Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Roches

  • The Roches [Warner Bros., 1979] A
  • Nurds [Warner Bros., 1980] B
  • Keep on Doing [Warner Bros., 1982] A-
  • Another World [Warner Bros., 1985] B+
  • No Trespassing [SOS EP, 1986] B-
  • Speak [MCA, 1989] A-
  • We Three Kings [Paradox, 1990] Neither
  • A Dove [MCA, 1992] A
  • Can We Go Home Now [Rykodisc, 1995] **
  • Moonswept [429, 2007] Dud

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Roches [Warner Bros., 1979]
Robert Fripp's austere production of this witty, pretty music not only abjures alien instrumentation but also plays up the quirks of the Roches' less-than-commanding voices and acoustic guitars. Thus it underscores their vulnerability and occasional desperation and counteracts their flirtations with the coy and the fey. The result is not a perfect record, but rather one whose imperfections are lovingly mitigated. Replete with memorable melodies, heartbreaking harmonies, wise words, and lotsa laffs. A

Nurds [Warner Bros., 1980]
They're trying too hard. The title cut's all moue and double-take, you can hear Suzzy upstaging her big sisters, and Maggie's side-closers are so intense and compressed it's impossible to know what they mean, though for sure a more experienced poet wouldn't put so much weight on her metaphors (chocolate versus soybeans somehow getting us to boat people living--and no doubt sufferin'--in Suffern, whew). Nor does Paul Simon henchman Roy Halee channel them the way Robert Fripp might have. Even so these songs have an almost magical esprit; Maggie's "One Season" will be in their act when they're fifty. Nobody in pop music equals their intelligence or delight. But I hope they calm down some. B

Keep on Doing [Warner Bros., 1982]
This sounds so good I'm beginning to believe Robert Fripp was put on earth to produce the Roches (each of us has a place in the cosmic plan, after all). It's not just the honest depth and sweet bite of the voices that make it richer musically than the debut--the songs ring with acoustic guitar ostinatos hookier than any Byrds rip you fancy. The writing has rebounded, too, though because the narrative punch and sense of overarching purpose still lags they no longer seem like protofeminist avatars--just pros who set out to prove themselves with a good album and damn right succeeded. A-

Another World [Warner Bros., 1985]
"Love Radiates Around" has a once-in-a-lifetime melody and was written by a pal of theirs, but its blissful sentiments don't suit this depressing compromise of a "rock" record any better than it would one of their Robert Fripp jobs. Even turning out songs on deadline they're sardonic weirdos, and though the material could be stronger, the monkey wrench is the received irrelevancy of the synthbeats and guitar solos furnished by three strangely indistinguishable production teams. "Gimme a slice" is one thing, "with everything on it" another. B+

No Trespassing [SOS EP, 1986]
I'd like to blame this depressing reading of the marketplace on coproducer, cocomposer, synth player, and man Andy Bloch. But the possibility that they've been listening to Jane Siberry cannot be discounted. B-

Speak [MCA, 1989]
It took them 10 years to make a second record as unmediated by market anxiety as their first, and that's probably not how people who think they're too smart for their own britches will hear it. They make no special effort to curb their "arty" "New York" tendencies--that's who they are. So despite moderate tempos and a unified production style (electronic folk-rock, say), the album is beautiful but not irresistibly listenable--you have to listen to the words beneath the harmonies. Fourteen honest, intelligent songs about anxious, difficult love, and if there was any justice they'd bury the Indigo Girls. But there isn't. A-

We Three Kings [Paradox, 1990] Neither

A Dove [MCA, 1992]
For a long time they seemed strangers in their own music, distracted by some purist superego whispering in their ears about acoustic guitars. Here their pop style hasn't changed that much--it's a little more eclectic, if anything. But it could almost be growing out of their three consanguineous voices; they sound as natural and gorgeous as the Comedian Harmonists, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, maybe even the Judds. So when the words don't kick in right off, just immerse in the sound until they do, because they will. Pained smiles replace nervous giggles not because they've lost their sense of humor, but because Suzzy has finally gotten sick of her own whimsy, because the '90s are even less fun than the '80s, because you can't live with them and you can't live without them, and because they thought following "You're the One" with "You're the Two" was feminist comedy enow. A

Can We Go Home Now [Rykodisc, 1995]
domestic nonviolence, subtly sublimated for your tranquil contemplation ("My Winter Coat," "I'm Someone Who Loves You") **

Moonswept [429, 2007] Dud