Everyone has “that” album don’t they. The one that defines that critical point in their life, soundtracks those transformational times. Simon Bates “Our Tune”. But longer. Here Tom Gatti (Deputy Editor of the New Statesman and a former editor of the Saturday Review section of the Times) collects together fifty articles previously published in the NS where a variety of journos / authors / poets tell us about “their” album. What could be more enticing? Top quality wordsmiths setting out what made their ears tingle. We are promised “an intoxicating mix of memoir and music writing, spanning the golden age of vinyl and the streaming era, and showing how a single LP can shape a writer’s mind.”
Across the 50 writers contributing mini essays are some names I knew and a lot I didn’t. The Word alumni are well represented via David Hepworth (“Sail Away” – Randy Newman), Mark Ellen (“The B-52’s” – B-52’s) and Kate Mossman (“The Rhythm of the Saints” – Paul Simon). There’s also Will Self, Billy Bragg, David Mitchell, Alan Johnson, Clive James, Iain Rankin, Neil Gaiman, Tracey Thorn and Neil Tennant. Plus a much longer list of writers which mostly made obvious my ignorance of British authors that don’t write crime books.
The albums covered are diverse and occasionally familiar– hip hop to mop tops, Mos Def to Miles Davis. You’d expect to find Bowie, Joni Mitchell and REM. Safe bets. I would also have bet on – and lost money on – Hendrix, Cream or CSNY. No doubt my middle of the road taste in reading, and old man’s musical interests.
Reading them back to back in one tome, rather than as a shortish article in a magazine like NS proved to be less of a page turner than expected. Why? Well for one thing, there’s the problem of a writer you don’t know eulogising about an album you haven’t heard. And I suppose because not one of the 50 albums spoke to me as it did to the writers (who to be fair, here and there paint some vivid pictures). Also, my familiarity with the ex Word contributors left me nonplussed – Hepworth not choosing Springsteen? Ellen not going for Dylan? Mossman not writing about Queen?
The original articles (still to be found on the NS website) came with a bio and pictures. The version I read (Kindle) gave just the author’s name and the album, and my frustration levels had already climbed – having to Google each unknown name before I read their essay – by the time I found the thumbnail summary bios at the back of the book. They really should be ahead of each album, ideally with pictures of the author and the album cover.
In fact the bit that worked the best for me was Gatti’s introduction. The only longer form piece, a well crafted description of how the way music is experienced has changed which draws heavily on Gatti’s history, and is all the better for it. Few will agree with his choice of “Thriller” as the ultimate long player, but I enjoyed how he made his case.
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
The New Statesman
One thing you’ve learned
There’s no accounting for taste