PAUL ROLAND CD Guide To Pop & Rock (Batsford)

In which national press music reviewer Roland treads a, by now, rather over-familiar furrow, boasting that his tome will help you “build your ultimate CD collection”, when really all it will assist you with is building his ultimate CD collection. It has star ratings, it has an “If you like this, why not try…?” feature and it has some of the most witless, glib prose and glaring factual inaccuracies I’ve encountered in nearly 25 years of reading about music. Perhaps a proof reader with a passing interest in the subject might have trapped malformed factoids such as the reference to The Beach Boys’ Brian Love, the assertion that “Disraeli Gears” was Cream’s debut album or, in a Troggs review, the suggestion that “Westlife’s version of “Love Is All Around” netted Reg a million in writer’s royalties”. I doubt, however, that they could have battled successfully with the author’s fondness for stretching a metaphor far beyond the limits of credulity – his gauche discussions of The Cars and The Chemical Brothers, to pick two random selections from an embarrassment of examples, have to be read to be disbelieved. And then, well, I know it’s all opinion and one person’s is equally valid as another’s, but, really: Led Zeppelin’s fourth album ‘uneven’?! “How often have you actually played the four songs after ‘Stairway To Heaven’?”, he bleats rhetorically – often enough to know that ‘uneven’ is an unusual adjective to select in discussion of that album’s merits or lack thereof, at least. And of all the bands one might accuse of fashioning “’baggy’ Mancunian anthems”, would you really number Blur among them, as Roland does? Then there’s the flip dismissal of Hendrix’s three studio albums (that would be “Are You Experienced”, “Axis: Bold As Love” and “Electric Ladyland”, remember) as “padded out with more than their fair share of dopey hippy filler”. And is it rigorous critical investigation that leads him to conclude that Patti Smith used “punk and poetry to exorcize a festering hatred for her strict religious upbringing and its intolerance of her homosexuality” or just an overly-literal interpretation of the lyrics to “Gloria” and “Redondo Beach”? Oh, (just one more, I promise, but I have pages of these!) and how Jeff Wayne must quake at Roland’s searing indictment of his magnum opus “War Of The Worlds” as (somewhat ironically, given where this particular publication was retrieved from) “a one-way ticket to the bargain bins”, pausing en route only to spend four-and-a-half years on the British album charts.

On the plus side…er, well, when indulging himself by writing about such personally favoured obscuranta as The Flamin’ Groovies or Robert Gordon the author’s enthusiasm is genuinely infectious, and I can’t be entirely against someone who awards Tyrannosaurus Rex’s fragrant “A Beard Of Stars” five stars for content. But then I catch sight of the four (count ‘em!) Eurythmics reviews – who at this late stage needs to know about four Eurythmics albums?! – his suggestion that Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” contains “the funkiest bass line for the clarinet in the history of black music” or a discussion of the many merits of Yes’ “Fragile” that mentions “Ian Anderson’s pseudo-mystical musings” and I’m off in search of firelighters again. Unless inexpensive and (hopefully) unintentional comedy is what you crave, avoid this book.