Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Stylistics

  • The Stylistics [Avco, 1971] A-
  • Round 2 [Avco, 1972] B+
  • Rockin' Roll Baby [Avco, 1973] C+
  • Heavy [Avco, 1974] C
  • The Best of the Stylistics [Avco, 1975] A-
  • Love Spell [Mercury, 1979] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Stylistics [Avco, 1971]
I try to be hip and think like the crowd, but when it comes to vocal harmony I'll take a black falsetto group over some privileged anti-barbershop quartet--especially if they have songs. I'll even let them have a pastoral fantasy--seems like a fair antithesis to their urban reality, an antithesis captured neatly on "Country Living" by the clash of extreme artifice and back-to-nature rhetoric. The first side doesn't quit, and although I could do without the silly (and musically long-winded) politics of "People Make the World Go Round" on the second, I can also make do with them. A-

Round 2 [Avco, 1972]
James Taylor is merely a wimp--Russell Thompkins, Jr. is a Wimp God. The creamy fluidity of his falsetto is miraculous, and the settings provided by composer-producer Thom Bell simply heavenly. Unfortunately, the material isn't as consistent on the group's second album in a year (three hits plus uneven filler) as on the first (five hits plus impressive filler). B+

Rockin' Roll Baby [Avco, 1973]
Thom Bell and Linda Creed have a right to run short of tunes after two fairly amazing albums with this group. But since the title cut proves that Russell Thompkins can sing fast, the first side is hard to excuse--not only very fallible, but interminably so. C+

Heavy [Avco, 1974]
These guys are going to miss Thom Bell, who unlike Hugo & Luigi knows how to shape songs for Russell Thompkins's falsetto and unlike Van McCoy knows the difference between strings and tomato soup. At least this album provides its own hit cut, instead of rereleasing an old Bell ringer--"Heavy Fallin' Out" is an impressive if flukish bit of upbeat production. C

The Best of the Stylistics [Avco, 1975]
What I love about the Stylistics is that they're so out of it. Authentic modern-day castrati, they elevate the absurd high seriousness of the love-man mode into an asexual spirituality that the Delfonics, say, only hinted at--and the country-rock harmonizers only fake and exploit. Their spirituality doesn't have much to do with real life, but it's always liberating to encounter it on the radio. And now, with the flick of a switch, you can approximate this liberation in your home. A-

Love Spell [Mercury, 1979]
Their second album with Teddy Rendazzo is their most generally listenable since Round Two. Now someone should tell them--or better still, Teddy--that general listenability is not what producing a producer's group is about. It's about go-rillas. C+