Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Sly & the Family Stone: There's a Riot Goin' On [Epic, 1971]
Despairing, courageous, and very hard to take, this is one of those rare albums whose whole actually does exceed the sum of its parts. Bleak yet sentient songs of experience like "Runnin' Away" and "Family Affair" lend emotional and aesthetic life to the music's dead spaces; bracing alterations of vocal register, garish stereo separations, growls and shrieks and murmurs, all the stuff that made Sly's greatest hits the toughest commercial experiments in rock and roll history, are dragged over nerve-wracking rhythms of enormous musical energy. The inspiration may be Sly's discovery that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow doesn't mean shit, but what's expressed is the bitterest ghetto pessimism. Inspirational Verse: "TIME they say is/The answer/But I don't believe it." Original title: Africa Talks to You. Length of title track: 0:00. A+