Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rick James

  • Bustin' Out of L Seven [Gordy, 1979] B-
  • Garden of Love [Gordy, 1980] C-
  • Street Songs [Gordy, 1981] A-
  • Throwin' Down [Gordy, 1982] B+
  • Cold Blooded [Gordy, 1983] B-
  • Glow [Gordy, 1985] C
  • The Flag [Gordy, 1986] C+
  • Wonderful [Reprise, 1988] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Bustin' Out of L Seven [Gordy, 1979]
Funky, sure--he's fairly funky, although not on the slow ones. But if this is 'delic, so was the Strawberry Alarm Clock. B-

Garden of Love [Gordy, 1980]
Slick James, the P-Funk propaganda ministry calls him, but on his getting-laid album Slick Lame is more like it. After limping onto the set with the quasi-uptempo "Bit Time" ("And I know success is all mine"), he makes with the free-love smarm, returning to what he calls funk only on the climactic "Mary-Go-Round," which takes a utilitarian view of a woman who lives the free-love life. C-

Street Songs [Gordy, 1981]
There's never been any doubt that James was commercial, as they say, but this time that's a plus--when he's not rocking, which is mostly, he even comes up with some dynamite love-man bullshit. And the street simulations are convincing enough. But I still want to know whether "The kind of girl you read about/In new-wave magazines" is "kinky" after the manner of the one in "Ghetto Life" who has "pigtails down to her shoulders." 'Cause with her, it may just be the hair. A-

Throwin' Down [Gordy, 1982]
James is such a pro I'm sure he didn't even want to top Street Songs. Might give his fans the wrong idea, and soon he'd actually have to work. So there's nothing as visionary as "Give It to Me Baby" or the epochal "Super Freak" here, and no protest numbers either. But all of the fast ones are such bad fun. Stealing his licks from G. Clinton & Co. (or maybe himself, who cares anymore?), he's the nearest thing to a pop musician in the rock and roll sense that today's black charts--not to mention today's white charts--can offer. And in that great tradition he should never sing a ballad again. B+

Cold Blooded [Gordy, 1983]
As his head continues to expand, tricks that once seemed honorably functional begin to smack of expediency, with upwardly mobile cameos throwing his shortcomings into heavy relief. Teena Marie and the latter-day Tempts he could keep up with, but on this album Smokey Robinson shows up Rick's rank sentimentality, Billy Dee Williams his cornball cool, and Grandmaster Flash his roots of clay. And the redeeming social value of "P.I.M.P. the S.I.M.P." trips over his fashion sense--this is not a man who should criticize his peers for dressing funny. B-

Glow [Gordy, 1985]
Rick has never been Mr. IQ, but this record is so stupid--not stoopid, just plain stupid--that his continuing failure to conquer MTV seems more disgraceful than ever. I mean, with his monotonous hooks, one-dimensional beat, fop coiffure, and relentless sexual self-aggrandizement, that's clearly where he belongs--he may be smarmier than Billy Idol, but what's a little grease among professionals? C

The Flag [Gordy, 1986]
I generally ignore charges that political content is commercially motivated, but with James I buy 'em. The Real Rick was the moist romantic fop of Glow, and when his self-expression didn't get over he churned out some lines on the Bomb, honing his craft by the by. C+

Wonderful [Reprise, 1988]
Free at last from Mr. Gordy's plantation, James gives up that begged, borrowed, or stolen funk. "Loosey's Rap" casts Roxanne Shante as skeezer and proud (kudos in the Special Thanks list but not the credits to Big Daddy Kane and Marley Marl); "So Tight" is expert Larry Blackmon (ditto to "Cameo for inspiration"); James himself could have sired "Judy" and "Wonderful" and "Love's Fire." But he still can't resist ballads, a big mistake for a man who spells l-u-v like c-u-m. Docked a notch for first peeping as "the girls go down," then suggesting that a devil lesbian get straight by dropping to her knees and fishing his dick out. C+