33 1/3 Roundup, Spiderland, Pretty Hate Machine, Chocolate and Cheese, American Recordings, and You're Living All Over Me

Rock & roll bookends

Summer Reading

33 Revolutions

'Chocolate and Cheese'
by Hank Shteamer
Continuum, 176 pp., $12.95 (paper)
'American Recordings'
by Tony Tost
Continuum, 224 pp., $12.95 (paper)
'Pretty Hate Machine'
by Daphne Carr
Continuum, 192 pp., $12.95 (paper)
'You're Living All Over Me'
by Nick Attfield
Continuum, 160 pp., $12.95 (paper)
'Spiderland'
by Scott Tennent
Continuum, 160 pp., $12.95 (paper)

No one can doubt the ambition of the 33 series, which deals in pocket-sized academic explorations of classic and underrated albums. Now at 83 volumes and counting, the peril of the franchise remains hagiography, like Hank Shteamer's uncritical love letter to Ween's 1994 LP, Chocolate and Cheese. Just as the ultra lo-fi duo shocked fans by hiring a producer, Shteamer might have benefited from a more critical editor to blunt his exuberance. Yet the fannish pendulum can swing too far the other way, into jaundiced evisceration. Poet Tony Tost needed something extraordinary to justify being the next writer in line to tread on Johnny Cash's grave. Instead, his flawed demythologizing of the Man in Black's 1993 resurrection on American Recordings reads like a drunk freshman hell-bent on swamping the reader with ill-fitting references to everyone from the Welsh bard Caedmon to Sarah Vowell, while smearing producer Rick Rubin as a grave robber. Crippled by Tost's smug erudition, this volume gets a failing grade compared to Daphne Carr's sociological examination of Nine Inch Nails' game-changing 1989 debut, Pretty Hate Machine. Ignore the last chapter, a misguided deconstruction of Hot Topic's role in shaping alt culture, and concentrate on Carr's revisionist portrait of Trent Reznor. Using first-person anecdotes from anonymous NIN fans, she recasts the industrial goth hero as a studio-savvy balladeer of the Rust Belt – part Prince, part Springsteen. If it feels like an accomplished master's thesis compared to Nick Attfield's hilarious history of Dinosaur Jr.'s 1987 sophomore album, You're Living All Over Me, there's no shame. After all, Attfield is an Oxford University lecturer, but there's no academic stuffiness here, with Attfield gleefully admitting to the ridiculousness of his task. Faced with a band whose lyrics are not so much enigmatic as willfully incoherent, he makes a solid case for this being a more significant album than follow-up Bug. It's only matched by Scott Tennent's insight into Slint's 1991 sophomore release and post-rock precursor, Spiderland. Part art history, part detective story, it represents the series' finest intentions: encouraging the reader to put the damn book down and listen to the album.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Kinky Friedman
Resurrection (Record Review)

Rick Weaver, Jan. 3, 2020

Texas Platters
The Beaumonts / Hickoids
This Is Austin, All the World's a Dressing Room (Record Review)

Kevin Curtin, Jan. 3, 2020

More by Richard Whittaker
Buttigieg Back for SXSW, Plus Kenan Thompson and More
Buttigieg Back for SXSW, Plus Kenan Thompson and More
New speaker list adds keynotes and notables to virtual conference

Feb. 24, 2021

Unmasking the Dread Pirate Roberts in <i>Silk Road</i>
Unmasking the Dread Pirate Roberts in Silk Road
Filmmaker Tiller Russell looks at the man behind the internet’s black market

Feb. 19, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Slint, Nine Inch Nails, Ween, Johnny Cash, Dinosaur Jr.

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle