Victoria Segal picks the best music books of the month.
In his eloquent introduction to 1 Alone And Palely Loitering (OCTOPUS, ★★★★ ) , photographer Kevin Cummins quotes Susan Sontag: “photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art.” Those words have a particular resonance when looking at this collection of Cummins’s pictures of Morrissey, largely taken in the late ’ 80s and early ’ 90s, as the singer acclimatised to post-Smiths solo life. The Morrissey recorded here doesn’t exist now – not just because of natural change and erosion, but because it’s impossible to look at these images without thinking of today’s Morrissey and his increasingly ugly views. Unsurprisingly, given Cummins’s history, the photographs are beautifully composed, though, from the live shots with their webbing of shredded shirts and outstretched arms to the lyrical portraits on staircases or Japanese streets. You might expect 2 The Death Archives: Mayhem 1984-94 (ECSTATIC PEACE, ★★★★ ) to burn in your hands like the evil book in a bad supernatural drama, but Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud’s account of the Norwegian black metal band is surprisingly gentle. The 1991 suicide of singer Per “Dead” Ohlin and the subsequent murder of Oystein “Euronymous” Aarseth by Burzum’s Varg Vikernes have been much fetishised, but the bassist’s narrative is more striking for its insights into skint camaraderie than the scene’s extremes. The book works as a photographic essay about one youth tribe – the pictures of ’ 80s knitwear, or the band laughing though mouthfuls of blood, are great – but even with the corpse paint, Stubberud tells a universal story of young men fighting boredom and fighting the world. “There are lots of ways to tell a story,” says Will Ashon, former head of Big Dada records, and in 3 Chamber Music (GRANTA, ★★★★ ) , he uses 36 chapters to analyse the Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 debut Enter The Wu-Tang ( 36 Chambers). It’s a method that generates a blazing collection of essays, Ashon ranging through subjects that include the US justice system, the Nation of Islam and martial arts. A collage on the theme of the Wu-Tang, it’s a smart echo of his influential source material.
The Death Archives is striking for its insight into skint camaraderie.