Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sex Pistols

  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols [Warner Bros., 1977] A
  • The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle [Virgin, 1980] B+
  • Filthy Lucre Live [Virgin, 1996] A-
  • Raw [Music Club, 1997] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols [Warner Bros., 1977]
Get this straight: no matter what the chicmongers want to believe, to call this band dangerous is more than a suave existentialist compliment. They mean no good. It won't do to pass off Rotten's hatred and disgust as role-playing--the gusto of the performance is too convincing. Which is why this is such an impressive record. The forbidden ideas from which Rotten makes songs take on undeniable truth value, whether one is sympathetic ("Holidays in the Sun" is a hysterically frightening vision of global economics) or filled with loathing ("Bodies," an indictment from which Rotten doesn't altogether exclude himself, is effectively anti-abortion, anti-woman, and anti-sex). These ideas must be dealt with, and can be expected to affect the way fans think and behave. The chief limitation on their power is the music, which can get heavy occasionally, but the only real question is how many American kids might feel the way Rotten does, and where he and they will go next. I wonder--but I also worry. A

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle [Virgin, 1980]
The soundtrack to the mythical Who Killed Bambi is a joke, a rip-off, a piece of conceptual art, etc. But it's also a lovely memento, and you can listen to it--every one of its four sides will bring a smile to your lips. These notes, then. A) The symphonic "EMI" tops the disco medley tops the symphonic "Anarchy." B) Ronnie Biggs singing "Belsen Vos a Gassa" is at least as entertaining as Johnny Rotten singing "Belsen Was a Gas." C) Johnny Rotten forgetting Chuck Berry lyrics is more entertaining than Sid Vicious remembering Eddie Cochran lyrics. D) Sid Vicious singing "My Way" is more entertaining than Frank Sinatra singing "My Way." E) Frank Sinatra does not appear on this record. B+

Filthy Lucre Live [Virgin, 1996]
Even though it reprises all 12 songs on Never Mind the Bollocks (plus five familiar outtakes and B sides) with their tempos and arrangements intact, this is that rare thing, a live album with a life of its own. Its strength is that its historical moment is so definitively over. Thus it compels us to rehear Steve Jones's immense bluesless riffs, Paul Cook's stone simple beats, and Glen Matlock melodic glue as pure sound, and to confront how John Rotten-Lydon's hilariously ill-humored gutter-prophet howl, broadened but not softened with age and a decade-plus of paid acting lessons in Public Image Ltd., defined both a new rock voice and a new rock attitude. A-

Raw [Music Club, 1997]
live boot (Burton Upon Trent, 9/24/76) as budget-priced history--crude, kinda slow, a few rare titles, four demos added ("Substitute," "No Fun") **

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