Books

'Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself' Delves into the Mythology of the Debut Album

This is the sort of accessible academic volume that might be of interest to music fans and scholars alike, covering both well-known artists and those who have more cult followings.


Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself: Essays on Debut Albums

Publisher: Ashgate
ISBN: 1409441768
Author: George Plasketes (ed.)
Price: $99.95
Format: Hardcover
Length: 250 pages
Publication date: 2013-06
Amazon

A successful and lauded debut album can look like a musician’s golden ticket. If your first record sells thousands of copies and is hailed as a great work of art, then surely you have a brilliant career ahead, right? Of course, this is not necessarily the case. Not all musicians manage to make good after an auspicious debut, as some of the essays in this book remind us. Nick Drake showed huge early promise with Five Leaves Left but it was only five years until his premature death. Then there are those like Willis Alan Ramsey, who released an acclaimed debut album in 1972, and who has not yet come up with a follow-up. “What was wrong with the first one?” he often says, when asked if he has plans for a sophomore release.

George Plasketes contributes the essay on Ramsey to this collection, along with four others, but contents himself with editing the rest of the book. However, as he all but admits in the introduction, he could clearly have written the whole thing by himself if he had a mind to, though this would have resulted in quite a different kind of book. The kind of book that Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself in fact is, is the sort of accessible academic volume that might be of interest to music fans and scholars alike, covering both well-known artists and those who have more cult followings.

Many of the essays are reminiscent of the 33 1/3 series of books published by Bloomsbury (formerly by Continuum), each of which offers an in depth examination of a single album and its cultural context. The contributors have been given the freedom to build personal narratives around their essays, and some of these – such as George H. Lewis’ account of first hearing The Crickets’ debut album, and the story of Nicole Marchessau’s discovery of the enigmatic musician Jandek – provide valuable insight into either the era of the record in question’s release, or the artist’s wider oeuvre.

With 22 albums mused upon in a not particularly hefty collection, the essays are on average quite short, and as such they have their limitations. In many cases, there seems to be insufficient space for fully realised arguments explaining why the debuts under examination are so significant to be developed. As such, the collection feels in some ways like a kind of sourcebook for scholars of popular music: there might be many interesting details here that can be expanded upon in future work, but the book doesn’t always read like a complete work in itself.

No collection like this one can be entirely comprehensive, and there are some omissions in terms of genre, particularly as we venture further through the chronological sequence and towards the present day. No rap or hip-hop albums are profiled, and the closing essay on The Go! Team is the only one that covers electronic music at all. But country, blues, metal, punk, soul and folk all get a look in, so the scope is adequately broad, and there's also an admirably even coverage of black and white artists. There's a noticeably male bias, however, in terms of both the musicians and the contributors – though this is perhaps more an indictment of the male-heavy world of music scholarship than of Plasketes’ editorship.

Of course, one could argue that there are all sorts of omissions here – and maybe that’s why Plasketes has included several “Greatest Debut Albums” lists lifted from the music press as an appendix. These lists are interesting not only in that they demonstrate not only the impact of differing opinions on the shape of the popular music canon, but also in that they attest to an ongoing fascination with debut albums amongst listeners.

However, the cultural position of the debut album seems set to change, and this is evident from the collection’s final three essays: Andrew G. Davis’ examination of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ Dap-Dippin’, Micah Rueber’s analysis of The Libertines’ Up the Bracket and the essay on The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike penned by Plasketes and his son River.

All three make it apparent that postmodernism, the reappropriation and re-imagining of what has gone before, no longer fashionable in other disciplines, is still relevant in music. The Dap Kings are portrayed as being part of an R&B revival, The Libertines are shown to be uncommonly informed by music of the past (though Rueber’s reading of Beatles references into The Libertines’ lyrics is rather overwrought) and The Go! Team is described as a “group of audio archival rearrangers and abstract expressionists” and their debut album as a “collage”.

Arguably, we are suffering for a lack of significant debuts in 21st century popular music. Reviving and revitalising the sounds that have gone before is all very well, but it rarely brings with it the thrill of newness that comes with so many great debut albums. Maybe the most significant thing about this book is that it demonstrates how the special mythology that surrounds the debut album might well be on the wane.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image