I’m going to start my review of the year with my shortest list – the best rock books of the year a list that stretches to three books this year.
First off “Read & Burn: A Book About Wire” by Wilson Neate, a biography of one of the U.K.’s most enduring acts. ‘R&B’ is an utterly absorbing book which I’ve probably read three times now, although only once from start to finish.
One of the great mysteries of ‘Read & Burn’ is just how Wire continue to endure as, with the assistance of all the main principals, Neate illustrates the tensions and creative tensions which have, and continue to, beset the band.
It’s to his great credit that he makes sense of the various conflicting narratives (and that’s just those of the band members themselves!) yet still presents the Wire story in a comprehensible manner.
The book’s subtitle is critical though- this is a book about Wire and it doesn’t pretend to be definitive. There is, however, more than a ring of truth to this version of the Wire story.
Next up an equally complex tale with a much wider cast of characters – Vic Galloway’s ‘Songs In The Key of Fife‘. Charting the different stories of an eclectic group of Fife musicians, many of whom achieved success against all odds, Vic somehow manages to do each story justice within a relatively short word count. As he admits himself, some of these artists at least merit a book in their own right.
Despite the fact that he knows all the main protagonists ‘Songs …’ is in no way a whitewash. On the contrary it’s a real warts and all tale of a group of individuals attempting to find their own creative voices in the face of substantial hurdles.
Finally Martin Aston’s ‘Facing The Other Way: The Story of 4AD‘. By necessity FTOW is a book that focuses more on the label, and particularly founder Ivo Watts, rather than the artists and that’s despite it being a weighty tome
It does a great job though of relating the 4AD story from the initial, slightly directionless, years to the glory days of the 80s and 90s with all the tensions created by the sudden growth of the label.
The period following Ivo’s departure is covered in some depth and it’s perhaps the only disappointment of the book that the label’s renaissance in the 21st century is dealt with fairly speedily. But overall it’s a fascinating book.