Reviews of recent music-related book releases

November 14, 2003

"Milk It!: Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the '90s," by Jim DeRogatis.Da Capo Press, 410 pp. $17.95.

Just three years into the '00s, it seems a little premature to be sizing up the last decade's place in music history. Yet Chicago Sun-Times rock scribe Jim DeRogatis makes a valiant stab at it with "Milk It!," a compilation of a decade's worth of interviews, features and reviews he penned for publications such as Request, Spin, Option, Salon and, of course, the Sun-Times.

Assembled in thematic chapters, the book opens, naturally, with a series of Nirvana pieces, the most entertaining of which focuses on the late Kurt Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, with whom DeRogatis seems to have a love-hate relationship. While a couple of other bands merit their own chapters Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins most of the book's segments detail broader subjects, from Chicago's rock scene to hip-hop, the Lollapalooza nation and fringe acts like Jesus Lizard and the Orb.

DeRogatis, who also wrote this year's Lester Bangs biography, tries to link together these disparate essays into a larger commentary on the '90s' alt-rock revolution, but doesn't quite pull it off in large part because many of the pieces here are short reviews of CDs or concerts, essays that lack the heft of some of the author's meatier and more personal passages.

Parts of the book are simply lacking: A chapter on titans R.E.M. and U2 features ample perspective on the former, but when it comes to the latter, there's a just brief review of a 1992 concert and a paragraph apiece about each of the band's albums. And you've got to wonder about a rock critic who lists the Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy as one of the 90 best albums of the '90s; the record was released in 1985.

While an entertaining read, "Milk It!" suffers the same fate as so many other compendiums of previously published material. It's one thing to write a comprehensive overview of a subject like '90s rock. It's an altogether trickier proposition to make that same point by cramming together a bunch of unrelated pieces. That's why Michael Azzerad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life" is so much more successful in laying the foundation for the last decade's explosion of alternative rock even though that book is set in the '80s.

MATT SEBASTIAN/Camera Music Writer