Monday, January 23, 2006

Belated Book Review

The New Rolling Stone Album Guide: Completely Revised and Updated Fourth Edition (2004)

Judging from occasional conversations I’ve had with fellow music geeks from time to time, I suspect I’m not the only person who compulsively memorized the 1992 third edition until it literally went to pieces. As far as I can tell, this newish edition slipped into stores with little fanfare; perhaps this says something about RS’ steady plummet as an arbiter of hip, or maybe in the obsolescence of reading a reference work on music on somewhere other than the internet. (Regarding the latter point – I think that’s unfortunate. This is in some ways more user-friendly than the All-Music Guide. For one, the book doesn't always include every release under an act’s name. You don’t have to troll through countless cheap compilations to find what you’re looking for.)

Although a number of entries from the third edition are simply recycled or updated, the differences in the two books are pretty clear. Foremost, snark really has risen to the forefront of modes of communication for rock critics (and others). I’d like to let this observation stand on its own without any editorializing, but if you scroll around this page, you can read my thoughts on snark in general. On a more mundane note, this edition wisely abandons the third's decision to use – amazingly enough – merely four writers to cover every single entry. Instead, like the earliest books, somewhere around 70 critics are utililzed.

But the fun of a book like this is honing in on the details. And there are enough really odd occurrences to make you think maybe the editors weren’t always paying complete attention, or perhaps the deadline just snuck up on them. (I’ve been there, dudes.) Here are some of the stranger things I’ve noticed from this book after owning it for less than a month.

  • At some point in the Van Halen entry, Hagar becomes “Hagger.”
  • There is an entry for the solo works of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, but not for his partner in crime (and the Dan’s singer), Donald Fagen.
  • There is no entry for Metallica.
  • There’s an entry for Dire Straits, plus a separate one for Mark Knopfler’s solo albums. This seems excessive.
  • Hey, remember when RS gave Mick Jagger’s awful Goddess in the Doorway album five stars and we all laughed? Well, now they’ve knocked it down… to four stars.


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