The Nineties: When Surface was Depth

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9780007128013: The Nineties: When Surface was Depth

the first clear anatomy of a confused decade, the 1990s – ‘Bracewell, with great verve and style, animates the cultural conversation’, Greil Marcus

'Michael Bracewell is the most adroitly gifted writer of his generation.' Morrissey

Michael Bracewell is now clearly established as one of the most subtle, penetrating, amusing and far-sighted of all observers of the contemporary scene in Britain. His writing on culture high and low is coveted by every broadsheet, every stylish glossy monthly magazine and on radio and TV punditry platforms. His book, England Is Mine, about the distinctive Englishness of these islands’ twentieth-century popular culture, earned him incredible reviews and an unchallenged position as the first person any right-minded arts producer/editor turns to when they need a definitive opinion about how English or otherwise some new-fangled cultural phenomenon is.

With this book Bracewell gives us the first consideration of that still-warm, still-bizarre, still-confused and confusing decade. He talks to and talks about a host of representative Nineties figures, some already forgotten, some absolutely emblematic of their times – from Hanson to Alexander McQueen, from Tracey Emin to Ulrika Jonsson, from the Spice Girls to Duran Duran (yes, Duran Duran). Painstakingly, sometimes painfully, he puts all the pieces together and starts to make sense of it all…

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Review:

You might be forgiven for thinking that Michael Bracewell's The Nineties: When Surface was Depth is a cultural commentary on the nineties and in part it is—-but only in part. This is a book of interviews, music and art reviews, snatches of Bracewell's literary writing, a retrospective of the last four decades of art, literature and music as well as a cultural commentary on the nineties.

In the nineties, everything was being touted in quick succession as "the new rock and roll". Everything, that is, from football (the great surge of public fervour for England's chances in Italia 90), to Opera, (Pavarotti brought to the high street) to comedy, (Vic and Bob, Harry Enfield, Frank Skinner, Newman and Baddiel selling out Wembley Arena). Then came the pronouncement that contemporary art was the new rock and roll before the emergence and international success of Oasis reminded us all that "rock and roll, actually, was the new rock and roll and always had been." Bracewell knows the music scene and he tells the story of Britpop with the authority and assurance of someone who has spent a lifetime collecting records, going to concerts and writing reviews for the music papers. He also appears to be equally at home with the Britart phenomenon as well as the literary scene past and present.

Some of the material used in the book has appeared elsewhere and consequently The Nineties is something of a patchwork—but none the worse for that. A good portion of the book is comprised of a series of fascinating interviews with and/or commentary upon more or less iconic figures from the 60s, 70s and 80s as well as the 90s; from The Pet Shop Boys to Patti Smith, from Alexander McQueen to Yoko Ono. The interviews and evaluations are truly first rate and alone they justify the price of the book. But this also works as cultural analysis and right from the get-go Bracewell identifies the key ideas that were to emerge from the culture during the nineties, such Irony and Authenticity with the explosion in popular factual programme-making the defining spirit of the nineties. Books such as this are potential banana skins but Bracewell pulls it off with aplomb. Splendidly written, hugely entertaining and intellectually engaging without being too pretentious.--Larry Brown

Review:

‘It is enormously tasty -a pleasure. Michael Bracewell is Saul Bellow’s Humboldt.’ Guardian

'Michael Bracewell is nothing less than the poet-laureate of late-capitalism.' Jonathan Coe

‘An enthralling guide to our times.’ GQ

‘Bracewell does get the essential character of a decade… he writes perceptively and wittily.’ Will Self, New Statesman

from the reviews for England is MIne:
'Surely the strangest and most beautiful book on pop music ever written' THE BIG ISSUE

'Bracewell's witty, free-ranging text links artistic visions of England from the Arcadian ideal of Chaucer and Elizabethan literature to the films, youth movements and pop lyrics of today. His prose crackles with dry insight… This is an audaciously ambitious book, yoking together the sublime and the ridiculous with admirable seriousness.' VOX

'Bracewell, with great verve and style, animates the cultural conversation. [His images] are at once thrilling and troubling and sound echoes through the entire book,until a merely superb passage can seem like an intellectual sunrise. The delight and daring in the book is in the leaps and twists of the writing…ENGLAND IS MINE is a rushingly entertaining, confoundingly egalitarian methodology, and its limits are as fascinating – as moving – as its breakthroughs. Bracewell's book is as new as the millenium it all but calls down as its last word, and as old as the very idea. Sorting out the new from the old is its challenge and its pleasure, and that is because its sensibility is ultimately contagious, so much so that it can make its readers into co-authors. This book is intoxicated and intoxicating.' Greil Marcus, W

'Bracewell chomps through the culture with the aid of some nifty style-guru phrasemaking – Bowie becomes "the Pied Piper of Handbag to a younger generation out of patience with cheesecloth". ENGLAND IS MINE is clever, invigorating and thoughtful and [Bracewell's] Pevsnerish anatomising of the Englishness of English pop proves ingeniously apt.' Jonathan Keates, SPECTATOR

'This is an ambitious project and there are many passages in this book that demand to be quoted. The extraordinary depth of Bracewell's erudition is matched by a lively sense of mischief. It is an invigorating tour of the high plains of cultural endeavour. There are enough good ideas to sustain four or five smaller volumes.' Ben Thompson, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

'Appropriate that the novelist whose work has brought England most sharply into focus should chose it as the focus for this superb and sustained polemic. From CS Lewis to The Smiths, Evelyn Waugh to The Fall, here is pop culture filtered through the lens of highbrow history. Bracewell writes like an angel with an intellect that is as multifaceted as its subjects' Graham Caveney, ARENA

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