... an exhilarating shredding of received wisdom, provocatively casting pop music on the side of the stagnant and conservative — a bit last century — while stressing classical music’s dynamic revolutionary potential, dragging it away from its image of 'porcelain and lace, cake and flowers' ...Classical adepts, meanwhile, must deal with Morley — often branded 'pretentious' by those who prefer their music writing without too much actual writing — pinballing between Wagner and Buzzcocks, Mozart and Roxy Music. It’s not the shtick of a down-with-the-kids music teacher, but a writer both in his element and out of it, thrilled at the possibility of new connections, excited to see if he can write about Stravinsky the way he would Hot Chip ... a sprawling medley catching Morley’s thoughts on the page ... Admittedly you can sometimes hear that clock ticking as you unpick the knots in one of Morley’s more looping, digressive sentences, or work out what 'allochthonous' means when applied to Andrew Lloyd Webber ... Yet at his best, and there’s a lot of that here, Morley remains a brilliant conductor — of music, of ideas, of inexplicable flashes of lightning. He knows the score.
Lists abound in A Sound Mind, but now they’re playlists, the accessibility of which makes the proselytizer’s task much easier. Morley’s playlists can leap from genre to genre. They encourage the neophyte to exploration, to assemble personal playlists of his or her own ... A downside is that these sites came into being as conduits for songs, not whole albums, let alone large-scale symphonies, oratorios or operas. One can find them, but they don’t fit neatly onto playlists, or encourage a rock fan toward the kind of extended concentration that extended composition often demands. When opera does appear on Morley’s lists, it’s in the form of scenes, not entire scores ... Morley is a bright writer, and most of his commentary on specific pieces and composers is sophisticated and insightful. But he wallows in overwriting (as in this book’s subtitle), and has a weird predilection for repetition and afterthought ... No editor seems to have been able to temper his enthusiasm ... The book’s organization is similarly scattershot ... Much of this haphazardly assembled book seems to have been triggered by whatever articles and talks and panels and interviews he happens to have been asked to provide or participate in or whichever composers he was able to interview, in print or in public ... Like a playlist, A Sound Mind — filling nearly 600 large pages with smallish print — is maybe meant to be dipped into, not actually read front to back. A pity: Morley is smart if self-involved, but he lacks an overarching structure. Like those in the operas, symphonies and choral masterpieces he slights. Next book, maybe.
... epic, endlessly digressive undertaking in which Paul Morley thinks about music for around 600 pages. Along the way, his thoughts roam freely through a whole range of tangentially related subjects including self-reinvention, memory, mortality, criticism, taste, embarrassment, modernity, nostalgia, genius, iconoclasm, the lingering presence of the pop cultural past and the floating, opaque nature of the pop cultural present. Pure Paul Morley, in fact ... there are chapters given over to now familiar Morleyesque themes, including personal playlists, which, though interesting in themselves, interrupt the narrative flow somewhat. As was the case with his previous book, The North (And Almost Everything in It), Morley’s exhaustive approach can sometimes be exhausting ... If, though, one surrenders to the shifting, drifting nature of the narrative, there is much here that is illuminating. An extended section called The String Quartet – in Four Parts works brilliantly ... Morley’s urge to democratise classical music is laudable but not entirely convincing ... I would have liked more about the huge shift of consciousness that is required of the listener who attempts to immerse him or herself, untutored, in the daunting intricacies of Stravinsky or Shostakovich after a lifetime of listening to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis. From my experience, that has been a challenging and protracted journey akin to navigating an unknown landscape without a map ... This epic attempt to demystify classical music might have benefited from that kind of brevity of thought, but, for all its tangential wandering, it is a constantly surprising read. You may want to pace yourself, though.