Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Herbie Hancock

  • Thrust [Columbia, 1974] C+
  • The Best of Herbie Hancock [Columbia, 1979] C+
  • Future Shock [Columbia, 1983] B+
  • Sound-System [Columbia, 1984] A-
  • Perfect Machine [Columbia, 1988] C+
  • Dis Is Da Drum [Mercury, 1995] Neither
  • River: The Joni Letters [Verve, 2007] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Thrust [Columbia, 1974]
Switched-on Herbie jazzes it up one more time for all the Con Edison fans. C+

The Best of Herbie Hancock [Columbia, 1979]
In which the erstwhile watermelon man heats up a frozen quiche in his microwave. A/k/a Funk Goes to College. C+

Future Shock [Columbia, 1983]
As a guy who likes his funk obvious, I think those who esteem "Rockit" as highly as Head Hunters are too kind to Head Hunters. Small thanks to Herbie, lots to Material and Grand Mixer D.St., it's the best novelty instrumental in years and the best pop of Hancock's life. Elsewhere various bright ideas, such as Pete Cosey, are obscured by the usual aura of set-piece dink--jumpy enough and often fun, but fusoid nevertheless. B+

Sound-System [Columbia, 1984]
Future Shock was a pretty good album despite its dink quotient; this is a better album despite its schlock quotient. Where's-the-melody is beside the point, because even when they're just hooks the melodies seem a little obvious, without the physical or intellectual bite of the rhythm tracks (nowhere mightier than on the amazing "Metal Beat," recommended to those who think Trevor Horn is into something heavy). And me, I doubt Herbie should be playing more "jazz"--several of the false moments here are provided by Saint Wayne Shorter himself. The African exotica of Foday Musa Suso and Aiyb Dieng, on the other hand, sounds right at home. As does the South Bronx exotica of D.St. A-

Perfect Machine [Columbia, 1988]
Unlike Kraftwerk's, definitely a reference and rip, Laswell/Bootsy's beats bite, but not so as to tear anybody limb from limb. Sometime vocalist Sugarfoot should stick with the Ohio Players. As for Herbie's contributions, I know fusion when I hear it, and so does he. Guess he actually likes the stuff. C+

Dis Is Da Drum [Mercury, 1995] Neither

River: The Joni Letters [Verve, 2007]
Follow up with either no singers at all and more Wayne Shorter (plus Roy Hargrove maybe?), or all Joni all the time doing as many early classics as will bear the harmonic burden ("Tea Leaf Prophecy," "River"). **