Books: Trying to Define the 90s; the Nineties. by John Robb (Ebury Press, Pounds 9.99). Reviewed by Simon Evans

By Evans, Simon | The Birmingham Post (England), October 16, 1999 | Go to article overview

Books: Trying to Define the 90s; the Nineties. by John Robb (Ebury Press, Pounds 9.99). Reviewed by Simon Evans


Evans, Simon, The Birmingham Post (England)


The 60s were swinging, the 70s were drab, the 80s were greedy. But the 90s? How will we remember a decade that saw the fall of Thatcherism and the rise of Blairism, the rise of dance music and the fall of Michael Jackson?

The biggest selling artists of the decade were not Celine Dion, Mariah Carey or Oasis but the Beatles, a group that ceased to exist in 1970. The biggest grossing touring group was not U2 but the Rolling Stones, who SHOULD have ceased to exist in 1970.

John Robb, a former singer with forgotten sub-punk band the Membranes, an ex-journalist with Sounds and record producer for Cornershop, makes as good a stab as anybody could at summarising this strange decade but he's surely only half right when he claims "one of the cool things about the 90s (was) the debunking of myths or at the very least the cashing in of them".

Most of the myths were actually fairly intact and indeed, the decade would see the creation of a whole lot more, not least a certain Princess and one Kurt Cobain.

As one of the first British journalists to interview Cobain, Robb was well placed to observe the Nirvana phenomenom but, as with much of this strangely-unsatisfying book, he's long on rhetoric and invective but frustratingly short of genuine insights.

His analysis of the rise of hip-hop and club culture is illuminating and much of the book is given over to the various strands of both, from the Bristol trip-hop scene to the rise and fall of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, rock bands both, but infused with the spirit of the acid house explosion.

Robb pinpoints the breaking down of the Berlin Wall - which he was, inevitably, present for - as the dawning of a new age. Which, again, is really only half true. The Cold War may be over but a particularly vicious nationalism has arisen in its place.

The truth is that, in pop cultural terms at least, history stopped in 1995 and has being going into a gradual rewind ever since.

One demented musicologist once observed that there were only so many combinations of notes possible before composers would be forced to merely recycle what had gone before. A slightly naive view you might think but there's certainly some force to the argument that our culture has entered a never-ending cycle of constant repetition.

The future may well be seen on television, as one historian observed in the years before daytime TV, satellite and cable, but it's likely to be on video, recorded some 30 years before.

Short on analysis Robb's book might be but you can't accuse him of not having opinions. …

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