Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Read Music/Speak Spanish [Saddle Creek, 2002] ***
  • Payola [Epitaph, 2015] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Read Music/Speak Spanish [Saddle Creek, 2002]
protesting too much, with a gusto that won't be denied ("Man and Wife, the Latter [Damaged Goods]," "Hole in One") ***

Payola [Epitaph, 2015]
The catch in Conor Oberst's voice isn't much of a vehicle for punk outrage, but that's not why so many ignored his gift for the conscious quatrain when he released this just as Trump began making bigotry big again in June, 2015. It's the alt-rock world's endemic confusion of the explicit with the corny combined with the pop world's aversion for anything serious except romantic chagrin. The bombast is so committed to volume that the tunes get muffled. But that doesn't mean they're not there. And among lyrics that vary in quality and clarity as lyrics will, most are sharp and five are machetes: "City on the Hill" excavating the bones it's built on, "Search the Searches"'s surveillance-state advisory, "Golden Parachutes"'s venture-capital spreadsheet, "MariKKKopa"'s refugee anthem, and "Te Amo Camila Vallejo," for Chile's very own AOC. A-