Boys with toys

iPod, Therefore I Am: a personal journey through music

Dylan Jones <em>Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 342p

First things first. I might be a girl, but that doesn't mean I don't know about iPods. In our house, I am known as the mistress of the iPod, because my boyfriend, proud owner of a 3G (the one that can hold 10,000 songs), still prefers to work on a computer so ancient, we are convinced that it is powered by industrious mice. And so, it is my job to spend my time downloading his CD collection, plus all the weird stuff he requires from the internet ("How Long?" by Ace, anyone?) on to his iPod, using my own, more whizzy computer. Usually he will write his latest order on a Post-it, which he will stick to my screen. "Boz Scaggs: Silk Degrees," a typical note will read. "But NOT track eight." Trust me, it really is very endearing.

In other words, I know exactly how an iPod works and, ergo, what a fantastic invention it is. Then again the same is also true of my new washing machine, and I don't necessarily want to read a book about that. Sure, over dinner with a girlfriend I might occasionally say: "Crikey, you should see the hand-wash programme. It will totally change the way you think about cashmere," in much the same way as I might discuss Smart Playlists, or iTrips, or the pros and cons of LimeWire. And yes, I may once have said to my mother: "It's got this amazing rinse cycle that virtually makes the iron redundant" - a conversation that lasted at least as long as the one I had with someone about how to run two iPods off the same computer. But would I consider writing a memoir - "a personal journey through my smalls" - about it? I would not.

Dylan Jones, however, has no such compunction. He's got an iPod, and he loves it. What's more, he knows he is not alone (in the fiscal fourth quarter of 2004, Apple shipped more than two million iPods, with a net profit of $106m). Jones is a magazine editor; it is his job to spot trends and staple them neatly to the page. In the case of iPod, Therefore I Am, his thinking must have been: "iPods are big, memoirs are big. Why not combine the two?" It's not a bad idea, I suppose. You can imagine Giles Smith or, were he still alive, Ian MacDonald writing a bloody brilliant book about the iPod. But Jones is either too busy, or self-absorbed (in the wrong way; the best music writers are nerds, not show-offs), to pull it off. Twenty pages in and it hits you: hell isn't other people. It's other people's record collections.

Actually, his taste is fine. He likes all the "right" things (Nina Simone, Nick Drake, Bowie, Sinatra and, obviously, the Beatles) and embraces, in that self-conscious, ironic, "don't-we-all-have-blind-spots?" way, some of the "wrong" things, too (for instance, ELO and Van Halen, and - actually there is no excuse for this - Jamie Cullum). No, the trouble lies elsewhere. For one thing, there is his writing, which is cliched and overblown: "Punk was as much of an apocalyptic catalyst for me as it was for many of my generation." For another, there are his anecdotes, which are almost as self-aggrandising - yeah, I've met a few rock stars - as the CV on his dust jacket, from which we learn that, while at the Sunday Times Magazine, he wrote "over two dozen cover stories".

The truth is, Jones does not have anything much to say; he even quotes his wife at one point, which is always a bit of a give-away. His book flips between dull business and technical stuff about Apple and a record-buying hop through his life. This takes the form of a series of essays on passions from punk to lounge, Van Morrison to the Beatles. All of these have been far better analysed elsewhere, however. Jones brings nothing new to the turntable, beyond informing us that Bryan Ferry once admired his trousers.

As for the way the iPod has affected the way we listen to and consume music, well, he is too enslaved to probe. "The iPod is to music what penicillin was to medicine," says U2's manager, Paul McGuinness. Rather than hold this statement up to scrutiny, Jones quotes it meekly, unquestioningly. He would rather get back to his appendices: a whopping 78 pages of playlists. Because, in spite of its pretensions, this is really only a book of lists in disguise. It is so ironic: a tiny oblong of glowing, white plastic can hold 10,000 songs, yet a big, fat hardback like this is able to strike only one, wobbly note.

Rachel Cooke writes for the Observer