Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Negativland

  • Escape from Noise [SST, 1987] B+
  • Helter Stupid [SST, 1989] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Escape from Noise [SST, 1987]
Like so many performance artists of the computerized tape recorder, they would have been called comedians or just wise guys in prepostmodern times, so it's nice that they know something about both music and yucks. Rather than elucidating the title theme, I'll name favorite bits: real estate ad atop handgun ad, J5 cartoon, four-year-old singing "Over the Rainbow," lecture on the Autonomous Commie Republic, orgasm on the Playboy Channel. And mention that I listen with interest/pleasure to every one. B+

Helter Stupid [SST, 1989]
These Bay Area naysayers have made a conceptual leap--they're like Double Dee & Steinski refracted through the Firesign Theatre, manipulating found (and sought) spoken-word segments over ironic musical segues and backgrounds. Each side-long satire flows and coheres, suitelike on the seven-part "The Perfect Cut," motif-style on the disinformation symphony "Helter Stupid." Dominated by '70s audio promotions and trade ads, "The Perfect Cut" makes a more telling case against commercial radio than any smug media theory (or "alternative" programming). And "Helter Stupid," the fallout from a phony press release implicating one of their songs in a teen ax murder, orchestrates a hash of socially conscious cliches--sensationalism, rock censorship, random violence, gun control, assassination, even that rotten horse the broadcast evangelist--into a funny, slightly scary, dumbfoundingly surreal demonstration of why those cliches so excite rock-culture left-liberals. Because they're all scary, that's why. A-