Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • NRBQ [Columbia, 1969] A-
  • Scraps [Kama Sutra, 1972] B
  • Workshop [Kama Sutra, 1973] B
  • All Hopped Up [Red Rooster, 1977] B
  • At Yankee Stadium [Mercury, 1978] B+
  • Kick Me Hard [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1979] B+
  • Grooves in Orbit [Bearsville, 1983] B
  • Tapdancin' Bats [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1983] A-
  • God Bless Us All [Rounder, 1987] B
  • Wild Weekend [Virgin, 1989] B-
  • Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc One [Rhino, 1990] Neither
  • Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc Two [Rhino, 1990] Neither

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

NRBQ [Columbia, 1969]
Ever since Mike Jahn called this group the best since the Beatles (something like that) it has been the victim of terrible anti-hype. Four or five of the cuts on this album are really compelling, and while the rest is marred by a kind of cute funkiness, it is original and grows on you. Dig their version of Sun Ra's "Rocket Number 9." A-

Scraps [Kama Sutra, 1972]
I've never quite gotten with the abbreviation. New doesn't mean cute, or fancy, or at least it shouldn't, and rhythm-and-blues doesn't mean this. I don't understand why they turned the Q into Quintet by adding singer Frank Gadler, either--all he's ever added is more cuteness, even doing a John Sebastian on one cut. They're tuneful as hell, but so arch--"Who Put the Garlic in the Glue?" indeed--that the only tune I can bear to contemplate is "Magnet." Which attracts me like one. See, they've got me doing it. Yuk. B

Workshop [Kama Sutra, 1973]
This band continues to live up to its full name (now Quartet rather than Quintet again), suggesting a cross between a chamber group (virtuosity and rhythmic decorum) and the New Lost City Ramblers (intelligent folkiness). Terry Adams plays rock and roll like a man who knows jazz wasn't invented by Chick Corea, and I do enjoy their sense of humor--the organ pumping into "C'Mon if You're Coming," or the out-of-synch, out-of-timbre Adams blues piano that undercuts "Blues Stay Away From Me." But I get no sense of why they engage in this musicianly reconstruction of r&b tradition; the jokes, none of which would make Carson, are what there is of a point. And if I'm going to listen to rock and roll without overdrive I need more reason than that. B

All Hopped Up [Red Rooster, 1977]
OK, how about this? They're a power pop band who are too offhand about the power. A song band, you know? I like the Beatlesish "That's Alright" and the anti-dog "Call Him Off, Roger" and one or two of the covers and maybe (or maybe not) the adorable "Ridin' in My Car." And the piano player--I like the piano player. B

At Yankee Stadium [Mercury, 1978]
Although I give them points for stick-to-it-iveness and good cheer, their records have always struck me as complacent because even the subtlest r&b has a more pronounced backbeat. But on his second try, drummer Tom Ardolino makes a marginal but telling difference--the performance is urgent, intense, up, so that even given their adolescent romantic preoccupations (life on the road, it keeps you young) the songs take on a complex life worthy of their chord changes. And try Terry Adams's Jimi-meets-Thelonious clavinet on "Talk to Me." B+

Kick Me Hard [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1979]
I'm gratified that three out of four successive songs on side two--"Chores," "This Old House," and "Things We Like to Do"--mention problems of home maintenance, albeit invidiously (I put off the vacuuming myself). Makes you think that after ten years they're starting to grow up more than "It Was a Accident" makes you fear. B+

Grooves in Orbit [Bearsville, 1983]
They really are virtuosos of fun, a major accomplishment that makes for minor records. They're so dedicated to the perpetual adolescence of pure (or purist) rock and roll that they imitate youth--Joey Spampimato is the most egregious coy-boy in this band of players first and singers second--rather than redefining youthfulness, a more appropriate task for artists of their advancing years. I know they're only kidding (har har), but at some level these are guys who still believe a real girl (not woman, please) sews your shirt and shines your shoes. B

Tapdancin' Bats [Rounder/Red Rooster, 1983]
Here's the fun record these fabled funsters have had in them for fifteen years. Concentrating on original novelty tunes, all big requests at parties, it neutralizes their fatal cuteness by making a virtue of it, with highlights that include tributes to their manager and their sweeties, a throwaway rockabilly raver, and yuck-it-ups about hard times. Even the three sloppy-cum-experimental chops-and-noodles instrumentals fit in, although I could do without the climactic title number, which seems to feature a saxophone reed. A-

God Bless Us All [Rounder, 1987]
The first live album by the Northeast's finest road band stands a chance of showing the rest of the world what it's been missing. It also runs the risk of revealing how the rest of the world managed to stay away. Face it, fans--expecting the same old unexpected can deaden the synapses too, and 20 years can put the snazziest key changes and time signatures in a rut. One set, no song list, audience all unawares, hot-cha-cha. B

Wild Weekend [Virgin, 1989]
First cute, then peculiar, then annoying, their callow act is turning positively perverse as they twinkle-toe past 40. "Boy's Life" and "Immortal for a While" are only where they state their interest in so many words--everywhere Joey Spampinato's eager eternal-adolescent whine rubs up against Terry Adams's sly grownup changes. They may be smart enough to consider this a creative tension, but it isn't. It's an evasion--a fib as opposed to a lie, kiddies--and it isn't funny anymore. B-

Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc One [Rhino, 1990] Neither

Peek-a-Boo: The Best of NRBQ 1969-1989 Disc Two [Rhino, 1990] Neither