Book Reviews

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and the Songs That Defined the 1980s (Abrams)

mad world

 

I am a sucker for a good oral history text, and when I learned of Mad World, an oral history of New Wave, I eagerly acquired it. Though not the comprehensive history of the genre as I had initially hoped, what it offered was equally as welcome and as entertaining as I had hoped. Instead of a narrative report on the scene, the book is a collection of several mini-histories of three dozen songs and bands from the era.

Editors Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein have astutely selected a wide range of New Wave acts, from bands with instant name recognition and lifelong careers (Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, New Order), to one-hit wonders still heard on the radio (A-ha, Modern English, Human League) to one-hit wonders sadly regulated to “80s night” specialty play (Thomas Dolby, Animotion, ABC). One must also give the editors credit for not always going the obvious route; I wasn’t expecting to read about Berlin’s “The Metro” or Depeche Mode’s “New Life,” and thus was pleasantly surprised, and kudos to them for following up the stories with where they are currently, and what happened after the hits faded away.

Not all of the stories have happy endings. While Joy Division’s demise is well known, I bet you weren’t aware of the drama that took place behind the scenes with Kajagoogoo. You more than likely had no idea about the complicated situation behind Animotion and their hit song, “Obsession,” and did you know about the tragedy that happened to A-ha’s founder, and the ironic twist involving another member of the band? Those three stories are ones that will surprise, amaze, and sadden you. Then again, not all of the stories have unhappy endings, even if some of the artists have either turned their back on their legacy, or their bands are hopelessly doomed to simply be a distant memory.

Mad World is part cautionary tale and part historical document, and even though I knew a handful of these stories, I didn’t know all of them, and for that, this text is a worthy addition to your library.

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