Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Woman's Gotta Have It [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1995] A-
  • When I Was Born for the Seventh Time [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1997] A
  • Handcream for a Generation [Beggars Banquet, 2002] A
  • Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast [Ample Play, 2010] A-
  • Urban Turban [Ample Play, 2012] B+
  • England Is a Garden [Ample Play, 2020] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Woman's Gotta Have It [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1995]
There are only so many places you can take the Velvet Underground at this late date, and after an overly indie indie debut, this cheeky Anglo-Punjabi consortium has found one. Sometimes the signature trick of spicing up the art-punk drones with Indian ones is self-evident because the sitar or tamboura gives it away; other times you sit there wondering where exactly they stole that rough yet perfect chord. Also included are found sound, lo-fi textures, various keyb cheats, and the casually irresistible Punjabi street tune of "6 A.M. Jullandar Shere," all mixed in with just the right edge of false naivete. A-

When I Was Born for the Seventh Time [Luaka Bop/Warner Bros., 1997]
What's so disarming, and confusing, about Tjinder Singh is that he doesn't have a lot to say. Here he is realizing a historical inevitability a decade or three in the making--namely, an international pop so seamless that its fusion of Anglo-American alt-rock, Indian melody, international hip hop, and what-all is subsumed into its own song-based catchiness right up to the time Singh reclaims "Norwegian Wood" for the land of the sitar. And indeed, his lyrics vaguely express the proper liberal attitudes toward the weighty social issues his achievement implies. But there's no sense of mission, just a handsome dilettante enjoying his easy tunes and found beats; he's not even trying to go pop, especially. Which is why he has at least the potential to become a naturalizing force. A

Handcream for a Generation [Beggars Banquet, 2002]
Like Paris-born Catalonian Manu Chao, Punjabi Londoner Tjinder Singh comes to the idea of world music naturally. Mining primitive disco the way Chao does secondhand ska, he isn't a rhythm animal out to beat the world down so much as a laid-back guy who'll be happy to show us the way to better times as long as he doesn't have to work too hard, since better times mean not working too hard. There are even fewer true songs here than on the breakthrough album he dropped five years ago now, and like Manu Chao he favors the reprise. But I love his commonsense grooves--the Memphis bottom and cheesy keyb for honorary compere Otis Clay, the guitar vamp on "Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III" matching the B-3 on "Wogs Will Walk." Mood music, maybe. How to be conscious and happy at the same time. A

Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast [Ample Play, 2010]
Tjinder Singh isn't the most outgoing fellow, but I hope some investigative reporter from Upper Blogovia reveals just what he's been doing since the last time he put out an album, which was 2002. Can you really keep body and soul together hustling chess and counting the royalties from "Brimful of Asha"? Especially since the new one sounds a lot like the old one: casually pancultural, mixing "rock" and "disco" sounds, political supersmarts trailing off into apparent trivialities. R&B sitar. Manfred Mann cover masquerading as Dylan cover. Obscure '80s Brit faux-soul reference. "The Roll Off Characteristics (of History in the Making)." Looks thrown together and thrown away. Takes forever to think of, even with an IQ like Tjinder Singh's. A-

Urban Turban [Ample Play, 2012]
Ever ecumenical, Tjinder Singh loves Europop thrushes no less than Bollywood thrushes: one cameo apiece to a pop hopeful from Bordeaux née Sokolinski, a U.K.-based music teacher-gospel singer, Celeste with a French accent, Katie without one, a Swedish nightingale, the British-Indian daughter of a singer poetically but also inconveniently named Mangal Singh, und so weiter. Several distinguish themselves--SoKo all breathy, Lorraine nice and rough--as does (Tjinder) Singh, changing up the rhythms as he "milks" his usual tiny store of melody. Leading and closing with the same unpasteurized song are the five-year-olds of Castle Hill Primary. "What Did the Hippie Have in His Bag?" they ask again and again--perhaps because, as the visiting dignitary knows full well, for five-year-olds hippies are approximately as real as wizards. B+

England Is a Garden [Ample Play, 2020]
Tjinder Singh fends off Brexit with his trademark hyperintelligent indirection, a tactic that doesn't work as well as it used to ("Everywhere That Wog Army Roam," "The Cash Money") **