33 1/3: Greatest Hits, Volume Two

33 1/3 Greatest Hits, Volume 2 is a sampler of highs and lows from the long-running book series, where music critics riff on their favorite albums. In true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, the 33 1/3 books diverge wildly in terms of quality and style; some are masterful and definitive (Michaelangelo Matos on Prince, Douglas Wolk on James Brown, Erik Davis on Led Zeppelin), while others just spew maudlin college poetry all over Pink Floyd or Joy Division. The most absurd installment might be the one on Neutral Milk Hotel, a tortuously solemn study of an indie-pop concept album about the Holocaust. (“If Anne were alive today, what would be her favorite band?” — yeesh.) Naturally, it?s the bestselling book in the series. This anthology excerpts the Neutral Milk Hotel volume, along with 19 others ranging from straightforward making-of documentaries to fan fiction to memoir. The high-water marks are Franklin Bruno on Elvis Costello?s Armed Forces and Hugo Wilcken on David Bowie?s Low — these may be two of the most written-about rock stars of all time, yet Bruno and Wilcken offer fresh insights. The R.E.M. chapter reveals which microphones they used (“the more proletarian Electro-Voice 635A” instead of “the sportier AKG C 414″), while the Beastie Boys chapter reveals which drugs they were on (pot, ?shrooms). Some writers chronicle the recording sessions, as in Gillian G. Gaar?s remarkably detailed Nirvana chapter; others go for witty personal reflections on the music, like Sean Nelson on Joni Mitchell or Alex Green on the Stone Roses. And for goofball pomposity, there?s the Sonic Youth chapter, which informs the reader, ?The pregnant void waits.?