Intelligent, critically generous, slightly boring essays, reviews, and profiles on pop music and cultural topics by longtime Rolling Stone contributor DeCurtis. DeCurtis warns us in a preface not to expect flashy prose or gonzo authorial participation in the subjects he covers, and he's unfailingly respectful of his subjects, so it's logical that the most engaging pieces here are the interviews with quick-witted, well- spoken musicians like U2 and Peter Buck of R.E.M. The unfortunate corollary is that DeCurtis takes all too seriously aesthetic irrelevancies like John Cougar Mellencamp. Magazine profiles (of the Rolling Stones, Sting, 10,000 Maniacs, and Leonard Cohen, among others) and liner notes (for Eric Clapton and Phil Spector CD boxed sets) often manage to boil down genius and eccentricity into qualities resembling mere skill and pluck; while useful as a corrective to rock-journalism hyperbole, the author's mild response also makes these essays more or less forgettable. An obituary feature on the bluegrass legend Bill Monroe is unexpectedly sweet, a discussion of the furor over Ice-T's —Cop Killer— is concise and thoughtful, and pieces on the novelist T. Coraghessan Boyle and the historians Neil Sheehan and Taylor Branch show a welcome avidity for advancing the cause of serious writing. But DeCurtis is best as a reviewer: The assortment of short record reviews and appreciations included here, while seldom advancing any unexpected opinions, show off his careful use of language without falling back on obscure hipster references or supercilious critical jargon. For instance, DeCurtis says Johnny Cash —has made a rumbling baritone voice with nonexistent range and a limited guitar technique expressive of a dignified worldview—; certain songs on Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks 'suggest the possibility not merely of regret but of reconciliation and forgiveness based on the acceptance of loss.— In the end, though, while DeCurtis's writing is efficient, it's also generally too bloodless and ephemeral to reward the reader's concentration.
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