The greatest year for music? I think 1967 is a strong contender. Maybe 1979 or 1986. For comedian James Acaster, it’s 2016. He had a very dreadful year in 2017, full of illness and personal crises. He found that searching for music released in the previous year helped his mental health, ending up with over 600 albums he loved. This is an odd kind of book, because it’s partly memoir and partly a description of various obscure bands. If you enjoyed his first book, Classic Scrapes, there’s no guarantee you’ll like this one. There are funny bits of course, some of which are the same content as his live show, but it’s really not as amusing as you might expect.
I read a review in which someone said that James has bad taste in music. I think that’s harsh, as surely there is no such thing as good and bad taste in the arts. It’s totally subjective. If music makes you happy, that’s fine. And there is a lot of music that makes James Acaster happy. He is particularly drawn to rap, r’n’b, punk, music which mixes genres and unusual ideas. The elements of music which seem most important to him are the lyrics, the concepts, the energy and experimentation. These aren’t as important to me as the production quality, musicianship, strong beats, melodies and vocal perfection. The paperback edition has a playlist of 50 songs at the end. I listened to them all. I didn’t like any of them. This doesn’t bode well for the 366 albums he has recommended and put into a calendar planner format. I haven’t checked any of those out yet, although I might in the future. Maybe I could do one album a year, which would take me 366 years.
The major downside of this book is the lack of an index. To find the page where he described a particular album, you’ll have to go through the whole book again. I suppose that an e-book would be the best format, as you could use the search function.
The biographies of the bands are not interesting to read. It’s like they’ve been cut and pasted from somewhere. It seems that James interviewed some of the artists, so I think this was a missed opportunity to add some variety to the writing style. I particularly remember the mundanity of one musician being reported as having got his driving licence. Not to belittle this personal achievement, but I don’t see why that should be in the book.
Not recommended unless you have the same taste in music as James. I feel kind of mean saying this, as he has obviously put a lot of effort into his project and has bared his soul in this book. He has also failed to convince me that 2016 was the greatest year for music.
Perfect read? Whatever.
First published in 2019. This edition, 2020.