Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

BackBeat [Virgin, 1994]
Not to blame the staunchly soul-effacing Greg Dulli and Dave Pirner for bodies they don't have, but all that stops this experiment in multiconscious neoprimitivism from approximating the freedom it aspires to is that the lead voices don't fly high enough--Pirner's McCartney is too gravelly, Dulli's Lennon devoid of falsetto. Instrumentally, soundtrack honcho Don Was has detonated a miracle of postmodernist disguise, inducing a supergroup cum pickup band comprising Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, Nirvana's Dave Grohl, R.E.M.'s Mike Mills, and Gumball's Don Fleming to enter the spirits of the Beatles in Hamburg, where they made their living covering Motown and Chuck Berry before anyone thought the '60s needed heralding. To the puny alternative mind-set, the Beatles have long seemed too pop and the rock and roll that "preceded" them too quaint, but forced to confront history, these present-day musicians play both halves of the synthesis as raw, fast, and unscientific as they actually were. At 12 songs in 27 minutes, the formal result is the great punk album Live! at the Star-Club never was--and yes, technical sophistication matters, sonically and musically. Meaningwise, of course, it's a Chinese box. Talk about constructing a subject--what would Lacan make of this? A-