To what is often a familiar story Hepworth brings rare perspicacity into the business machinations of the era, whose movers and shakers were, as he points out, often from a previous, less starry-eyed generation ... Hepworth’s rocktastic perspective means he misses a trick or two; 1971 was also the year reggae insinuated itself in the British psyche via hits such as Dave and Ansell Collins’s 'Double Barrel,' and if you are looking for 1971 music with 'afterlife', Al Green and Curtis Mayfield deserve attention. Yet Never a Dull Moment lives up to its title.
Cleverly crafted chapters form a glittery, boisterous month-by-month calendar of the 'annus mirabilis…the busiest, most creative, most innovative, most interesting, and longest-resounding year' of an era that produced music we are still listening to.
The scope of the book poses a problem. Wikipedia offers a perfectly full outline of the music created in 1971, in what order, the people who shaped it and what was going on in society. What Wikipedia doesn’t do is make clear why the music still matters. That’s where Hepworth should come in, but too often he misses his cues. Fortunately, Hepworth offers interesting observations about some of the music from that year ... Hepworth re-creates 1971, convincingly, as an ensemble play in which characters are constantly bumping into one another and having life-changing encounters ... These passages make you appreciate the sort of stumbling around and naivete of the era, but they can’t explain the staying power of the music. Instead, where musical insights feel as necessary as sound checks, Hepworth just offers dry ice.
His lack of objectivity doesn’t make the book any less of a treat to read, as Hepworth marries his innocent teenage joy with four decades as a pop critic – frequently an acerbic one ... Never a Dull Moment rarely dips into backwaters, only mentioning groups such as Caravan, Van der Graaf Generator and even Genesis and Free in passing. Neither is there much deviation from the mindset of the day. Hepworth admits he was untroubled by sexism when he was 21 – it simply didn’t come up in conversation – and so the enthusiasm he felt for certain artists still overrides some difficult issues.
Mr. Hepworth’s main point is largely correct: Most of the artists who released top 10 singles in 1971, such as Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie, to name just a handful, are still known to listeners born after 1982. However, his other points are too diffuse. He skips around in describing 1971, mentioning social trends, books, TV shows, movies, crime, fashion, table tennis, concerts, politics, technology, underground magazines, how who met whom, who was married to whom, who worked with whom, asides, opinions, trivia. Reading it is like trying to peer through a moving telescope, or making a meal of small bowls of candy. Just as the reader becomes interested in one topic, Mr. Hepworth shifts to another. And none of it is filling.
Hepworth does make a sound and engaging case for his year. Like a savvy attorney, he knows how to present his strongest evidence with understated confidence ... The man knows his stuff. He intersperses, sometimes illuminatingly and sometimes a bit clumsily, relevant themes in music and pop culture and generally keeps the narrative humming along like a good tune.
The editorial decision to quote as few lyrics as possible results in some awkward paraphrase; a month-by-month structure requires lurching segues; and underpinning it all are the lists, the endless ratings ... Occasionally, though, illuminating wormholes do open, offering a glimpse of another dimension and a different sort of book ... I wish that, instead of approaching his task as presenting evidence for a questionable case, Mr. Hepworth had more fully explored his theme of nostalgia.