Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Alex Chilton

  • Like Flies on Sherbert [Peabody, 1980] B
  • Bach's Bottom [Line, 1981] B+
  • Feudalist Tarts [Big Time, 1985] A-
  • No Sex/Under Class/Wild Kingdom [Big Time EP, 1986] B+
  • High Priest [Big Time, 1987] B+
  • 19 Years: A Collection of Alex Chilton [Rhino, 1991] A-
  • Blacklist [New Rose, 1992] **
  • Clichés [Ardent, 1994] ***
  • A Man Called Destruction [Ardent, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • 1970 [Ardent, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • Set [Bar/None, 2000] Dud

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Like Flies on Sherbert [Peabody, 1980]
Right, this bag of wrecked covers and discarded originals is, what's it say here, "self-indulgent." If Keith Richards or Rat Scabies were to dare such a thing, I'd throw it in the garbage myself. But that don't take nothing away from "Baron of Love, Pt. II"--the opening cut, in which composer Ross Johnson raves distractedly about sex and gore. Or the line about nipples in "Rock Hard." A very bright music nut who knows from the inside how much craziness goes into the most normal-seeming product (he did front the Box Tops, remember), this long-time advertisement for self-abuse doesn't prove craziness is universal. Just makes you forget that things most certainly wouldn't be more fun if it was. B

Bach's Bottom [Line, 1981]
These 1975 tracks, the best already released on Chilton's long-gone Ork EP, are about as Memphis as a garbage strike. Not only does anarchic equal chaotic equal sloppy equal a mess, but soulful equals spontaneous equals off-the-cuff equals a mess. None of which is to deny that he knows how to mess around. B+

Feudalist Tarts [Big Time, 1985]
After ten years of falling-down flakedom only a cultist could love or even appreciate, Chilton looks around and straightens up. The bottlenecked "Lost My Job" comes close to such beacons of his lost decade as "Bangkok" and "Take Me Home and Make Me Like It." The precocious Memphis soul singer and the prescient American pop eccentric both get their chops into the Carla Thomas and Slim Harpo covers. And when he slips into Willie Turbinton's amazing "Thank You John"--that name is upper-cased and lower-cased simultaneously--he remembers that it isn't only too-much-too-soon white boys who get twisted around in this world. A-

No Sex/Under Class/Wild Kingdom [Big Time EP, 1986]
Too blocked or tuckered out (from what?) to put a whole album together, the inventor of power pop follows Feudalist Tarts onto the brutalist charts with yet another award-winning shortie. A's an AIDS song: "Can't get it on or even get high/Come on baby, fuck me and die." Lead B points out that he's not "a rich musician." And while the finale's title promises a summing up, instead it's a real B, with throwaway guitar solo rendering it almost as long as the other two combined. Really does deserve a side all to itself. EPs sure do help you get away with stuff. B+

High Priest [Big Time, 1987]
Chilton had a chance to lead his little flock back onto the paths of righteousness. In a microcosm where nobody can tell good pop junk from utter shit anymore, his first four cuts are a refresher course: one Slim Harpo let get away, a callow Goffin-King throwaway, his own tasteless Buddhist joke, and "Volare." Each the real thing, each different, each undreamed by the Fanzine Filosofy. But after that he lets things slide, from a straight (for him) declaration of love to a Lowell Fulson boogie to covers the Fleshtones could think of. These are parlous times, Alex. Sloppy's getting harder to bring off, and cute ain't enough. B+

19 Years: A Collection of Alex Chilton [Rhino, 1991]
Even if Chilton approved the selections himself, his retrospective isn't what it ought to be--we get half of Third (with "Thank You Friends," "Jesus Christ," and other goodies left to the spiffy new Rykodisc reissue), the Lust/Unlust seven-inch (no Ork seven-inch), bits of the eminently excerptable Like Flies on Sherbert (no Bach's Bottom), dollops of mid-'80s spurt (no "Under Class" or "Dalai Lama"). So you were expecting maybe Exile on Main Street? If Chilton had ever figured out his calling, he would have made a living at it; he's the EP king because coherence and endurance mean less to him than quantum physics (which he no doubt studied on his own when that dishwashing job dried up). You can't excerpt such an eccentric to anybody's satisfaction but your own, and even then you couldn't build an hour's momentum. But listen to any three cuts in any order and I guarantee you'll get off on two-and-a-half. A money-saving introduction to his self-abusing pop and Southern-hipster r&b. A-

Blacklist [New Rose, 1992]
the Shakespeare, or Gregory Corso, of the EP ("Little GTO," "Guantanamerika") **

Clichés [Ardent, 1994]
recorded performance art--rock hipster misprises classic pop as acoustic folk ("My Baby Just Cares for Me," "Time After Time") ***

A Man Called Destruction [Ardent, 1995]
"What's Your Sign Girl" Choice Cuts

1970 [Ardent, 1996]
"Sugar Sugar/I Got the Feelin'" Choice Cuts

Set [Bar/None, 2000] Dud