Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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James Chance and the Contortions [extended]

  • Buy the Contortions [ZE, 1979] B+
  • Off White [ZE, 1979] B-
  • Live in New York [ROIR, 1981] B-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Contortions: Buy the Contortions [ZE, 1979]
Bohemias are always beset by ambitious neurotics who hawk their obnoxious afflictions as if they're the future of the species, which is why in theory James White's music is better without the words: you get the jagged rhythms and tonic off-harmonies without being distracted by his "ideas." But in fact the music is so (deliberately) stunted it needs a voice for sonic muscle, and James's lyrics do have a certain petty honesty and jerk-off humor. "I Don't Want to Be Happy" should separate the believers from the spectators quite nicely. B+

James White and the Blacks: Off White [ZE, 1979]
This is pretty good to dance to, but like so much disco music it gets tedious over a whole side. And the chick singer--probably somebody's girlfriend--certainly doesn't help. B-

Live in New York [ROIR, 1981]
Boy, has this shit dated--it's worn as thin as the sidemen's professionalism and James's embouchure. And the titles go beyond petty candor into keep-your-self-to-yourself-please--a "White Cannibal" with "Money to Burn" and (give this boy a benefit) "Sophisticated Cancer"? Sure it's nice to hear "King Heroin" covered with so much soul. But when he opens with "I Feel Good, I Got You" he's lying three ways. B-