Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (8)

Music fans, alphabetization fans, capitalism fans--come gather round while I send my implicit support to the market economy (hiss! boo!) by suggesting that there are real alternatives within the system. Yes, folks, it's time for another Consumer Guide. Your choice does make a difference, to you, even if you rip it off, and I'm here to help you make it.

Anyone who doesn't understand what this is all about should send me a stamped, self-addressed postcard and I'll explain. A few notes, however. I am still docking for time--there are three records under 30 minutes in this week's CG--but I have granted a stay of execution to Unipak. The president of Unipak, a harried-sounding man named Floyd Glinert, called me a couple of weeks ago to say that he knew his product had been dreadful during the first few months of its existence but that now it was improved. Until I check out the improvements myself I won't dock records that are packed Unipak. Although I will continue to note the fact. Mr. Glinert has a reason to sound harried--all kinds of thin doublefolds (an innovation of which I approve, because conventional double-folds take considerable room on my crowded shelves) have been devised since he came out with his.

I was going to write a detailed explanation of the B plus rating, which is crucial to my system, only to find that this list was heavy with Bs, not B plusses. Well, I'll just say that I rarely play any record that I rate below B once I've rated it. The ratings go so low only because records go so low.


CANNED HEAT: Vintage (Janus) I don't care how much you like the group, this collection of three-year-old tapes, rechanneled for stereo and running all of 23.12 minutes (that's right, it's really an E plus) insults your income and your intelligence. Are there really white blues scholars who want to know what the Bear sounded like when he was pure? Ridiculous, and sad. E

THE CHAMBERS BROTHERS: Love, Peace, and Happiness (Columbia) I walked out on the concert at which the live half of this special-price double album was recorded, and now that the evidence is in I know I did the right thing. The Chambers were a nice second-bill group, often an exciting surprise, but they got flabby. Shameful excess. C MINUS

DILLARD AND CLARK: Through the Darkness, Through the Night (A&M) D&C succumb to the folk fallacy. That is, they relate themselves to an alien and/or past musical style, purist country western, rather than relating the style to themselves, as Gram Parsons does. The songs are good and well-played, and two cuts--a brilliant version of "Don't Let Me Down" and Clark's "Corner Street Bar"--transcend the Bad Concept which ruins this album for me. But I know damned well that I may never play it again, because basically it's just another archive. B MINUS

ARETHA FRANKLIN: This Girl's in Love with You (Atlantic) Fans should buy this immediately even though it's ballad-heavy and not quite up to her best. Everyone else: consider it. The title tune and "Let It Be" are outstanding. A MINUS [Later: B+]

EDDIE HOLMAN: I Love You (ABC) Some of this is almost palatable sweetie-pie crooning, the rest as bad as "Hey There Lonely Girl," an early candidate (along with the Temps' Psychedelic Shack) for Soul Bummer of the Year. Rated just in case anyone suspects that I like all soul music. D PLUS

JETHRO TULL: Stand Up (Reprise) People who like the group think this is a great album. I don't like the group. I think it is an adequate album. B MINUS

LOVE: Out Here (Blue Thumb) Arthur Lee has made a good career out of anticipating and capitalizing on ideas that were natural to other people. Sometimes, as on his best Jagger imitations and most of the Forever Changes studio effects, he has seemed an almost transcendantly pop figure, and he has always written interesting songs. This time, unfortunately, he has chosen to play off the super session idea, larding the two-lp set with some of the most witless instrumentals in recording history. Har, har, Arthurly. C MINUS

ESTHER MARROW: Newport News, Virginia (Flying Dutchman) The opening cut, "He Don't Appreciate It," is such an exceptional example of hard soul (with fantastic arrangement and production by Bob Thiele) that I recommend the whole album to devotees of the genre. (It is also available as a single.) the rest is jazz-oriented, good but uneven: some of the ballads are very weak and there is too much dependence on long codas. B

COUNTRY JOE MACDONALD: Thinking About Woody Guthrie (Vanguard) It's the concept of this album that I don't like. Musically, it's not bad--a nice selection of Woody's tunes rendered agreeably by Joe and some Nashville sidemen. As an educational project I suppose it could be called, er, worthwhile. But anyone who has read this far may consider himself educated; the real thing is easy to swallow and can be purchased at better record shops. C

MC5: Back in the USA (Atlantic) At first, this was a severe disappointment, a rather obvious and awkward attempt, I thought, to tailor a record to some dimly conceived high school "underground," with titles like "Teenage Lust" and lines like: "Young people everywhere are gonna cook their goose/Lots of kids are working to get rid of these blues" (political italics mine). The more I listen, however, the more I like it. Under Jon Landau the 5's style has become choppier, more hard-rock. On one cut, "Looking at You," Landau's discipline is imposed on the soaring Sinclair/Coltrane style of their Elektra album, a brilliant synthesis. The rest still confuses me a little. If it sells it will be an undeniable masterpiece, if not, an equivocal experiment. Still, I ask myself, is it a good hard-rock record if I have to hear it five times before I like it? Why am I writing so much? What is this? Weird. Sorry, Jon, docked a notch for time: 27.41. B [Later: A-]

THE STEVE MILLER BAND: Your Saving Grace (Capitol) The usual sweet-hard rock, pleasant and soulful enough. B

RICK NELSON: In Concert (Decca) I know no one will believe me, but this is at worst a tasteful country-rock record--well-conceived, well-played, well-produced. Nelson turns out to be a likeable singer. If he had replaced "She Belongs to Me" or "Red Balloon" with an unfamiliar song as good as the ones he has chosen, and written, this would be a true sleeper. B [Later: C+]

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE: These Things Too (Reprise) Not such good work, Peter Edmiston. C

CARL PERKINS AND NRBQ: Boppin' the Blues (Columbia) Sorry, folks, Carl just can't wear them shoes no more; he is an aging country singer and he sounds it. As for NRBQ, they were better first time around. Competent and utterly unexciting, except for the cover, which should win an award. B MINUS

SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: Bridge Over Troubled Water (Columbia) Melodic. B

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: A Brand New Me (Atlantic) Gamble and Huff have done for Dusty--who as a singer has only one peer, Dionne Warwick--what they did so successfully for Jerry Butler on his last album, only the formula is wearing thin. The songs (all of them written in part by Gamble) resemble each other melodically and rhythmically. The same instruments are used on each cut and vocal mood is also the same throughout. If only Dusty could bring all of her moods together--starting with the earliest rock stuff and working through "Look of Love" and "Preacher Man" and the title cut of this lp--she would make a great, great album. But Dusty in Memphis is much better than this, which bears the added burden of one-notch loss for running shamefully short: 25.32. C PLUS [Later: B-]

ROD STEWART: The Rod Stewart Album (Mercury) My prejudice against Stewart (who used to be Jeff Beck's singer) was so strong that I would never have really listened to this without the rave notices in Fusion and Rolling Stone. I'm still not quite convinced. But the music is excellent instrumentally, and Stewart's singing and composing mostly superb. Maybe it was all Jeff's fault. A MINUS

SUPER BLACK BLUES (BluesTime) I don't often comment on blues, hardly my field of expertise, but this is an extraordinarily mellow jam, with old masters--Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, Otis Spann--wailing away. B PLUS

SWEET THURSDAY (Tetragrammaton) An honest, listenable record from an English group which may well never make another. Nicky Hopkins appears on all cuts and is at his best. B

THREE DOG NIGHT: Captured Live at the Forum (Dunhill) I once had hopes for this group, but success ruined them too, encouraging all of their most vulgar plastic-nigger excesses. Each of the (only) nine renditions is more flaccid than the studio version (that's right, no new material) and the "Tenderness" which closes the set, admittedly an exciting climax live, doesn't work any better than it did the first time it was recorded. D PLUS

Village Voice, Feb. 26, 1970


Jan. 29, 1970 Apr. 23, 1970