Saturday, July 08, 2006


Words and Music: a history of pop in the shape of a city, by Paul Morley

Paul Morley is a highly influential rock journalist who worked for the New Musical Express in the late 70s and early 80s. He quit writing full-time about pop music at the age of twenty-five because he felt he had gotten too old.

In Words and Music Morley (now middle aged) takes the reader on a journey towards a virtual city built of sound and ideas. The book is ostensibly inspired by his two favourite pieces of music at the time of writing. I am sitting in a room by Alvin Lucifer, an avant-garde piece involving the overlaying of voices, and number one hit single I can’t get you out of my head by Kylie Minogue. A succession of other celebrities and artists also appear led by Kraftwork, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, Radiohead, John Cage, Eric Satie, Eminem, and Jarvis Cocker.

On route to the city the ubiquitous author takes many unexpected detours, travelling deeper into the back roads of his own obsessions, some of them real, others imagined. While musing on the nature of what it means to write about music Morley debates his position in the pantheon of great rock writers, before concluding that he is himself the greatest. Another winding route involves an alternate reality where The Shadows didn’t work with Cliff Richard, instead they collaborated with DJ Shadow, shaping dense, mysterious tapestries of instrumental electro/acoustic trip-hop evoking the kind of enigma that justifies their name.

Lists are a way of ordering the infinitely multiplicitous and endlessly evolving universe we are all a part of. This book has lots of lists, but contains so much more, in no small part due to the science fiction sense of wonder and awe feeding into and branching out from Morley’s prose style. This is a book that expresses an enthusiasm for the discoveries that are yet to be made, and a celebration of the inspirations that preceded them: "even though it has all happened before, everything has been done, every variation of everything has been tried, there continues to be something new under the sun".

Words and Music is verbose and self-indulgent – both plus points here - thoughtful and compelling too, and also beautifully written. Highly recommended to all lovers of words and/or music.


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