Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jack Bruce

  • Songs for a Tailor [Atco, 1969] B-
  • Things We Like [Atco, 1971] B+
  • Harmony Row [Atco, 1971] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Songs for a Tailor [Atco, 1969]
Anyone who dug recorded Cream--Disraeli Gears especially--will dig this latest Bruce-Pappalardi collaboration. I think it is skillful and empty. Even with all that stuff going on behind him Bruce doesn't make it as a solo vocalist. B-

Things We Like [Atco, 1971]
Recorded in Cream's heyday with John McLaughlin on guitar, Jon Hiseman on drums, and Dick Heckstall-Smith on saxophones, this has zip to do with rock or "jazz-rock"--it's an enjoyable contemporary jazz LP that owes more to Ornette Coleman and to bebop than to the simplistic modalism favored by most rockers. McLaughlin would be a find if Miles Davis hadn't found him in the meantime, and Bruce's playing is deft when it's solid and contained when it's stormy. His compositions are less notable--only "Hckhh Blues" stands up next to the tune borrowed from Milt Jackson and Mel Torme. But the real surprises are Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith, now kingpins of the infamous jazz-rock big band Colosseum, Hiseman because he's serviceable and Heckstall-Smith because he's a pleasure--his melodies striking, his eclecticism intelligent and strong-willed. The thinness of his tone, however, is frustrating--he is the lead voice, after all. B+

Harmony Row [Atco, 1971]
Contrary to rumor, this is not an Unjustly Ignored Work of Art. This is a Bad Work of Art. Bruce's music is, yes, well-made, dense and dissonant and throbbing (no one else in rock plays so much bass). But it's designed to support Pete Brown's lyrics, which are, arghh, overwrought, obscure and literary and clichéd (my favorite line, which I suppose may be a joke: "I trace your name in spinach"). I know, Brown has been disfiguring Bruce's work since Cream. But at least then he lightened up occasionally. And at least then his bad lyrics functioned mostly as vocal color for the instrumental interaction, whereas here they're enunciated in Bruce's forced art-song style and printed on a special page of the jacket. C+