Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Éthiopiques 3 [Buda Musique, 1998]
The instant cachet of a five-CD series documenting the 1969-1978 run of the only record label in Addis Ababa did not reflect the irresistibility of its parts. I doubt any reviewer bonded with many individual songs/tracks even on this superior volume, not after the three or four listens preceding publication and probably not ever. Because Ethiopia was its peculiar self--an uncolonized absolute monarchy so insensible to indigenous music that its national anthem was composed by an Armenian--the set also does without such world-music boons as love of the past, belief in the future, and lust for conquest. As the soundscape to a locale undiscovered by squarer, older tourists, however, it obviously has its uses, especially for an alt generation that's always mistrusted organic ecstasy. I've never encountered a more neurotic-sounding Third World sensibility. Its m.o. is to mush up Middle East, Africa, and Europe for a small-time power elite you can almost see--anxious young traffickers in court intrigue sitting around smoky, well-appointed clubs where petit-bourgeois artistes strive to give them a thrill. And just often enough, the organic--imbued with melody or hook or vocal commitment or instrumental synergy, only to be tempered and twisted by an endemic uncertainty--peeps through. B+