Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Graham Parker and the Rumour [extended]

  • Howlin' Wind [Mercury, 1976] A
  • Heat Treatment [Mercury, 1976] A
  • Stick to Me [Mercury, 1977] A-
  • Max [Mercury, 1977] C+
  • The Parkerilla [Mercury, 1978] B-
  • Squeezing Out Sparks [Arista, 1979] A
  • Frogs Clogs Krauts and Sprouts [Arista, 1979] B-
  • Another Grey Area [Arista, 1982] B
  • The Real Macaw [Arista, 1983] B+
  • Steady Nerves [Elektra, 1985] B-
  • The Mona Lisa's Sister [RCA Victor, 1988] C+
  • Human Soul [RCA Victor, 1989] C
  • Struck by Lightning [RCA, 1991] Dud
  • Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker [Dakota, 1994] Dud

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Graham Parker: Howlin' Wind [Mercury, 1976]
Parker builds his white r&b of such familiar materials that it takes awhile for the songs to sort themselves out, but their fury is unmistakable--in the time-honored English manner, bass and drums play the house-rocking rhythms of Chicago and Detroit for righteous anger rather than good-time escape. Then songs come clear, marred at times by the white bluesman's chronic romanticism of the blood--"Gypsy Blood," to be precise--but so passionate that every personal animus takes dead aim at the great world. Parker's "strange religion/Without any God" may well be himself. But when he instructs the Lord not to ask him questions, he doesn't extend the prohibition to Graham Parker. A

Graham Parker: Heat Treatment [Mercury, 1976]
Parker doesn't just have the makings of a major artist, he is one. Because his more reflective and/or accusatory tendencies here show up his rather narrow timbral and melodic range, this isn't quite as engaging as Howlin Wind. Even the verve of the Rumour's arrangements and Parker's deft and pithy way with vernacular speech don't entirely redeem "Black Honey" or "Help Me Shake It." But the sound is a lot fuller, and the defiance in the face of social collapse more bracing as a result. A

Graham Parker: Stick to Me [Mercury, 1977]
This is indeed a disappointment. The production is muddy, the female chorus an excrescence, and "The Heat in Harlem" vapid and overblown. But it's not as depressing as the faithful believe. Sure, I'll probably put on Howlin Wind or Heat Treatment when I feel like hearing Parker--unless I just have to hear one of these songs, most of which eventually implanted themselves in my subconscious just like the others. A-

The Rumour: Max [Mercury, 1977]
Because Graham Parker's songs take so long to kick in, I worried about coming down on his band too soon--until I realized that their songs already had kicked in, without my noticing or caring. The singers don't help the lyrics, the lyrics don't help the singers, and this is depressing. C+

The Parkerilla [Mercury, 1978]
If you think it's a little early for a concert album by Parker, who's not exactly Peter Frampton on the rackjobber circuit, you're right, but only if you view this--three live sides plus one 33-rpm single (the fourth version of "Don't Ask Me Questions" Parker has put on disc)--as music, or product. Regard it instead as a gambit designed to terminate his contract with Mercury. The music that fleshes out the gambit has a nice intensity that gets left out of those nasty rumors. But none of the songs are new and none of the remakes revelatory. B-

Squeezing Out Sparks [Arista, 1979]
An amazing record. Parker's mood, which has narrowed into existential rage with a circumstantial root, makes for perfect, untamable rock and roll. Guitar, drums, vocals, lyrics, and hooks (and more hooks) mesh into ten songs so compelling that you're grateful to the relative lightweights for giving you a chance to relax. And if Graham is pissed off merely because he's not a big star yet, he translates his frustrations into credible, emotionally healthy anger--the kind you feel when they can't fit the real news into print. A

The Rumour: Frogs Clogs Krauts and Sprouts [Arista, 1979]
If it's true they wanna be the Band, then what's with the Donald Fagen imitations? (Bob Andrews sings!) And who's doing Walter Becker? (My guess: Brinsley Schwarz.) Expert, quirky, and arresting at first. Then expert and quirky. And do I have to tell you what comes next? B-

Graham Parker: Another Grey Area [Arista, 1982]
Mixed success isn't becoming to Parker, who can no longer blame his bad personality on unemployment. By replacing the Rumour with studio regulars, he's lost the edgy drive that used to help his bitterness cut through, and his revitalized melodic craft only takes him so far--if hooks don't justify kneejerk sentimentality, they don't justify jerkoff paranoia either. B

Graham Parker: The Real Macaw [Arista, 1983]
In which Parker finally justifies his abandonment of rock and roll outcry for self-referential studiocraft by more or less acknowledging the private sources of his bitterest protests. The male chauvinism he mocks in the opener is almost certainly his own, and the love he can't take for granted right afterwards is probably his wife's, which in the end proves more durable than he's afraid it will. That's why he's glad to have a glass jaw, why he's advised to ignore everything that sounds like chains, and why except for one misplaced complaint side two is a happy-to-ironic-to-credibly-sappy paean to a marriage that has lasted--talk about your miracle a minute--one whole year. B+

Graham Parker and the Shot: Steady Nerves [Elektra, 1985]
"I'm not exactly into humor," he observes in "Canned Laughter," and truer words were never spoken--unless you count "Mercury Poisoning," I don't think he's cracked a joke in ten years. So maybe he should give it a try. I know sensitivity didn't work. But squeezing out one more round of angry hooks doesn't work either. B-

Graham Parker: The Mona Lisa's Sister [RCA Victor, 1988]
No rocker this sarcastic has any right (I didn't say business, though who knows what bizzers see in him at this late date) coming on so relaxed, and no rocker this relaxed has any right coming on so sarcastic. Add 'em up and you got smug. Cover: "Cupid." Auxiliary art reference: Bosch. Now are you impressed? C+

Graham Parker: Human Soul [RCA Victor, 1989]
Latest objects of his bottomless rancor: sugar, hamburgers, mailman (black). But not his lost youth--his lost youth makes him feel all gushy inside. C

Graham Parker: Struck by Lightning [RCA, 1991] Dud

Graham Parker: Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker [Dakota, 1994] Dud