An exhaustive essay on art and/versus pop, politics and/versus aesthetics, intellect and/versus passion, and on how seriously music should, in general, be taken. He reads post-punk as far wider than the sombre anti-rock art-school thing people usually take it to be – so he includes Human League and ABC as post-punks with emphasis on the post:
To varying degrees, all these groups grasped the importance of image, its power to seduce and motivate. And they all coated their music in a patina of commercial gloss, some of them pursuing a strategy of entryism, while others simply revelled in sonic luxury for the sheer glam thrill of it… it’s simply inaccurate to portray New Pop, as some histories of the period have, as a ‘like punk never happened’ scenario. Almost all of the groups had some connection to punk…
New Pop was about making the best of the inevitable – synths and drum machines, video, the return of glamour. Colour, dance, fun and style were sanctioned as both strategically necessary (the terms of entry into pop) and pleasurable (now acceptable, with the rejection of post-punk’s guilt-racked puritanism).
His scope is total: everything’s here (except for oi, hardcore, Ramonescore – i.e. the people who failed to make it past punk). Reynolds divides the genre in three broad camps:
- modernists (PiL, Cab Vol, No Wave, industrial, SST prog-punk),
- post-pop (New Pop, electro, mutant disco, synth)
- retro-eclectics (two-tone, Goth, neo-mods).
He gives chapters to the Other Places of lC20th popular music: whether Akron (Devo, Pere Ubu), Leeds (Gang of Four, Mekons), Sheffield (Cabaret Voltaire, Human League), Edinburgh (Fire Engines, Josef K, Associates). There is a covert critique of punk (that is, the messianic punks) throughout the book:
Elsewhere, The Heartbreakers' stodge of refried Chuck Berry was barely more advanced than British pub rock — Dr Feelgood on an IV drip of smack rather than lager…
While the committed activists spouted the textbook party line, a more diffuse left-wing academic culture existed based on a sort of ideological pick 'n' mix — a trendy-lefty autodidactism fuelled by second-hand paperbacks and beginner's guides to Gramsci, Lukacs, and Althusser , garnished with Situationism…
Blending often-incompatible systems of thought, the resulting hodge-podge lacked rigour from the stern standpoint of academics and ideologues alike. But in rock music, a little rigour is rather bracing and galvanising. In the grand tradition of British art-rock, theory helped them achieve the sort of conceptual breakthroughs that more organically evolving groups never reach.
Instead, his favourites are the gorgeous misfits-among-misfits, who managed to be neither modernist nor entryist nor shill: Talking Heads, Meat Puppets, Associates, Japan. Crucially, he is charitable to all the tributaries: chart-hungry post-pop, politically-rabid modernism and the interminable ugliness of Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse and No Wave: this makes Rip It Up real history rather than hagiography, and so much more than I or anyone has managed.
He has more critical acumen than any of the mooks in the brainy bands; more love than the fey melodists. I have lived in the post-punk woods – too jaded and too hopeful to be a punk – for getting on a decade, and I thought myself a connoisseur: until now I was not.