Review of ‘Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics’ by Dylan Jones

What does the term ‘New Romantics’ mean to you? Synth pop, dramatic make-up, elite clubs for the eccentrically-dressed youth, androgynous style, art students forming bands? This book by music journalist and magazine editor Dylan Jones OBE reveals the New Romantic movement as this and much more. Spanning a decade from 1975 (David Bowie and Bryan Ferry) to 1985 (Live Aid), the book examines the British music scene in terms of new media, politics, design, youth culture, and social attitudes to class, race and sexuality. The roots and influences of the movement are key, which is why there is a lot of discussion around punk before we actually get the the New Romantics.

Dylan Jones manages to interview (or quote from) a very impressive range of people: musicians, producers, DJs, fashion designers, photographers, journalists, artists, promoters. Essentially it’s an oral history, interlinked by the author’s own experiences and bits of historical context. What emerges is a vivid and entertaining collage. Some sections were more interesting to me than others. For example, I liked reading about how the bands formed and the technology they used. I wasn’t so keen on the lengthy discussions about The Face and I-D magazines. I feel that some of the quotes are too long and could have been edited further. Inevitably there is repetition too, with different people saying the same thing.

There is a lot of focus on David Bowie, Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, The Human League, Wham! and Culture Club, with moderate attention also paid to Soft Cell, ABC, Japan, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, OMD, Grace Jones, Sade, Visage, Yazoo and Heaven 17. Kraftwerk are repeatedly mentioned as an influence but there isn’t a lot of meaningful discussion on them. Talk Talk are not included in the discussion, relegated to a recommendation of one single in the discography at the end, which I thought wasn’t really fair, as their early music was considered part of the movement, even though (like many other musicians at the time) they rejected the New Romantic label. I wouldn’t call this book a comprehensive history, as a work of this kind will to some extent be a matter of the author’s personal taste in music, but I’m sure you won’t find anything else as good which covers so much ground.

The book includes a discography with pithy one-liner descriptions, an acknowledgements section which answered my question about how quotes were obtained from people who are deceased (David Bowie, George Michael, Steve Strange, Malcolm McLaren), a selection of interesting images (some of which you may not see anywhere else) and an index. The book’s title refers to the song by the Eurythmics, however they are a very small part of the discussion.

I recommend this book if you’re a fan of early 80s music and want to read about the scene in the words of the people who were there.

Thank you to the publisher Faber and Faber for the advanced copy via NetGalley. The book will be published on October 1st.

9 thoughts on “Review of ‘Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics’ by Dylan Jones”

    1. Thanks! 😀 Yes the men looked very pretty. And TOTP was the perfect way to show off.

  1. Why did they use the song by the Eurythmics but hardly ever include them in the book? 🤦🏻 great review, NS! And this is one catchy cover!

    1. It was a good title but I think it should have referred to a song from one of the more prominent artists from the book. I like the cover too! 🙂

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