Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Roots: Phrenology [MCA, 2002]
The Bad Brains homage "!!!" ends in the nick of 25 seconds, "Quills" is sadistic in an arty way--two more sinful episodes in a cheating-song cycle where new blood Ben Kenney's guitar takes hip hop from behind and calls the baby rock and roll. This isn't some critical metaphor. It's the plot of the tale of betrayal and recompense told by 2002's freshest roots rock track and jammingest avant rap track--the album's centerpiece, "The Seed (2.0)." The backstory, if there is one, you can get from the gossip industry. I'll just note that on this record Kamal's keyb hooks could pass for piano. And believe that after years of racial mythology, they've found it in their talent to put black music's long tradition of tune and structure into practice. A-