Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Public Enemy: Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age [Def Jam, 1994]
For a time PE's confrontational music/ideology compelled young blacks to hope that consciousness would get them somewhere, and don't think it was the limitations of Chuck's worldview that left them hanging. He never said it would be as easy as pop fans always expect, but he must have figured racism was a little more tractable than this. And when it wasn't, well, here came da gangstas--copping instant gratification for the padded jeepbeats they dealt, they talked tough and stayed out of the man's way. Taken for granted as an elder statesman by the young turks who are always coming up, resented for leading on middle-class followers who've since discovered War and Rose Royce, what can poor Chuck D. do 'cept rap in a rock and roll band? So he harangues and excoriates same as always, his dense rhetoric deep with puns, his hard beats charging you up just when you think the enamel on your bicuspids will never be the same. Over and above the gangsta-dissing "So Whatcha Gone Do Now?" and the ecology-dropping "Bedlam 13:13," half these tracks dynamite the harshly layered formula one way or another and the other half reprise a great sound. Some kind of funk, I swear, and if I understand the complaints that they sound like a damn alternative rock group, well, I always did--that's one reason I love them. A-