Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Jackson Browne: The Pretender [Asylum, 1976]
This is an impressive record, but a lot of the time I hate it; my grade is an average, not a judgment. Clearly Jon Landau has gotten more out of Browne's voice than anyone knew was there, and the production jolts Ol' Brown Eyes out of his languor again and again. But languor is Browne's best mask, and what's underneath isn't always so impressive. The shallowness of his kitschy doomsaying and sentimental sexism is well-known, but I'm disappointed as well in his depth of craft. How can apparently literate people mistake a received metaphor like "sleep's dark and silent gate" for interesting poetry or gush over a versifier capable of such rhyming dictionary pairings as "pretender" and "ice cream vendor" (the colloquial term, JB, is "ice cream man")? Similar shortcomings flaw the production itself--the low-register horns on "Daddy's Tune" complement its somber undertone perfectly, but when the high blare kicks in at the end the song degenerates into a Honda commercial. Indeed, at times I've wondered whether some of this isn't intended as parody, but a sense of humor has never been one of Browne's virtues. B