Utopia Avenue is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967, and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, blues bassist Dean Moss and guitar virtuoso Jasper de Zoet, Utopia Avenue embark on a meteoric journey from the seedy clubs of Soho, a TV debut on Top of the Pops, the cusp of chart success, glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American sojourn in the Chelsea Hotel, Laurel Canyon, and San Francisco during the autumn of ’68.
Mitchell is expert at excavating the seams of loss, ambition and mere chance that lie under the edifice of fame ... The reader is impelled from the first by a kind of rushing, gleeful energy ... Mitchell is evidently enthralled by both the romance and the practicality of music ... The novel’s prose is for the most part consciously easeful and frictionless: it is a supremely readable novel, if the quality of readability is taken to be one which is difficult to achieve and a relief to encounter. It is enlivened by an attentive eye for the particulars ... At times, the frictionless quality of the prose extends to the story itself, so that it is possible to read for several pages at a time without quite feeling that events and characters have landed on the consciousness. The book is most alive and most compelling when Mitchell slips the surly bonds of the realist premise and lands in his own extraordinary imagined worlds ... Mitchell does not castigate or punish Utopia Avenue for their yearning after lights and adulation: he is kinder and more wise. He proposes instead that nothing could be more natural, or in fact more commendable, than acting on the old and common longing to be heard above the crowd, even— perhaps particularly—at the cost of security and sanity.
Not unlike Jasper himself, Utopia Avenue turns out to have been a sort of host for something else entirely. To go further would be to give too much away—not to everyone, perhaps, but certainly to readers of Mitchell’s earlier work ... What it all amounts to is that Utopia Avenue exists on two different planes. Jasper’s suffering, his visions and auditory 'hallucinations'—tragically, pathologically insubstantial to the other characters within the realistic landscape of the book—are, to the initiated reader, quite real, more real than the various historical genre trappings, such as Carnaby Street, or the Chelsea Hotel, or zombie David Bowie ...The sense of supernatural threat, of being pursued, for mysterious reasons, across time, as part of a conflict too large for individual lifetimes to contain: this is the novel’s reality, even as the characters (apart from Jasper) are oblivious of it ... Is this a great writer of unfathomably long vision making a kind of Yoknapatawpha out of the entirety of space and time, or the rendering of something like fan service? Maybe both. Just as the members of Utopia Avenue themselves are the flip side of DeLillo’s vision of rock music and its myth-scaled heroes, Mitchell’s cross-referencing for its own sake could be the more benevolent, affirmative side of our era’s taste for conspiracy, in which everything is improbably connected and there’s a secret pattern that only the enlightened can see.
... reflective, and it dances and trails out bits of dialogue and character development that drift through the air like music, only to be picked up a hundred pages on like the chorus of a song ... Mitchell writes like he’s lived it — as if he’s sat in with the band from its first show to its last. As a writer, rather than a musician, I envy him in this journey. Each chapter is named for a song, and each song is like a diary entry in the lives of these characters ... moves effortlessly back and forth through time and space, creating a conversation all its own, a style that is distinctive to Mitchell ... It is a wonder Mitchell keeps it all together, and though the bandmates certainly struggle with a multitude of tragedies, hiccups and bumps along the way, they each find their own success.