Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Tracy Chapman

  • Tracy Chapman [Elektra, 1988] B+
  • Crossroads [Elektra, 1989] B
  • Matters of the Heart [Elektra, 1992] Choice Cuts
  • New Beginning [Elektra, 1995] B-
  • Telling Stories [Elektra, 2000] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Tracy Chapman [Elektra, 1988]
"Fast Car" is so far-seeing, "Mountains o' Things" so necessary, that it's doubly annoying when she puts her name on begged questions like "Why" and "Talkin' Bout a Revolution." Maybe I should be heartened and so forth that Intelligent Young People are once again pushing naive left-folkie truisms, but she's too good for such condescension--even sings like a natural. Get real, girl. B+

Crossroads [Elektra, 1989]
I like her best here when she's most objectionable--keying her politics to the anachronistic locution "government relief," making her lover commit first, identifying evil with white people. She's still too solemn, but at least she's not too tasteful, and how else do you describe a musician who gives the impression of singing solo with her acoustic guitar while deploying five or six musicians a track? As a musician who gets over on her voice, that's how. B

Matters of the Heart [Elektra, 1992]
"Bang Bang Bang" Choice Cuts

New Beginning [Elektra, 1995]
Beyond thrilling to "Bang Bang Bang" and the inescapable "Fast Car," my only felt insight into Chapman's aura came at a Nelson Mandela tribute where her voice filled the venue, which happened to be Yankee Stadium. Maybe it's a positive that her recordings never convey that kind of size--means she's more modest than her foremothers, Joan Baez and Odetta. But what's left is a joylessly self-sufficient gravity that makes her "heaven's here on earth" sound a lot more pro forma, not to say phonier, than her "The whole world's broke/And it ain't worth fixing." B-

Telling Stories [Elektra, 2000] Dud