BOOK REVIEW / In Brief: The Dark Stuff - Nick Kent: Penguin, pounds 9.99

This long overdue collection from 'the living legend of rock journalism' comes Judy Garlanded with quotes about Kent from such celebrated interviewees as Morrissey and Lou Reed. It also boasts the considerable coup of an introduction by Iggy Pop, in which the author is described as 'a great palsied mantis'. If there is an element of fantasy in the idea of a rock journalist whose peer group was not other journalists but the stars he was writing about, no one feels the need to acknowledge it.

Kent threw himself into rock's debauched whirl with an enthusiasm which matched and sometimes even surpassed that of his subjects, so it is strange that the book's main flaw is a lack of emotional involvement on the part of its author. Odder still, this seems especially true of the two long pieces which book-end the collection: the first, 'The Last Beach Movie Revisited', an overview of the deranged genius of Brian Wilson; the second a draft of a forthcoming book about Neil Young.

The problem seems to be a confusion of perspective. Some of this writing has been updated and some of it hasn't, so the feeling is sometimes that of a pop star re-recording his greatest hits - you're left aching for the originals. It's no accident that the most satisfying pieces here are three relatively new ones which haven't been altered: Kent's encounters with Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Miles Davis, written for The Face in the 1980s. All shed fascinating new light on familiar subjects.

Kent's strongest virtue is a stringent critical eye, combined with an instinct for what is great and a refusal to gloss over the moral turpitude that often goes with greatness. The really surprising thing - especially in the pieces on prime Kentish role models Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones - is the dispassionate accuracy with which the author dissects the very decadence one might have expected him to glorify. Maybe it's because he has plumbed the depths of dependency so thoroughly himself, and has only recently escaped the thrall of junkiedom, that he is so perceptive about the way creativity is mediated through addictive behaviour.

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