Review: The Encyclopedia of New Wave

The Encyclopedia of New Wave by Daniel Bukszpan

I’ve recently discovered that my ludicrous love for the eighties (ludicrous because I was born in 1991) and my rampant Anglophilia (which is equally ludicrous given the fact that I’m French and Irish) are interwined; I Love the 80s, the VH1 nostalgia fest that enchanted me as a tween, started life out as a BBC miniseries that was so successful they brought it Stateside. God bless. Over the summer, I tried to educate myself about rock music, which has expanded to modern music in general, so when I saw The Encyclopedia of New Wave at the public library, I could not help myself.

The Encyclopedia of New Wave covers the musical movement of new wave, most prominent in the late seventies and eighties, from A to Z. New Wave, a sound best explained by listening to the Gary Numan song “Cars”, was both a musical style and a fashion style, rejecting the lumbering rock music of the seventies in a much daintier way than sister movement punk and eventually becoming the mainstream sensibility of the eighties. The encyclopedia covers everyone from Duran Duran to Talking Heads to one-hit wonders like Tommy Tutone (oh, excuse me, that’s two-hit wonder) and more obscure bands like Aztec Camera, all in a glossy, coffee-table format to go alongside books like The Encyclopedia of Rock and The Encyclopedia of Punk.

Why on earth put out a book about new wave music now? Well, besides the fact that nostalgia is fast becoming its own economy, author Daniel Bukszpan argues that new wave is back in vogue. (No, I can’t resist puns, thank you.) Younger readers will no doubt be a bit jarred by the photo of Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons, an obvious influence on Lady Gaga’s style, but the music will be familiar, if only because Rihanna and Flo-Rida have sampled new wave classics in some of their music. Plus, we’ve got the benefit of hindsight now, and can piece together a narrative out of the movement—I didn’t realize the day new wave went on the decline was the day MTV, which previously only played new wave and undoubtedly made new wave what it was, switched over to rock in 1987. This explains a lot, as does new wave’s focus on the single instead of the album, which I think is why I focus on the single instead of the album.

Personally, I love new wave music and, let’s face it, you’re not going to pick this up if you don’t at least like it a little. My roommate, herself an aficionado of sixties music, is sometimes aghast at my taste for synthesizers, but I whole-heartedly embrace it. All the greats are covered—Soft Cell, Cyndi Lauper, Eurythmics, Culture Club, just to name a few, as well as several bands I’ve never heard of. (To be fair, that is not difficult.) Bands are given anywhere from one to three columns, depending on their importance, and, like all the other music books I’ve read recently, I spent this reading with Spotify open. Unlike those other books, I kind of knew where I stood; I’d start playing a song and realize that I’d heard it before! And then there, of course, all the little discoveries; the happiest song the Cure has ever written (“The Lovecats”), finally listening to “Planet Claire”, and the Altered Images’ “I Could Be Happy”, to scratch the surface. Ah, fresh (to me) new wave. I am pleased.

Bukszpan writes clearly and comprehensively, in the short space he’s got, and he’s quite snarky. This gives the book a little more personality than your standard coffee table book, which I thoroughly welcome, but it might turn off readers. There are some spreads here and there, covering androgyny, female sex symbols, and the like—essentially, the bumper segments on I Love the Eighties translated into book form. I was a bit confused as to why films were covered until I realized that the soundtracks for a lot of popular films in the eighties were composed of new wave songs, and boosted the signal for a lot of these artists. And that’s probably why, thirty years later, we tend to conflate new wave with the eighties in general; it was much more than music.

Bottom line: A coffee table book about new wave whose snark gives it a bit more personality. If you like new wave, worth a shot; if you don’t, I doubt it’ll appeal to you.

I rented this book from the public library.

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