Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review: ‘33 1/3: Some Girls'

One of the marvelous things about Continuum’s 33 1/3 series is that it allows writers a wide range of approaches to discussing classic albums. Without any set format, the books range from neatly organized (Andy Miller’s The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society and Bryan Waterman’s Marquee Moon opt for tight chronologies followed by track-by-track analyses) to creatively messy (Marc Woodworth’s book on Guided by Voices’ Bee Thousand mimics that album’s random abandon with pleasing results). Some of the series’ writers would be better served by tighter parameters. John Dougan primarily used his The Who Sell Out as a study of pirate radio, failing to give The Who’s greatest album the attention it deserves. Cyrus R.K. Patell is another writer who could have used some editorial guidance. While Woodworth’s Bee Thousand was purposefully sloppy, Patell’s look at The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls gives the impression he wasn’t sure how to fill 150 pages.

This book is all over the place. The writer begins with a personal anecdote about a high school teacher without tying it into the album’s story satisfactorily. He then wastes time going over familiar territory: Andrew Oldham’s grooming of The Rolling Stones as the anti-Beatles. I think Patell’s intention is to establish how every move The Stones made was a reaction to existing factors in the pop world, which he explains via a discussion of literary historian Hans Robert Jauss’s “horizon of expectations” theory, but it’s overly labored for such a short book. All of that wordiness does little to illuminate why Some Girls is exceptional, which is contentious in itself. The album was a good return to form after the water-treading Black and Blue, but it doesn’t measure up to the band’s work from the ‘60s through Exile on Main Street. This book seems as though it was written by a writer who did not realize his subject lacks substance until after starting his assignment. So he filled it out with unnecessary autobiographical tangents, pretentious literary theories, and way, way too many passages pulled from other sources. Patell recycles so much of Life that Keith Richards should receive royalties for this book. What does a reprint of Patell’s own blog review of the Shine a Light concert film have to do with an analysis of Some Girls? I understand how Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” may be relevant to a discussion of “When the Whip Comes Down” (both songs are about rubes and their eye-opening experiences in NYC), but do we really need to know how Campbell came to record the song and how it moved up the pop charts? More filler.

The most interesting chapter is the one titled “Aftermath”, which covers the controversies Some Girls stirred, The Stones' “Saturday Night Live” performance in support of the album, and reactions to the band in their middle-aged years. But the book goes off the rails again when Patell gets into an extended, irrelevant discussion of the Steel Wheels tour. Is the point to show how commercially minded Jagger had become in the ensuing ten years after The Stones made their reaction to punk? Because punk gestures aside, he was pretty commercially minded in ’78 too. Whatever. This is not the worst book about The Stones out there, but with so many superior choices, it’s not really essential. Kind of like Some Girls.

Get 33 1/3: Some Girls at Amazon.com here.
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