Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Temporary Music [Celluloid, 1981] B+
  • Memory Serves [Elektra/Musician, 1982] B+
  • One Down [Elektra, 1982] A-
  • Seven Souls [Virgin, 1990] B+
  • The Third Power [Axiom, 1992] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Temporary Music [Celluloid, 1981]
The two EPs here repackaged document not the no-wave-meets-new-thing experimenters but the art-rock band that likes its minimalism funky. At Material's best gigs Sonny Sharrock's aural grimaces challenge the impassively abrasive rhythm section; here Cliff Cultreri marches to bassist and drummer while Michael Beinhorn flatters Philip Glass. Still, both guys could choose stupider models--probably will someday. And there's something winningly perverse about ambient music that means to destroy its enemies. B+

Memory Serves [Elektra/Musician, 1982]
Although his angular, slightly hyped-up groove on the instrument is distinctly his own, Bill Laswell is a typical bass player in the most important way: what he expresses depends on who he works with. Beyond drummer Fred Maher and synth threat Michael Beinhorn, his collaborators here include Fred Frith, Sonny Sharrock, and Henry Threadgill augmented by lesser avant-jazzmen. All obviously love the harsh, expansive intelligence of preschlock jazz- (and art-) rock. But their great ideas are rewarding rather than tempting, and they're not exalting either. Nor are they supposed to be. B+

One Down [Elektra, 1982]
Laswell, Beinhorn & Co. have obviously been listening to the radio instead of complaining about the end of the world. The result is a protean disco album that sounds like real New York rock and roll. Chic guitar and planet-rocking vocoders are only the beginning--several of these experiments seem designed to cross over right behind "Eye of the Tiger," and never have electronically processed rhythms throbbed with such life. All that's missing is a deeper feeling for singers and songs, an old problem that the finest and most atypical track suggests is remediable--Soft Machinist Hugh Hopper's "Memories," which guest stars Whitney Houston and Archie Shepp, transfers into one of the most gorgeous ballads you've ever heard. A-

Seven Souls [Virgin, 1990]
The male version of Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels is a marriage made in purgatory between two cold motherfuckers: Bill Laswell and Bill Burroughs. Seamlessly synthesizing new-age atmospherics, authentic African passion, and arena-rock dramaturgy, Laswell devises settings for the sci-fi ecopessimism of the greatest reader of our time. Not that it's all dead souls and dire consequences--for balance and to prove he can do it, Laswell also constructs an inspiriting third-world anthem from the remains of John Lydon's "Poptones." B+

The Third Power [Axiom, 1992] Dud