Books of the Year: Pop

Robbie Williams offers a glimpse inside his head, while Jay-Z pretends to have been to Morocco

At first sight, Jay-Z's Decoded (Virgin, £20) looks like a bit of a cop-out. An earlier collaboration with co-writer Dream Hampton was abandoned after Jay-Z proclaimed it "too revealing", which suggested that in this case "Encoded" might have been a more appropriate title. And as early as the fourth sentence ("Housing projects can seem like labyrinths to outsiders, as complicated and intimidating as a Moroccan bazaar"), Hampton breaks the golden rule of the celebrity co-author, which is never to write a sentence which the reader won't be able to imagine the book's nominal author saying.

However, once the differing styles of writer and subject start to mesh, the resulting hybrid becomes more than the sum of its parts. And as an insider's analysis of how, from Biggie Smalls onwards, the heritage of the civil-rights struggle and the hustler's quest for material advancement came to be unified in the person of the gangsta rapper, Decoded will be impossible to better.

From the moment Stephen Sondheim's Finishing the Hat (Virgin, £30) refers to Noël Coward as "a writer whose lyrics I cordially but intensely dislike", it's clear the reader is in for a feast of professional bitchery to make the most hardened battle-rapper blush. The clarity of Sondheim's analysis of masculine and feminine, perfect and false rhymes make it an essential read for would-be grime MCs as well as devotees of A Little Night Music.

In Keith Richards' Life (Weidenfeld, £20), the Dartford war-baby who "couldn't buy a bag of sweets till 1954", and has been making up for it ever since, pulls no punches regarding his songwriting partner's genitalia ("I know he's got an enormous pair of balls, but it doesn't quite fill the gap does it"). But it is fascinating to compare Richards' memories (blustering, still emotionally raw) of the interaction between his then "old lady" Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger on the set of the film Performance with the crisply devastating account Barry Miles gives in his excellent, racy yet responsible overview, London Calling: A Counter-Cultural History of London Since 1945 (Atlantic, £25).

Enter Night (Orion, £20), Mick Wall's biography of Metallica, confirms this grizzled veteran to be as engaged and waspishly authoritative a chronicler of metal's most hirsute behemoths as Barry Miles has been for the Beats. The band's Danish playboy drummer Lars Ulrich "was regarded as special from the day he was born", Wall writes. "It was a view he would quickly grow to share."

Chris Heath and Robbie Williams's You Know Me (Ebury, £20) won't quite solve the mystery of what was going on inside Robbie's head during his recent X Factor performance with Take That, but it certainly contains some clues, and perhaps the whole truth might be too disturbing to take in at one sitting.

David Toop's Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener (Continuum, £14.99) uses the spectral intangibility of sound as the springboard for a leap into the haunted netherworld between music and silence. It's the mark of a genuinely challenging read that the mind should find itself taking a breather during extended quotes from Virginia Woolf, but this fourth in Toop's series of meditations turns out to be the most illuminating yet.

And finally, anyone who still has a coffee table will find Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960s (Soul Jazz, £25) the perfect thing to put on it. The cover art of Cesar G Villela contained therein applies Marshall McLuhan's dictum that "the excess of detail in a composition is called visual noise" to gorgeously pristine effect.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project