A leading British music critic argues that our fascination with the recent past has stifled innovation and originality in popular culture.
Noting that “there has never been a society in human history so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its own immediate past,” Reynolds (Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop, 2011, etc.) offers cogent examples of the “lame and shameful” retromania in pop music, including revivals, reissues, reunions, tribute albums, golden oldie shows, boxed sets and music documentaries. Part of a broader societal obsession with nostalgia—e.g., remakes of blockbuster movies, iconic TV shows and vintage fashions—this constant use and abuse of the past prevents the making of groundbreaking music. New styles like hip hop and rave culture can no longer emerge; instead, pop musicians of the 2000s tweak established musical genres and raid archives. Much of Reynolds’s absorbing, brightly written and rambling book focuses on the evolution of pop nostalgia, beginning with the emergence of Sha Na Na, the ’50s revival group, in 1969, and the subsequent rise of a rock-nostalgia industry that reunited Dion and the Belmonts, the Five Satins and other groups. By the ’80s, rock’s history was being archived at venues like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where the ashes of noted rock disk jockey Alan Freed, the clothing John Lennon wore when he was shot and other memorabilia were displayed like “medieval sacred relics.” Disappointed by visits to such museums and to performances by reformed groups like the New York Dolls, Reynolds fears that our obsession with the recent past has become a structural part of rock music. Retromania is made possible by our increasing ability to access and share cultural data through new technologies.
Important—and alarming—reading for pop-music aficionados.