Listen to New Wave Rock! Exploring a Musical Genre. By James E. Perone. Exploring Musical Genres. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2018. 218 pages. Acid-free $61 (ISBN 978-1-4408-5968-7). E-book Available (978-1-4408-5969-4), call for pricing.

Listen to New Wave Rock! is the first volume in the Exploring a Musical Genre series from Greenwood Press. According to the series forward, the series will consist of “scholarly volumes written for the enjoyment of virtually any music fan” (x). Rather than attempt to provide an exhaustive history of new wave music, this volume instead focuses on fifty musical works the author considers to be “Must-Hear Music” (xiv). This limited focus allows the author to devote more attention to the chosen pieces of music than is typical of most reference resources. The entries provide accounts of each band’s formation and early careers that one would expect in a volume such as this; however, what distinguishes Listen to New Wave Rock! is the rigorous critical analysis the author applies to each selected musical composition. Topics discussed in any given entry might include the band’s techniques for composing and recording as well as the themes of the song’s lyrics. While the series forward claims that the entries will eschew “technical terms or concepts,” many entries contain detailed analysis of the song structures and the artists’ playing methods. A prime example of this type of analysis can be found in the entry devoted to “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s. “Based on the key of the piece, and the fact that [Ricky] Wilson plays it on a standard electric guitar, it is clear that he uses a dropped tuning, with the lowest-pitched string tuned from its customary E down a major third to C. The lower pitch is accompanied by additional slackness of the string, which lends Wilson’s guitar sound something that distinguishes it from the norm” (18). This sort of information will likely make the book an even more enjoyable experience for readers with musical aptitude.

The chapter devoted to must-hear music is preceded by a chapter titled “Background,” which traces the origins of new wave music back to the pop music of the 1960s and the punk and disco music of the 1970s. The concluding sections are devoted to new wave’s impact on popular culture and an interesting discussion of new wave’s legacy, which provides an account of new wave songs used in other mediums, such as movies, tv shows, and commercials; new wave performers who have remained active; and more contemporary performers who were influenced by new wave music.

The book’s only notable shortcoming is its narrow focus. The series forward states “Part of the challenge, but also part of the fun, is that readers might agree with some of the choices of ‘must-hear music’ and disagree with others” (x). This reviewer was indeed unpersuaded by the author’s reasoning for including Dire Straits in a new wave music book. Also, several prominent bands of the new wave genre, such as the Smiths and the Cure, do not receive entries. Other reference titles, such as The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Omnibus Press, 2011) will provide information on a wider range of new wave artists, but the entries in that title are mainly chronologies of events and lack the analysis found in Listen to New Wave Rock! Listen to New Wave Rock! is recommended for academic and public libraries.—Edward Whatley, Georgia College & State University, Milledgeville, Georgia


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