Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mission of Burma

  • Signals, Calls and Marches [Ace of Hearts EP, 1981] B+
  • Vs. [Ace of Hearts, 1982] B+
  • The Horrible Truth About Burma [Ace of Hearts, 1985] B
  • Mission of Burma [Rykodisc, 1988] B
  • On Off On [Matador, 2004] **
  • The Obliterati [Matador, 2006] **
  • The Sound the Speed the Light [Matador, 2009] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Signals, Calls and Marches [Ace of Hearts EP, 1981]
"That's When I Reach for My Revolver"/"This Is Not a Photograph" would be some follow-up to this power trio's 1980 one-hook wonder "Academy Fight Song." Maybe you could even stretch it to two singles, b/w "Fame and Fortune" and the instrumental "All World Cowboy Romance." The rest is overtones. B+

Vs. [Ace of Hearts, 1982]
Is it merely the cornball in me who wishes these stiff, snarling, abrasive rave-ups would break into anthem a little more often? After all, how much of a cornball can I be if I believe stiff, snarling, abrasive rave-ups would be just peachy if only they did--maybe even if the words connected for more than a line at a time. N.b.: departing guitarist Roger Miller wrote more than half the songs, and anthemic he ain't. What next? B+

The Horrible Truth About Burma [Ace of Hearts, 1985]
One of the two most impressive tracks on this live all-new-material farewell from the seminal Boston indie band is a Stooges cover. The other is an Ubu cover. The rest--eight songs--is entirely original. I'm sure this isn't the horrible truth their label has in mind, but rock historians should jot it down somewhere. B

Mission of Burma [Rykodisc, 1988]
More even than most postpunk they were also prenoise, harbingers of a rock and roll (or rock) far more traditional than no wave both formally and sonically except that it eschewed (or failed to achieve) melody (or tune). Not indefensible, but less sonically compelling than the defense would have you believe--or so it seems from my generational vantage. Comprising all of Signals, Calls and Marches and Vs. plus the great "Academy Fight Song" and lesser arcana, this compilation boasts a new world-record CD length of 80 minutes, which under the sonic-melodic circumstances isn't something to boast about--it goes on for fucking ever. Adepts of the select button need own nothing else. Everybody else should go for what they know. B

On Off On [Matador, 2004]
Easy for abstractionists to pick up where they left off, hard for them to represent ("Nicotine Bomb," "Fake Blood") **

The Obliterati [Matador, 2006]
Disappointed by Roxy Music, disquieted by Nancy Reagan's head ("Man in Decline," "1001 Pleasant Dreams"). **

The Sound the Speed the Light [Matador, 2009]
Includes a melodic gloss on "Okie From Muskogee" ("After the Rain," "1, 2, 3, Partyy!"). *