presumably begins where New Pop entered its decline, around 1984-85, when the dominant paradigm of music shifted from forward thinking (futurist) to backward looking (retro).
on March 22, 2006
"Rip It Up" is the rarest kind of rock and roll book: You are a smarter person for having read it. While reading about, say, Liquid Liquid, it became clear that I understand much better not just how popular music evolved but how popular culture itself was warped and evolving during the late seventies and early eighties.
If punk music represented the death of the popular music of the era (disco, easy listening, ELO-style orchestration)what would emerge in its wake? In short, what could possibly follow the "Blank Generation?" Reynolds book shows us the highs and lows of what emerged. In addition, he provides enough information on, for example, Thatcher-era Britain and how their musicians responed to it, to give the book some historical interest as well.
As such, I was surprised that the previous reviewer found Reynold's book to be anything less than definitive; it seems that every story Reynolds tells, from the evolution of Joy Division into New Order to (my favorite) the rise and fall of Postcard Records, is full of the kind of detail you practically would have to be in the studio to know. One hopes that after Reynolds' book certain bands (such as criminally neglected Feelies) will finally come back into print.
That aside, perhaps what I enjoy best is the level of detail within the book. "Rip It Up" (which covers some many bands and genres within this era of music) is the kind of resource you want to have around at all times for its reference material alone. If you are the kind of person that goes into a record shop with a pages-long list of albums to look for this is a must-have book.
on October 7, 2010
As a general point I like the book and would recommend it. It's well written, although some of Reynold's ideas get repetitive. He is at times uncritical about the bands he discusses and has a tendency to overvalue unconventionality as a virtue in itself, the result of trying too hard to intellectualize the subject. But the book is informative about the bands he chooses to write about and the overall point about the richness of the music of this era is one I agree with.
However in a book that purports to be a comprehensive survey of the music of this era, there are some strange omissions. Bands such as the Clash, Blondie, the Police, the Jam, etc., all of which contributed to the "postpunk" music of this era, are essentially ignored. What is presented is instead an incomplete history. But in writing a history of a subject, be it a musical history or otherwise, an author does not just get a free pass in omitting key details. Rather the author must be held to account for these omissions and the good faith of the author questioned. In reading this book, it is therefore helpful to be aware that you are getting an incomplete story.
Which raises the question of why these omissions occurred. My initial suspicion, and one I still think is valid in part, is that Reynolds simply liked certain bands above others. This results in the standard fanboy favoritism that music writers seem prone to of crediting the bands they like while neglecting bands that they don't. Anyone familiar with Clinton Heylin's book on the US punk scene will recognize the symptoms.
Yet there seems also to be a deeper aspect to these omissions. Reynold's thesis after all is that while "punk" was allegedly backward-looking and negative, "postpunk" was forward looking and constructive. He wants to draw a sharp line between them. Yet the history of first wave "punk" bands, none of which embraced the label that the media was imposing upon them, belies such a simplistic view. Bands such as the Clash, Blondie, the Jam, etc., while starting out in varying degrees in a back to basics mode, quickly branched out to a wider spectrum of music, incorporating the same diverse elements that Reynolds identifies with "postpunk". The same could be said for a band Reynolds does discuss, the Talking Heads, although Reynolds insists that the Talking Heads were supposedly misfits in the NYC punk scene. (The degree to which Reynolds attempts to revisionistically remove supposedly "postpunk" bands like the Talking Heads and Suicide from the NYC punk scene to promote the supposed punk/postpunk distinction goes so far that when he discusses an early article about the NYC punk scene by James Wolcott that describes what that author perceives as a conservative impulse in the scene [specifically the attempt to reestablish rock as a communal activity and not as Reynolds implies a hidebound fidelity to rock traditionalism; later Reynolds without seeing the contradiction quotes Ana Magnuson lamenting the loss of a similar communal sense in the supposedly progressive NYC post-CBCBs scene], Reynolds falsely pretends that the article does not apply to the Talking Heads even though Walcott definitely includes them in his description and even quotes members of the Talking Heads in his article). Even the distinction that Reynolds starts his book with, the supposed distinction between the "punk" Sex Pistols and John Lydon's next band, the "postpunk" Public Image, Ltd., elides over the point that Lydon began formulating the music that became Public Image, Ltd. while the key lyricist for the supposedly regressive Sex Pistols. So too, didn't bands identified with postpunk, like Joy Division, start with a much more basic, "punk" sound? (The debt that many of the bands surveyed owe to punk is something they acknowledge outright on numerous occasions throughout the narrative).
What is presented here therefore is not so much a history but a history written to support a specific partisan view. This view is a revisionist history that seeks to downplay punk as Reynolds defines it while building up the "postpunk" bands that allegedly follow (and that coincidentally Reynolds just happens to like). This alternative history is that punk, narrowly defined, magically ended in 1978 with the demise of the Sex Pistols, and that the postpunk bands then "started over" from scratch. The purpose here is to deny "punk" any credit for what follows. Rather, as seen by Reynolds misrepresentation of the Wolcott article in what was the skeptical Village Voice, Reynolds is all too keen on equating punk with nostalgia. Yet putting aside that all music, including "postpunk", is derivative to some degree and therefore necessarily looks back (for example, postpunk bands did not exactly invent funk or dub or disco), wasn't the process by which the first wave punk bands sought to return to rock's essential roots and away from the mainstream (the alleged "looking back"), a necessary springboard to moving forward? Wasn't the experimentalism that emerged into music in the late 70s/early 80s the direct consequence of that initial act of wiping the slate clean and returning to fundamentals (the energy, rebelliousness and immediacy of early rock and roll) represented by punk? That bands that were at the forefront of "punk", those discussed and those ignored, would go on to experiment with funk, ska, disco, electronic music and so forth seems conclusive. [It's worth adding that the author Theo Cateforis in the recent book "Are We Not New Wave?" makes the insightful point that looking back past the immediate present to earlier sources and inspirations is not mere "nostalgia" as Reynold's believes, but is a much more creative position that involves the critical rejection of contemporary norms. If we see punk's taking inspiration from pre-1967 music sources as a critical and creative act, the same point I made here, then Reynold's seriously misunderstands the initial creative impetus for punk, and in doing so underestimates how punk and post-punk are actually interconnected].
The point is that punk in its origins was not merely negative, and the break from the mainstream reflected by the first wave "punk" bands, far from a negative and backward looking act, was actually a creative and constructive action, setting the stage for subsequent innovation which they themselves participated in. In trying to malign punk to bolster the importance of "postpunk"-just to give a sense of his motivations, while bands like the Clash and Blondie don't even make the index of the book, Reynolds seriously quotes that "noted authority" Nancy Spungen as to punk rock's alleged "true" meaning-Reynolds cannot refrain from distorting the early history of punk rock, artificially separating bands like the Talking Heads and Suicide from their punk association by ahistorically labeling them as "postpunk" while ignoring the Bohemian and experimental aspects of many of punks early practitioners. A particularly amusing example of this occurs in the chapter about No Wave where Reynolds discusses the disco leanings of some of the No Wave bands as a supposedly radical break from the earlier CBGBs bands, a potentially interesting theory if Blondie had not already recorded the Disco Song (later the hardly obscure Heart of Glass) in 1975! Just to focus on the NYC scene, the NYC punk scene was very diverse-again "punk" was a media invented label just as "postpunk" is-spanning bands as varied as the Dead Boys, the Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith, Suicide, etc., and is resistant to overly glib efforts at generalization. What Reynolds refuses to acknowledge or cannot comprehend in his need to finely classify the music of the period was how organically interrelated "punk" and "postpunk" were, especially in NYC, to the point that distinguishing the two isn't meaningful or realistic and becomes a completely academic exercise. (An earlier book about the scene, Art After Midnight by Steven Hager, establishes this very effectively). Bands like the Contortions could not have existed without the independent rock scene that the first wave "punk" bands created and the independent, creative spirit they instilled it with at the onset. In fact those bands Reynolds identifies as postpunk were an extension of what those first wave bands started and would also continue, to the point that "postpunk" is on many levels a misnomer. Rather than a fractured scene, punk and postpunk, so-called, represented a single progression, interacting seamlessly in places like the Mudd Club, Hurrahs, TV Party, and yes, CBGBs, and the distinction that Reynolds wants the reader to perceive in writing off "punk" as he understands it (he seems to equate it to its hardcore variant) is not accurate. In actuality the supposedly simple demarcation between punk and what followed is not so easy to draw, and the omission of a number of bands gets less difficult to explain when it's recognized that these omitted bands, if included and seriously discussed, would play havoc with the thesis of the entire book. In that sense this history is not merely incomplete, but is substantially less thoughtful and honest than it should have been. By over-selling his argument while ignoring details that would complicate the narrative he wants to promote, Reynolds hurts his own credibility.
Finally, just to note an admittedly nitpicking point, Reynolds speculates that Madonna may have been inspired to use the phrase "Material Girl" from a statement by Ari Up of the Slits. Actually Madonna didn't write "Material Girl"; it was written by Peter Brown and Robert Rans. Whether they were inspired by the Slits I can't say. But trivial in isolation or not, it hints at a general carelessness with details that, as I've noted, can also be seen in his presentation of the larger themes of the book.
on June 13, 2012
You always hear people tell you that punk changed everything. It killed bloated arena rock! It was a fresh sound! It was a break with the 60s! It brought politics back into music! If you take a closer look though, these supposed accomplishments are not that convincing. Punk, as the original punk bands conceived of it, didn't last very long. There were lots of bands, especially in the 90s, who were influenced by punk in a very direct stylistic sense, but did punk really change much of anything if it was just another sound on the palette of pop? Not really, and the problem with this general notion is that punk itself didn't determine the course of modern music and musical culture.
As Simon Reynolds argues in "Rip It Up," what came directly after Punk, a flowering of creativity in the Anglo-American (but especially Anglo) musical culture, was where the destiny of popular music was forged, a destiny popular music is still beholden to today. I've used the term "post-punk" a few times when discussing 80s music with friends or at parties, and I've noticed that it usually invokes nothing aside from a blank stare. A metal head once told me that it must be a stupid term invented by Pitchfork. This is a shame. Post-punk is probably one of the most accurate and useful genre terms that music journalists have concocted over the years. Tons of bands from 1978-1984 fall under the heading. Reynolds includes acts as diverse as Gang of Four, Joy Division, Talking Heads, The Art of Noise, Depeche Mode, Throbbing Gristle, and Devo, just to name a paltry few (if you need any evidence of this book's extensiveness, just look at the index). Post-punk wasn't a genre, it was an explosion of micro-genres inspired by the break with the past that punk signified. Punk burned rock n' roll to the ground, and post-punk was what rose out of the ashes. It was the creation made possible by the destruction. This may be a hyperbolic metaphor, but I think it gets the point across.
Reynolds places the reader in the cultural time and place where post-punk thrived. The 60s were long dead, but its shadow lived on. Mainstream rock was dominated by stale, cheap imitations of the previous creative era. The U.S. and British governments were charging to the right, and dragging Western culture with them. The Revolution never materialized. The music industry had proven itself to be creatively impotent. Most radical opposition to the mainstream took an syndicalist turn, where collectively owned record labels and record shops represented a desire to, at the very least, create spaces where creativity was celebrated, even if a real revolution no longer seemed possible. Free love, nature worship, and universal revolt had all failed. It wouldn't be accurate to say that post-punk was "anti-60s," but it clearly sought to be the aesthetic opposite of the 60s, while still being anti-heteronormative.
Rip It Up follows countless musicians and bands, but Reynolds picks John Lydon, previously known as the Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten, to frame the story of post-punk's birth. Lydon had shocked the music world as the violent and depraved frontman of the Sex Pistols, but his stint with them was short-lived. Lydon quit the Sex Pistols just as British punk died, and quickly made a complete 180-turn in direction. He now presented himself as a thoughtful, mild-mannered young man who was interested in creating new, exciting music. His new band, Public Image Ltd., constituted a sharp break with everything else in the pop music world. The music was cold, sometimes harrowing- a sound that was the result of meticulous production. The music was experimental, without a doubt, and Jah Wobble's bass guitar sound, in tandem with Keith Levene's guitar sound, would inspire entire future generations of rock instrumentalists.
Despite post-punk's experimentalism, one of its defining characteristics was that its singles were tailored to be enjoyable. The separation between catchiness and originality that prog rock had created was abolished. PBL donned a corporate aesthetic and shunned frontmanship, highlighting the collaborative nature of its music. Lydon cited regge, kraut rock, soul, and even certain prog rock groups as influences, but the classic 60s-70s rock groups were totally absent. Although they sought success, PBL was determined to maintain artistic independence, while showing that real musical statements could be made through pop.
Despite the emphasis I've placed on PBL in this review, Reynolds drives home the point that no single group created post-punk. A surprising amount of bands were independently doing similar things as PBL in the wake of punk's death. Pere Ubu, another favorite of Reynolds', rose from the decay of Akron, Ohio with an abrasive, yet playful approach to rock n' roll. Personally, my two favorite bands from this era are Wire and Gang of Four. Both of these bands' members were rooted in the Marxist (more specifically, Situationist) ideas of the 60s, but applied them in unique ways. Gang of Four retained its hard-line Marxist stance, and communicated a scathing disdain for consumer culture through its searing riffs, which feel almost like wires being slapped across your ears (all while being addictively catchy!) Meanwhile, Wire took the more playful route, reinventing the punk sound by demonstrating that sonic creativity could coexist with blissful melodies. Meanwhile, Throbbing Gristle didn't even show any pretenses towards listenability, attacking the listener with waves of nerve-wracking electronic noise. The Pop Group created anti-establishment pop that was fervently rooted in Black American music, but defiant of the ways in which Black music had been appropriated in the 70s. The Slits combined radical feminism with a love for the tribal and primitive. Joy Division created slow, sad bassio-sung songs that were deeply emotional, but deeply alienating at the same time- a powerful effect that is oft imitated, but rarely matched.
In its first couple of years, post-punk was wild and listlessly experimental. Many of these bands grew out of art collectives, art schools, and college campuses. In fact, post-punk's importance is self-apparent even in the way in which the bands that constituted it were formed. It was the first musical movement to arise in this way, setting the trend for all future musical waves.
However, once the 80s arrived, it became clear that society wasn't moving in a revolutionary direction anytime soon. Many groups moved in an even more poppy direction- and not necessarily for the worse. This new phase produced the first artistically-inspired electronic dance music in the form of successfully original acts, Depeche Mode being the most significant of them. Bands that were explicitly all about pop also sprung up. Groups such as Orange Juice, Adam and the Ants, and the Talking Heads probably best represented the tendency within post-punk to sound fresh-yet-fun by focusing on songcraft.
I could go on and on with the lists, but there's one particular post-punk band whose career is a microcosm of post-punk's general trajectory. Scritti Politti started out as a Marxist collective who played punk-inspired musical improvisations. They were a formative post-punk group which embodied the early elements of the movement: Confused radicalism, a disdain for rock orthodoxy, not-so-enjoyable sound experiments, and an obsession with applying artistic theory to popular music. Eventually though, the original creator of SP took over and expelled the rest of the lineup. He abandoned his previous Marxist stance, and instead sought to challenge heternormative ideas in a more restrained, less radical way. Unfortunately, by 1984 Scritti Politti had completely descended into pop narcissism.
The fascinating electronic group The Art of Noise provided one last hurrah for the artistic side of post-punk in 1984, before quickly falling apart. After this point, many of the most important post-punk bands either sold out or burned out. Musical ideas lied dormant, until they resurfaced in the 90s and 00s. Reynolds convincingly argues that the music of the 90s and 00s, even at its most trailblazing, is a direct continuation of the musical tendencies initiated by post-punk. Electronic dance music, alternative rock, indie, ska, body music, dream pop, shoegaze, goth music, and even modern hip-hop are really all continuations of various trends within post-punk. This may sound absurd, or as if it was a gross exaggeration. Before reading this book, I think I would have thought so. However, I dare you to read "Rip It Up" and then tell me otherwise. It may be the greatest scandal of modern pop music culture that 1978-84 is not placed on a similar level as 1968-74. At the very least, Reynolds will introduce you to a tremendous variety of awesome and influential bands, many of which have been forgotten by the "official story" of popular music. This book is a triumph of journalism, not just musical journalism. Unlike the vague opinions of hipsters you meet at house parties, Reynolds meticulously cites all of his information, while providing entertaining and insightful commentary.
on February 1, 2011
Apparently, the US version is ~200 pages less than the UK version (which was the first copy I read). Though it seems rather blasphemous to excise chapters/portions about Einsturzende Neubauten, SST Records, Magazine, and (reducing) The Buzzcocks, I think it could also be argued that it streamlined the narrative (how punk influenced post-punk which was then co-opted into the mainstream), even if reading about those other acts/labels was interesting. The UK version was definitely enjoyable, but I felt it was a little bloated (i.e. following up the formation of PiL with... some guy who has a cult following, even by the standards of others in this book) My only real complaint is that I would've switched the last two chapters around. (Frankie Goes to Hollywood and the Goth/Neo-psychedelia chapters, respectively)
I was a bit annoyed that SST were barely mentioned in the UK version, and excised entirely from the US version, but in retrospect it makes more sense as they didn't really fit into the above narrative (at least in the years covered. "Michael Azerrad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life" covers them, among others, more succinctly). So in all, it's definitely a great book, even if it does leave out otherwise interesting acts.