Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ashford & Simpson

  • Gimme Something Real [Warner Bros., 1973] C
  • Send It [Warner Bros., 1977] B
  • So So Satisfied [Warner Bros., 1977] A-
  • Is It Still Good to Ya [Warner Bros., 1978] A-
  • Stay Free [Warner Bros., 1979] B+
  • A Musical Affair [Warner Bros., 1980] C+
  • Solid [Capitol, 1984] B+
  • Real Love [Capitol, 1986] B
  • The Real Thing [Burgundy, 2009] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Gimme Something Real [Warner Bros., 1973]
Can this marriage be saved? The problem: Good-but-not-great songwriters whose lush sentimentality would have been unforgivable had they worked for a white company instead of Motown leave Motown for white company. The doctor replies: if they develop the intestinal fortitude to go along with their own vocal limitations, they may not end up the Peaches & Herb of middle-class soul. What did they say? "Time is the space between you and me"? Well, sounds like a breakdown of communication as well. C

Send It [Warner Bros., 1977]
They need more to get by, but they can call a filler instrumental "Bourgiť Bourgiť" if they want--they've earned it. The important thing is that after writing for Marvin & Tammi (& Diana) for all those years they've finally figure out how to sound like them. Upwardly mobile. B

So So Satisfied [Warner Bros., 1977]
As performers, these bigtime writer-producers have always struck me as a mite classy--by which I mean rich, among other things. Their genuinely eccentric romanticism only made their ad for the end of the rainbow more insidious, and so my tastes in nouveaux ran more to the showbiz vulgarity of Elton John and James Brown, or the lost-in-a-goldmine inconsistency of Stevie Wonder and John Lennon. Three strained, uneven albums didn't bend me, but Send It put a crimp in my bias, and this one rips it to shreds. It's not the songs per se, although just about every one finds a message in the new black elegance--that material success is good for the soul. It's the vocal detail--very eccentric, very romantic, and convincing both ways. A-

Is It Still Good to Ya [Warner Bros., 1978]
Here, my friends, is what comfort and idiosyncrasy are for: adulthood. This couple hit a groove right off and explore it with an internalized virtuosity that seems completely natural, celebrating love over thirty with a compassion and sensuality that makes the smartest disco and cabaret sound shallow. And where So So Satisfied worked more by mood than by composition, the songs here--my favorites are the painfully sexy title showpiece and the disco-identified "Get Up and Do Something"--brim with confidence and stay with you. A-

Stay Free [Warner Bros., 1979]
Not only is this token of tribute to the great god Disco notably less intense than the nonpareil Is It Still Good to Ya, it's notably less memorable than Send It, which offers three songs that beat anything here. Yet it's also the better record. How come? The great god Disco has bestowed upon them a groove. B+

A Musical Affair [Warner Bros., 1980]
"Love Don't Make It Right," the big (black-radio) hit, is A-grade filler, just like "I Ain't Asking for Your Love": moderately catchy, moderately wise. "Happy Endings," the follow-up, is filler filler, just like the follow-up follow-up "Get Out Your Handkerchief"; token ironies aside both titles are self-explanatory. "We'll Meet Again" is their assault on Broadway. C+

Solid [Capitol, 1984]
Hooked by their most confident and attractive single since 1978's "Is It Still Good to Ya" (and maybe since whenever), this never rises nearly so high again, but the nontitle side especially is a return to the consistency of So So Satisfied and Stay Free. Which is to say that these world-class songwriters have made themselves another groove album. But not to suggest the pertinent contradiction: the groove is a flow, the flow hips and hops. B+

Real Love [Capitol, 1986]
If I gave points for attitude, I'd up this a notch for fidelity to formula: Nick and Val wrote it, Nick and Val sang it, Nick and Val produced it, and they hope you like it too, Mr. Crossover Gatekeeper. But not even "Nobody Walks in L.A.," which makes good on its title but is too quirky and local for a single, takes it on home. So while they go four for eight overall--one-two-three on the first side, lead cut on the second--only their many fans will care. B

The Real Thing [Burgundy, 2009]
After 45 years of songwriting and 35 of marriage, their partnerships live on live ("It's Much Deeper," "Gimme Something Real"). **