Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Half Japanese

  • 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts [Armageddon, 1980] C+
  • Loud [Armageddon, 1981] B
  • Horrible [Press EP, 1983] B
  • Our Solar System [Iridescence, 1984] B
  • Sing No Evil [Iridescence, 1984] A-
  • Music to Strip By [50 Skadillion Watts, 1987] B+
  • Charmed Life [50 Skadillion Watts, 1988] B+
  • The Band That Would Be King [50 Skadillion Watts, 1989] B-
  • Fire in the Sky [Safe House, 1993] ***
  • Greatest Hits [Safe House, 1995] A-
  • Hot [Safe House, 1995] Neither

Consumer Guide Reviews:

1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts [Armageddon, 1980]
Beloved of their art therapist, their parents, Lester Bangs, and whoever owns Armageddon, Jad and David Fair's boxed three-record set is enriched with a poster, a (truncated) lyric sheet, and a one-pic-per-thick-red-page comic entitled "Becky the Monkey." Most of the budget went into the display--the sound suits the one-take learning-our-chords musicianship and vocals that make Jonathan Richman sound like Vaughan Monroe. Originals usually concern girls and sometimes mention artists; covers include "Funky Broadway," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," and "She's Cracked." Also included are several lengthy instrumental experiments and a live disc. Won't these superstars ever learn to boil their self-indulgences down into one tight, well-selected album? C+

Loud [Armageddon, 1981]
Art moves get a lot more half-assed these days than this musically illiterate atonal jazz-punk. The noise becomes wearing, and (ask DNA) professional recording would do wonders for the textures, but front man Jad Fair is hysterical in more ways than one, and both are appropriate. My favorite moments are his plans to trash his high school, his squalling baby routine, and his mysteriously sexy Doors cover. B

Horrible [Press EP, 1983]
A concept EP about horror movies by a band given to simulating the nightmares of a teenaged boy whose voice is changing. Star of the show is "Thing With a Hook," who ruins makeout sessions by decapitating teenaged boys' girlfriends. Boo! B

Our Solar System [Iridescence, 1984]
This is the band cultists love, give or take a few tokens of encroaching maturity--the tantrums are shorter and more entertaining, the musical forms marginally recognizable. Lots to laugh at, including an instrumental: "Hall of the Mountain King"/"Louie Louie." They don't have the chops for "European Son," though. B

Sing No Evil [Iridescence, 1984]
As the postpunk Modern Lovers gain musicianship (accrue musicians?), they're beginning to sound vaguely like Beefheart, and these days I prefer them--better nerd primitives-turning-primitivists than hippie primitivists-turning-pretenders. Any of their thousand faithful who fear this latest album represents some accommodation with commerce shouldn't have nightmares about Unconditionally Guaranteed--it's more along the lines of Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller). Meanwhile, their target market, which must number at least ten thousand, can sing along to nearly everything here and recollect most of it in moments of unwonted tranquility. I love all the songs about Jad Fair's pathetically normal sexual obsessions, but my favorites are his nerd "Secret Sharer" ("There's a man who looks like me/And talks like me/And acts like me/But that's where the similarities end") and his nerd "Ball and Chain" ("It's not fair!"). A-

Music to Strip By [50 Skadillion Watts, 1987]
What was still authentic cacophony last time has evolved inexorably into avant-gardism, its jazz/r&b elements articulated by ever classier sidemen. All 22 cuts are entertaining at least, and the musicianship adds listenability, which has its uses even with a singer who models himself on a wise-ass nine-year-old--"Silver and Katherine" is almost "beautiful." But the crude, breakneck, sui generis primitivism has slipped away somehow, and for all his protean whatsis (he's definitely a maturing nine-year-old, a contradiction I come to praise not to bury), Jad Fair is less himself without it. As of now, anyway. B+

Charmed Life [50 Skadillion Watts, 1988]
How can you not love a band who label the cassette version: "Added Bonus!--10 Extra Songs Not Found on the LP"? Even if four of them are alternate takes and two or three others concern wrestling. Even if "Madonna Nude" (its coda a wrestling-style challenge to Sean Penn) really belongs on a 21-song vinyl version devoted to the love fantasies of a geek with glasses. B+

The Band That Would Be King [50 Skadillion Watts, 1989]
Just because Jad Fair is some kind of genius doesn't mean he benefits from the genius treatment--he needs a real producer forcing him to develop his material, not Kramer letting 'er rip. Most of these songlets--27 on vinyl, 30 on CD--go by so fast you don't notice them end, so that slow ones like "Daytona Beach" and "Deadly Alien Spawn" stand out. I bet if somebody made him sit down and work out extra verses, we'd know what the best fast ones were. Suggested pep talk: "Think funny, Jad." B-

Fire in the Sky [Safe House, 1993]
fast ones fast, slow ones heartbreaking ("This Could Be the Night," "Always," "Magic Kingdom," "Everyone Knows") ***

Greatest Hits [Safe House, 1995]
It might be possible to array all their best-realized inspirations in neat rows and convert the fogies who've never given the brothers Fair a first hearing or a second thought. But if they themselves were capable of such compromises, there'd be no point. So here are two sprawling CDs somewhat more consistent than the messes that are their albums--69 not quite randomly ordered tracks (and don't think they can't add), at least 45 or 50 of which you'll be happier for knowing, with annotations that include David's guitar lesson ("I like to put six different sized strings on because that gives the most variety, but my brother used to put six strings of the same thickness on so he wouldn't have so much to worry about") and the news that Loud, which was released in 1981, was recorded in 1982. Theorem: Jad, who likes girls, is more winsome (and talented) than David, who fears them. Corollaries: their romances top their sci-fi, and despite their renowned noise, their greatest moments are slow ones about crushes, usually sweetened by competent sidemen. The imperfect introduction. A-

Hot [Safe House, 1995] Neither