Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Steve Winwood

  • Steve Winwood [Island, 1977] C-
  • Arc of a Diver [Island, 1980] B-
  • Talking Back to the Night [Island, 1982] C
  • Back in the High Life [Island, 1986] C
  • Chronicles [Island, 1987] C+
  • Roll With It [Virgin, 1988] B-
  • Refugees of the Heart [Virgin, 1991] Dud

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Steve Winwood [Island, 1977]
Combined with Stomu Yamashta's ersatz electronic classicism on Go, Winwood's chronic meandering seemed vaguely interesting. On its own again, it just seems vague. C-

Arc of a Diver [Island, 1980]
Winwood hasn't been a song artist since Dave Mason left Traffic, but at least here he takes responsibility for his own atmospherics. Instead of consorting with Ijahman or Stomu Yamashta, he's laid down this lulling British-international groove all by himself. Overdubbing, the technique is called. Very up-to-date. B-

Talking Back to the Night [Island, 1982]
Launched on a chart-certified comeback, he tries to consolidate his gains by writing songs instead of tripping over them the way he did with "While You See a Chance." Somebody throw a synthesizer at that man's ankles. C

Back in the High Life [Island, 1986]
This is the fate of a wunderkind with more talent than brains: after two decades of special treatment, he derives all the self-esteem he needs just from surviving, as they say. So he's confident that the veracity and unpretentiousness of his well-wrought banalities make them interesting, when in fact they're exactly as interesting as he is. C

Chronicles [Island, 1987]
What can you expect of a man who could have sung like Ray Charles and chose instead to follow in the voiceprints of Jack Bruce? Classy arena-rock, that's what, redolent at its best of his fellow studio obsessives in Steely Dan, only never as smart, and at its worst more like REO Speedwagon. His radio-ready arrangements, hired lyrics, and funk borrowings are all hallmarks of the most venal popular music of the age, and that his synthesizer moves were slightly ahead of their time doesn't make them an iota less annoying. In short, a worthy biz legend. C+

Roll With It [Virgin, 1988]
Wish I could claim the music's sapped by whatever moves him to submit material to his beer company before his record company even hears it, but that happened long ago. If anything, this is an improvement--his contempo soul has gained not only bite but speed, so you have less time to think about it. Give most of these meaningless songs to some open-throated journeyman white people have never heard of--Bert Robinson, say, any big-voiced belter who doesn't conflate strain and feeling--and they might even sound like Saturday night. B-

Refugees of the Heart [Virgin, 1991] Dud

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]