A book report on the best tomes to consult before buying tunes

Anyone who remembers when alternative music was called "wave" will be saddened to hear that the original Trouser Press Record Guide has gone out of print. "I grew up with that one," says Durchholz. First issued in 1983 and last updated in 1992, the Guide featured great writers like Jack Rabid and editor Ira A. Robbins, who were never afraid to puncture the pompous. Here's Robbins on Jane's Addiction: "Obnoxious Los Angeles glam-punk poseurs ... (their first album) sounds like an Aerosmith cover band. (Perry) Farrell's habit of lamely interjecting the word "motherfucker' into his lyrics merely frosts the album's maggotry." And that's just the first paragraph. Although Trouser Press started with a narrower brief than most — new wave, alternative, whatever — it expanded over the years to include not just punk and power pop but reggae, hip-hop, thrash metal and progenitors like Lou Reed and Neil Young. The fourth edition was a monumental work, and its demise is unfortunate.

But there are some consolations. First, the entirety of the earlier editions is available online at in an easily searchable database, along with periodic new columns by Robbins. Second, Robbins has produced The Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock (Simon & Schuster, $24.95), which doesn't include any of the material from earlier guides but does apply the Trouser Press spirit to this decade's music. Although the '90s guide is worth having, the loss of the earlier book is a tragedy. May misfortune befall whatever Simon & Schuster exec decided on this shameful move.

The clunky, unwieldy Great Rock Discography (Times Books, $32) is about as readable as a stock ticker, and the only graphics are cornball caricatures of rock stars. Although the book's big selling point is its discographical minutiae, it's marred by dumb errors. The third Oasis album is not called Stand by Me; would it have been so difficult to get this one right? If you want to spend too much money on a big heavy book that's free of charm on one hand and reliability on the other, look no further. The Rolling Stone Record Guide (out of print, but used copies are easy to find) was for years the only player in the field, and you can tell; it's generally lazy and dull. Another must to avoid: the flimsy, shallow Spin Alternative Record Guide (Vintage, $20), a slicked-up cash-in job. Of a far better order are Robert Christgau's guides to the '70s and '80s, but their limited scope and selection make them more like Christgau-essay collections than the kind of encyclopedias found above. He's always great reading, but these books will not help the rock & roll vagabond find his way through the woods.

Jeremy Eaton

When you want to buy music, it may seem perverse to buy a big expensive book first. It's a whole lot more perverse, though, to pay 15 bucks for a CD, then sell it for $4 a week later. "There's just so much more music out there than ever before," Durchholz said. "You just need to be so much more critical now."

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