NZ Music Month 2015 - Review - 'Soundtrack : 118 Great New Zealand Albums'

There are few pieces of what could be considered classic New Zealand rock writing. For the most part it’s perfunctory, concerned with dates and track listings and band members than feeling and passion. It’s all so dry. The exception to that rule is often found in the world of music reviews. Here you can feel the blood start to pump, the temperature begins to rise, the temper to fray.

Back in the ‘good old days’ of 'Rip It Up' the review and letters pages were a battleground. You often felt the blood being spilt might move from proverbial to literal should the wrong parties meet outside the Gluepot at closing. Since then it has all too often seemed a bit polite. Better to say nothing at all than anything that might be considered offensive.

Grant Smithies is a case in point, his music of choice is all a bit 'dad rock' in the immortal words of fellow reviewer Kiran Dass. And yet his book Soundtrack: 118 great New Zealand albums is gold. Apart from anything else it offers a good survey of the local scene. If it is a little light on the postwar years and the 60s and 70s that perhaps reflects the availability of recordings from those periods (and, lets face it, that era has been well and truly covered by Chris Bourke in his exhaustive Blue Smoke).  

Smithies' writing in this collection melds the personal and the critical, binding the recordings to a lifetime, imparting a taste of the personal emotional resonance the best music evokes. The most raw of that writing, and the best, is the section on the JPSE, an impossibly painful memory that is reminder that even best of music does not heal or soothe the worst of the worlds tragedy.

In addition to Smithies' writing, room is made for a variety of guests who provide an alternative view in the form of mini-essays and memoirs. If nothing else this book should exist so that Kerry Buchanan's piece on 'Maori showbands', Shayne Carter on 'The Gordons' and Roy Corbert on 'Stagedoor witchdoctors' could see print, all of of which are as much concerned with time and place and state of mind as music. 

Ultimately what this book best serves as is a gate way to unknown, unexpected and forgotten pleasures. Here's one that caught up with me again as I flicked through the pages, Steve Abel performing on the Woodenhead soundtrack 'Hospice for destitute lovers'. Enjoy.

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