From time to time a music book appears that just captures the mood of the time it attempts to describe. Tim Blanchard’s book takes the reader through the story of five albums by five different bands released in the 1980s. Instead of a blow by blow account of each album, the book takes in the bigger picture, covering the social, political and cultural landscape of the time. This may not be to everyone’s tastes, some may prefer to immerse themselves in the minutiae of the debut albums by Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Smiths and The Blue Nile, along with The Go-Betweens’ second album Before Hollywood. The latter presumably included as it was recorded in the UK, like the other four.
The eighties was a time when mainstream music was shiny and glossy (there is a wonderful description of Live Aid as a musical Unilever). The punk wars had been lost and synthesised music was to the fore. Indie music and left-wing politics seemed to go hand in hand. The book is the kind of music writing that some fear is dying out, it positions the music at the centre of its era. Makes it sound like the most important thing in the world. Each album is given a chapter, but the chapters present a rounded view covering what was happening in Britain at the time, Thatcherism, mass unemployment, and the birth of indie music. The bands bleed in and out of each other’s chapters. Blanchard also quotes heavily from other books and what seems to be an impressive collection of what were referred to as the ‘inkies’ (NME, Melody Maker and Sounds).
What comes through is sheer enthusiasm for the bands and for a time when arguably, music meant more than it does now, some 35 years later. The bands are presented as idealistic and intelligent, and it’s hard to argue that Edwyn Collins, Roddy Frame, Robert Forster, Paul Buchanan and even Morrissey were anything else. The idea of place very much informs the albums being discussed. Much of these are well-worn tales, particularly in the case of The Smiths, yet Tim Blanchard somehow puts a new twist on them. Definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the era in question.