Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Del-Lords

  • Frontier Days [EMI America, 1984] A-
  • Johnny Comes Marching Home [EMI America, 1986] B+
  • Based on a True Story [Enigma, 1988] B+
  • Lovers Who Wander [Enigma, 1990] Dud
  • Get Tough: The Best of the Del-Lords [Restless, 1999] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Frontier Days [EMI America, 1984]
Unless you see a band week after week, you have to wait till the album to gauge the depth of their songwriting, and these nice guys do all right by the sounding. The melodies are pretty basic, but that was to be expected; what's important is that they stick. The lyrics go for Blasters-style populism and achieve it with fewer downhome details and more international perspective. And if there's less singing and playing here than four or five gigs made me hope, that just makes me hope that next time they'll go commercial enough to hire a real producer instead of nice-guy Lou Whitney. A-

Johnny Comes Marching Home [EMI America, 1986]
By saving "Heaven" for Pat Benatar's producer they assure its standing as an unmatched distillation of rock and roll's utopian thrust. Elsewhere their politics are sentimental and misconceived, with the Pete Seeger reference the giveaway and the bad TV movie "Against My Will" the nadir. Despairing or hopeful, the love songs are more tough-minded. That's the way it is with rock and roll's utopian thrust. B+

Based on a True Story [Enigma, 1988]
Their populist Americana expressed rather than subsumed by Neil Geraldo's hard-rock production, they can come on like the old Lower East Siders they are without sounding irrelevant. The most convincing songs show the populi the "beatnik world" of "The Cool and the Crazy"; the prettiest one allows as how they still dream of "Cheyenne" while they sit and watch TV. Last time the love songs were tough and the political statements soggy; this time the fast ones are tough-and-a-half and the slow ones soggy. Which adds up to progress, right? B+

Lovers Who Wander [Enigma, 1990] Dud

Get Tough: The Best of the Del-Lords [Restless, 1999]
If 15 years later the anthem that goes "I believe that there's a heaven before I'm dead" seems almost as naive as the anti-imperialist title song, well, these guys were more a straw to be grasped than a future to be seized even at the time--an American version of the Clash just as the Clash was headed for the shredder, substituting for rootsy punk formalism a full embrace of rock and roll and its sources. Leader Scott Kempner and believer Eric Ambel were never dead-on songwriters or overwhelming singers, so this distillation is the perfect place to recall just how humanistic the straight stuff can be. Slightly out of time in their time, today they're just as likely to make you ask why the hell it couldn't happen again. A-