Duffy & Snellgrove, $30pb, 307pp
A ‘ground-breaking’ analysis of the Beatles through their lyrics? One is put irresistibly in mind of the cover of Abbey Road: barefoot Paul McCartney out of step with his fellows, apparently confirming the sad circumstance at which John Lennon had hinted in the last line of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’: ‘I buried Paul.’ Except, of course, that what Lennon really slurred was: ‘I’m very bored.’ And that McCartney, far from dead, was alive, well, rich and ripe with sappy tunes sufficient to see him through another couple of decades. Scholars in the field of popular music have an unfortunate way of seeming pointlessly po-faced, rapt in the intertextual resonances of ‘A-Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Bop-A-Wop-Bam-Boom’. Not everyone can be Greil Marcus – sometimes not even Greil Marcus.
Bob Mason appears to be aware of this. Interpreting the lyrics of the Beatles is, to him, simply ‘a fascinating indoor game’; his Magic Circles is ‘very much a work in progress’. But both these remarks seem disingenuous. His work is neither playful nor amusing, nor can a book once published claim consideration as a work in progress. In fact, Magic Circles is the very opposite of the songs it purports to describe: great pop is disposable yet somehow lasts; Mason’s book is heavy, earnest and instantly forgettable.