Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Lounge Lizards

  • The Lounge Lizards [Editions EG, 1981] B+
  • Live From the Drunken Boat [Europa, 1983] B
  • Live 79-81 [ROIR, 1985] B+
  • Live in Tokyo/Big Heart [Island, 1986] A-
  • No Pain for Cakes [Island, 1987] B+
  • Voice of Chunk [1-800-44CHUNK, 1989] A-
  • Queen of All Ears [Strange & Beautiful Music, 1998] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Lounge Lizards [Editions EG, 1981]
John Lurie has a real gift for night-crawling high-kitsch themes, but to hear him improvise alongside Arto Lindsay is to learn how hard it is to make music out of noise. After all, it's the precisely timed cut-'em-up verve with which Arto skronks and gweezes into the themes that gives the Lizards their edge. But for some reason--weak takes? rushed mix? Lurie's sense of posterity? vanity, perhaps?--he's all but inaudible on many cuts here. Result: Slaughter on Tenth Avenue Goes to the Mudd Club--fun, but not the real fake. B+

Live From the Drunken Boat [Europa, 1983]
Divested not only of fifth columnist Arto Lindsay but of all the guitar's vulgar "rock"-tinged associations, the Lizards get beau ideal Teo Macero to produce a studio album in live drag. They sound like an arty jazz combo who've landed a month at a pretentious cocktail lounge in Minneapolis, or Brussels. Sometimes they gear their originals to what they deem the declasse ambience of the place, other times they say fuck it and lay down the simplified Cecil Taylor dearest to their hearts. They're better when they lower themselves. And they don't make it past Saturday night. B

Live 79-81 [ROIR, 1985]
Before they were a mediocre jazz group or a hot fusion band they were a mordant postpunk concept, the avant-Raybeats. More than their antiseptic Editions EG album, this captures their raw sleaze, not to mention John Lurie's reptillian embouchure and (on three cuts) Arto Lindsay's cool-defying guitar. B+

Live in Tokyo/Big Heart [Island, 1986]
Initially, John Lurie's fake jazz was so conceptual it needed the chordless wonder of Arto Lindsay to knock the stuffing out of it every bar or two, but after trying to play the real thing he's settled for composing a full-fledged counterfeit. Blaringly dissonant and tunefully noir at the same time, Lurie's ensemble writing is Mancini boheme rather than Thelonious manqué--sometimes almost danceable, sometimes theme music for a movie too slick to star him, and always something else besides. Only brother Evan's "Punch and Judy Tango" tempts you to take the solos literally. A-

No Pain for Cakes [Island, 1987]
The record ends with John Lurie grousing about the way his minions skip practice. Disgusted, he says the hell with it himself and checks out a party, soon revealed as the source of the greasy, swinging groove underpinning his voiceover. Lurie likes the music so much that he goes into the next room to peep the band, and oops, it's the Lizards. On none of the garish set pieces preceding this capper do they sound so at ease with themselves. But on every one they sound as sardonic as the guy who thought it up. Which is how he wants it. B+

Voice of Chunk [1-800-44CHUNK, 1989]
Determined to become the thinking man's David Sanborn by hook or by crook, John Lurie swallows his indignation and elects to market himself--you achieve retail access by dialing the label name on your home telephone. And dial you might. His tone is as rich as his tunes, his solos are lifelike, his musicians thrive as individuals, his musicians function as a unit, and his arty moves kick in with a satisfying thwock. As usual, free jazz meets Henry Mancini meets Kurt Weill meets Peter Gordon meets the Ramada Inn. But the pomo patina has worn away--he's lyrical and catchy rather than "lyrical" and "catchy." Biting and funny he never put quotes around. A-

Queen of All Ears [Strange & Beautiful Music, 1998]
The inevitable progress, as they say, from fake jazz downtown-style to progressive jazz downtown-style ("The First and Royal Queen," "Queen of All Ears"). *