Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Elliott Murphy

  • Aquashow [Polydor, 1973] A-
  • Lost Generation [RCA Victor, 1975] B
  • Street Lights [RCA Victor, 1976] C+
  • Just a Story from America [Columbia, 1977] C-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Aquashow [Polydor, 1973]
The music here sounds so middle-Dylan that it inspired me to play Blonde on Blonde, after which unfair comparison I began to suspect Murphy of glibness. But although his themes aren't new and he does come at them like a know-it-all, that's not his fault--he does know quite a bit, maybe more than is good for him, and the quick phrases merely shield a plausible sincerity. Special concern: inter-relations between women's self-knowledge (and lack of it) and the emotional disappointments of sexual love. None of which you're obliged to notice until you enjoy the music a dozen times. A-

Lost Generation [RCA Victor, 1975]
The mistake is Paul Rothschild's production, too tasty and anonymous to support the innocence that made Murphy's basically tinny voice and underachieved rock and roll convincing. Deprived of the benefit of the doubt, Murphy's awkward literaryness starts to stick out. You wonder whether his lost generation was really shaped with a "technicolor carving knife." You wonder just how much he knows about Eva Braun. You wonder why the two strongest cuts on the record--the love songs on side one--are the ones you notice last. And in the end you hope the next record makes it. B

Street Lights [RCA Victor, 1976]
This time I can't blame the production--if anything, Steve Katz's understated hard rock and adept background voices lend emotional weight to songs that would otherwise sound hopelessly immature. Murphy's voice has always been callow, but whereas two-and-a-half years ago he came across as a compassionate kid who reached out toward the world as a natural function of this self-discovery, now he sounds like an effete young man who strikes out at the world as a natural function of his self-involvement. The distinction is less than clear-cut, and perhaps too sharp to apply to an artist of such laudable moral ambition, but anyone who praises someone whose "wounds are open for the sake of art" (ugh! what a line!) has never heard the one about the heart and the sleeve. C+

Just a Story from America [Columbia, 1977]
If anyone can write a rock ballad to a deposed Russian princess made famous by Ingrid Bergman it's Murphy--the image sums up the F. Scott Fitzgerald/Rhett Butler (and Eva Braun?) side of a boy-man who's also heir to the traditional reverence for Jimi Hendrix and James Dean. Instead, the song is the embarrassing epitome of a record on which Murphy sounds spoiled instead of sensitive, presumptuous instead of ambitious, and about as comfortable with rock and roll as Roderick Falconer. C-

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