Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Robert Ashley

  • Private Parts [Lovely Music, 1978] A-
  • Perfect Lives (Private Parts)/The Bar [Lovely Music, 1980] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Private Parts [Lovely Music, 1978]
I cannot tell a lie. On each side of this record, the composer reads an abstract prose fiction over "settings for piano and orchestra by `Blue' Gene Tyranny," and that's it. The vocal style is a kind of hypnotic singsong; the quiet settings are dominated by piano, tabla, and what sounds like a string synthesizer. I like it more than Discreet Music, less than Another Green World, and about as much as A Rainbow in Curved Air. I suppose I prefer side one, "The Park," because I like the verbal content more, although in fact I perceive the reading as music, just like I'm supposed to, and have never managed to follow the words all the way through. A friend who's done yoga to this record--not an arty type, incidentally--is reminded of going to sleep as a child with adults talking in the next room. Then again, a rather more avant-garde friend who made me turn it off is reminded of the spoilsport who used to read the rosary for five minutes just before his favorite radio program. A-

Perfect Lives (Private Parts)/The Bar [Lovely Music, 1980]
Ashley's previous recorded excursion into pulse-plus-words quasi-rock was appealingly hypnotic, but I thought it inauspicious that when I heard and saw this piece live early in 1980 I had a hard time staying awake. No such omens with the album, which is like a state-of-the-art update of the Velvets' "Murder Mystery." One improvement is that you can follow the words, which offer both hook phrases ("We don't serve fine wines in half-pints buddy") and literary satisfaction (dialogue/confrontation between white common-sense-materialist bartender and black cocktail pianist of mystical mien). Also gratifying is the ironic poppish context Ashley finds for the avant-MOR blandouts of such Soho luminaries as producer-arranger Peter Gordon and keyboardist-arranger "Blue" Gene Tyranny. A