Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • The Freed Weed [Homestead, 1990] D
  • Sebadoh III [Homestead, 1991] *
  • Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock [Sub Pop, 1992] Dud
  • Bubble and Scrape [Sub Pop, 1993] *
  • Bakesale [Sub Pop, 1994] A
  • Harmacy [Sub Pop, 1996] A-
  • The Sebadoh [Sub Pop/Sire, 1999] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Freed Weed [Homestead, 1990]
What do we know about a subculture where a CD of two bedroom tapes becomes a consumer durable? Who besides talent scouts (and tolerant ones at that) would lay out rent money for a succession of fragments-segued-into-fragments described by one admirer as "mostly written while they're being recorded and rarely played again"? Assuming they've ever paid the rent in their lives, I mean? Maybe kids who crave intimacy as much as amateur sociologists claim--so much that they turn musical doodles into love objects, attributing to them the imaginary smarts and cutes long-distance crushes so often impart. Those of us who prefer talent will make out maybe four tunes amid the strum and clatter, including the autodestructing "Soul Mate" and the thematic "Temporary Dream." Inspirational Verse (literally, it's recited): "But if you see what you need in me/Then you can't have what you need." D

Sebadoh III [Homestead, 1991]
their girlfriends would be very proud if they weren't so pissed off ("Freed Pig," "Truly Great Thing") *

Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock [Sub Pop, 1992] Dud

Bubble and Scrape [Sub Pop, 1993]
angry three-headed wimp on the long hard road to love ("Soul and Fire," "Sister") *

Bakesale [Sub Pop, 1994]
Two decades ago, Lou Barlow might have been Eric Justin Kaz, which I hope cheers anyone who thinks progress has gone out of style. And who recognizes Kaz's name, of course--confessional songpoet, acoustic guitar buried in El Lay cliches when he tried to get his songs out there himself. Believe me, indie-rock irony improves the type. Whether or not this sensitive young man Can Love, at least now the mooniness is under control, and access to technology enables him to make his own noise. Barlow's labyrinthine welter of demos-for-sale includes five previous so-called albums. In 1990, with Eric Gaffney sowing chaos every track he got and Jason Loewenstein's civilizing influence an alternative eon away, he was heard to derogate "the 'repeat the chorus three times' deal." Yet here, four years later, there are refrains, reiterations, hook riffs galore. I doubt I'll hear a catchier indie album all year--or a more visionary Unable To Love song than "Together or Alone." A

Harmacy [Sub Pop, 1996]
Pry the black plastic backing from the jewel box and decipher the credits on the nether side of the rear insert--a perfect metaphor for how public these coy alternastars are willing to go. Note that Lou Barlow's tuneful songs focus on his achy breaky voice, while Jason Lowenstein's rockin' ones lead with his sloppy riffs. Figure that Barlow needs Lowenstein because by itself his material would be indigestible--the indie-rock version of a peanut butter and jelly diet. But admit that Lowenstein would be a loud cipher without Barlow, who I only wish did like Ann Powers says and paraded his faults to prove his honesty. As with all self-made wimps, the hustle is more insidious--his honesty is supposed to justify his faults. It doesn't. The tunes do. A-

The Sebadoh [Sub Pop/Sire, 1999]
Apropos of I don't know, and for whatever good it will do whomever, they remain, on this recorded evidence, as good a band as they ever were, and a better one than back when they were epitomizing indie's recondite reticence. Yes, Lou's songs are, on average, better than Jason's. But Jason's songs are, in general, a relief from Lou's, plus that's his Gang of Four intro--not gonna hear one of those from the Folk Implosion, are you? Maybe they'll say bye-bye and go home, or maybe they'll make records like this until they have grandchildren. Nobody knows, including them. A-