James Acaster is one of the country’s leading comedians. An award-winning performer with a face and sense of humour suited to panel shows. He is also a talented writer with an interesting turn of phrase, and an eye for the foibles of human behaviour, as his debut book, Classic Scrapes, showed.
Perfect Sound Whatever has the same energy and the same eye for detail, but it is more. Part self-help book, part music guide, part mental-health study, it has a lot to unpack. It starts with the premise that 2016 was the best year for new music. Although many will disagree with that, 1967, 1973 and other years also have strong claims. Acaster does a lot to back up his ideas.
2016 was also a challenging year for Acaster. A relationship breakdown, career struggles and many other factors form the backbone of the book. However, it is in the music that the book comes to life. He buys all of the music released in 2016, whether by big names with millions of fans or albums launched to no fanfare on Bandcamp. His tastes are catholic, and his appetite for new sounds is voracious.
So, we are introduced to new albums and the stories behind them and how chance and happenstance lead to discoveries. If you want to know all about the album released by Ned Flander’s worshipping Death Metal band, here is the book for you. We learn about albums put together on a shoestring budget, the album that features just a washing machine as its one sonic instrument, about the struggles that the musicians went through getting their albums finished and out to an unsuspecting world. We see how some albums are just made for the money and have millions injected into them before they are even released. We also see the albums that just had to be made by singers, writers and musicians who just needed to get their message out there.
The book has no actual storyline, but it does cover a lot of ground in the comedian’s life, and we learn a lot about bands and musicians that have escaped being mentioned in the general media. We learn about Acaster’s return to a recording studio, working on the album that he started in his teenage years, his tangential links to famous people, his attempts to break the American market, and how they didn’t quite live up to expectations. This is an eccentric, exotic tour around the music of 2016, a year of Trump, Brexit and other minor disasters, so if you fancy the type of book you are unlikely to find anything like, this could be worth a look.
Reviewed by Ben Macnair
Published by Headline (3 Sept. 2020)
Paperback, ISBN 978-1472260314