Now that’s what I call music writing. Having read “Point Close All Quotes”, a 227-page anthology compiled by The Quietus to mark its fifth birthday, I am aware of the clichéd nature of my initial verdict: but that’s my most authentic reaction, and so I’m sticking with it. The greatest strength of this excellent book, which contains 28 essays of impressive depth and breadth, is that it is just as unapologetic as it is rigorous in making its arguments. I think it is only right, then, that I should follow suit in writing this review.
These days, largely due to the ravages of illegal downloading, the music industry is a risk-averse place. Often we see prizes whose shortlists seem focused as much if not more upon publicity as actual merit. We also see many writers who seem repeatedly to follow orthodoxy, apparently afraid to voice opinions on this or that superstar’s new album that contradict the majority. And then we have The Quietus.
The Quietus, frankly, doesn’t care about taking less celebrated stances. But this is no teenage rebellion: this magazine’s writers don’t go to war for the sake for it. The essays in this compilation, diverse though they are, are united by one principle: that music matters, even when it is ostensibly as shallow as can be. Hence a fine essay by Aidan Moffat on Girls Aloud’s final gig, which follows hard on the heels of a heartbreaking interview with Vic Chestnutt, that most troubled and gifted of innovators, who took his life only three months after he spoke to Wyndham Wallace.
There are several outstanding pieces of work in this volume, and so I will list here only those six which I found most compelling. Jude Rogers wrote two of them: the first, an analysis of the misogyny that surrounds the marketing of Rihanna’s work, and the second a profile of the warm yet wonderfully elusive Dolly Parton. Joel McIver plays a selection of space-themed rock music to Sir Patrick Moore, the magnificently cantankerous astronomer, with hilariously disastrous results. Elsewhere, Luke Turner, in the light of Frank Ocean’s coming out, appraises the media’s ambivalent relationship with male bisexuality; and whilst Ben Graham revisits U2’s most thrilling years – in other words, their earliest – John Doran lauds the psychedelic pomp of Factory Floor. Indeed, Doran’s essay doubles as a declaration of everything that The Quietus stands against:
“This is the spirit of the times we live in. Nothing is serious. Everything must be accompanied by a nervous giggle. Nothing has any true meaning. To look for concrete meaning in art is automatically to misunderstand what it was made for. The tastemakers of this entire generation are tubby, coke-numbed, moustache-wearing simpletons dressed like Timmy Mallet. It is fitting that these people dress like clowns as they are the comic subplot to the Shakespearean tragedy of the multiple failures of post-modernism.”
This is not merely a withering dismissal: it is a call to arms. Throughout “Point Close All Quotes”, the prose is by turns thrillingly visceral and elegantly detached, but always urgent and uncompromising in its politics. If you’ve been looking for passionate, superbly-crafted commentary on music and how it relates to the world around us, then your search is at an end.
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