Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

An embarrassment of riches--anyway, it embarrasses me. In these pinched times it was beginning to make me feel fiscally responsible to urge you to lay off so many records. But now the deluge--three As and five B plusses, with more guaranteed next month. There is an economic explanation, of course; there usually is. It's called loose money. As many of you are personally aware, some parents have the injudicious habit of supplying their college-bound offspring with book money, living expenses for the duration, whatever. Bank accounts look fatter than Dad's head in September. And if there are a few nifty albums on the shelves the urge to pick them up becomes irresistible. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we can make a long-distance phone call. Not everyone is embarrassed by riches.


THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: Win, Lose or Draw (Capricorn) I've been telling cynics that the Brothers haven't broken up. Now I feel like maybe I was taken. C

CRACKIN': Crackin'-1 (Polydor) Inspirational Verse: "Throw away all your thoughts of failing/We're all important to someone/But even though your house may need painting/Yours is not the only one/We will all fall in line." Parr-tee! C MINUS

ANDY FAIRWEATHER LOW: La Booga Rooga (A&M) Maybe the reason Fairweather Low's cheerful, boozy white r&b is so much more believable than the run of Anti-Pretentious Rocknroll is that his lyrics acknowledge the fear underlying the fun-quest. Anybody with the sharp good taste to recall lines like "My bucket's got a hole in it/I can't buy no beer" in a roomful of sodden London Irish, as I saw Fairweather Low do, qualifies as a commodious minor talent. B PLUS [Later: A-]

FLO & EDDIE: Illegal, Immoral and Fattening (Columbia) No heavy surprise, rock critics usually make lousy records, but not this lousy. Kaylan (wonder why he changed his name from Kaplan) and Volman would have provided some formal balance by including a song about how Jews own all the record companies. We are not amused. C MINUS

JOHN FOGERTY (Asylum) This is what happens when rock an droll devolves from a calling into an idea--nothing you can put your finger on, you can't even be positive it's him rather than you, but he'll never get away with it twice. B [Later]

FUNKADELIC: Let's Take It to the Stage (Westbound) Finally they do on vinyl what they've always promised to do in the hype--make the Ohio Players sound like the Mike Curb Congregation. Including a Stevie Wonder rip-off and a Jimi Hendrix impression and a Black Sabbath love song and some church organ that sounds more like Bach than like the Dixie Humingbirds. Dirty, outlandish, and--of course--FUNKY!!! B PLUS [Later: A-]

AL GREEN: Al Green Is Love (Hi) The man has peaked, so it's probably too late anyway, but you can be sure that this won't convert anybody. It's Green at his most extreme--washed with strings, more scatted than composed, occasionally almost incoherent, perhaps a throwaway. Nevertheless if my man wants to roll around in his own vocal tics and rhythmic nuances, I'll roll with him. And I've stopped worrying about the lyrics. Where I once found Green's reliance on romantic overstatement amusing, I can now perceive it as a symptom of his fascinating and pervasive craziness, a craziness which has never been better documented than on this defenseless album. A MINUS [Later: B+]

JEFFERSON STARSHIP: Red Octopus (Grunt) Their most significant album since Volunteers, six long years ago, would be more remarkable as a feat of regeneration if Volunteers wasn't also the last time Marty Balin was on board. Nice textures, they sound good on the radio, but to call the bad half of this jive-ass would be to imply that standard-brand American bullshit has style. B MINUS [Later]

THE METERS: Fire on the Bayou (Reprise) This is the only instance I can think of when the addition of a serviceable vocalist has hurt an instrumental group. Reason: He distracts us from the drummer. And maybe he distracts the drummer, too. B [Later]

OHIO PLAYERS: Honey (Mercury) I don't mean to be mean; I quite like these guys in limited doses. What's more, this is their funniest album ever, and that's no typo. Only I can't quite convince myself that artistic development is even a category for a group that is clearly pure Act. What I can do, however, is be glad that they make Earth, Wind & Fire sound like the Herbie Mann Singers. B PLUS [Later]

THE OUTLAWS (Arista) Outlaws my ass--I bet they'd punch a time clock if it'd make the tour go smoother. Combining the most digestible elements of the Eagles and the Allmans without ever hinting that there might be a teensy bit of genius or even originality beneath the surface--because there isn't--this is now the hottest new rock group in America. How depressing. C MINUS

BONNIE RAITT: Home Plate (Warner Bros.) Raitt has never recorded better songs--even the Eric Kaz entry has its strength, and the bottleneck version of "Sugar Mama," by Delbert McClinton of Tennessee, is as revelatory as the woman's version of "Run Like a Thief," by John David Souther of L.A. Nice and loose again, maybe her best. A [Later]

LEON REDBONE: On the Track (Warner Bros.) On record, he's an exemplary folkie, making up in organizational intelligence what he lacks in inventive spark. Melding antique songs of varying origin into a mature New Orleans instrumentation absent from his unaccompanied stage appearances--which are at first intriguing, then stultifying and/or annoying--he offers an alternative to the narrowness of both stylistic commitment and audio reproduction that makes the original New Orleans recordings inaccessible. Worthwhile work. B PLUS

LINDA RONSTADT: Prisoner in Disguise (Asylum) I agree that this is a letdown after Heart Like a Wheel, but I wish someone could tell me why. Maybe the explanations are vague--she's repeating a formula, she's not putting out, etc.--because a singer like Ronstadt, who specializes in interpreting good songs rather than projecting a strong persona, must achieve an ineffable precision to succeed. But maybe it's simpler than that. People say her versions of "Tracks of My Tears" and "Heat Wave" are weak, but they're not--they simply don't match the too familiar originals. "When Will I Be Loved?" and "You're No Good," on the other hand, were great songs half-remembered, kicking off each side of Heart Like a Wheel with a jolt to the memory. And this album could sure use a jolt of something. B

LEO SAYER: Another Year (Warner Bros.) Leo sounds so much like Elton this time that I thought I'd finally figured him out, for like Numero Uno he seems very aware that people buy hooks, not words, belting/crooning every lyric with the same synthetic intensity regardless of its worth. The switch to a social realist tack here would then be explained by the presence of new songwriting collaborator Frank Farrell. My problem: Sayer writes the words, Farrell the melodies. Sayer's problem: we love Elton for his megalomania, and in pop, megalomania is something you have to achieve. B MINUS [Later]

SILVER CONVENTION: Save Me (Midland International) All I know about this predominantly black group is that its home town is Munich, in Germany, and that its current single, "Fly, Robin, Fly," is currently, well, taking off. The style is very bare and pure, sort of minimal disco, with lyrics so simple-minded they couldn't have been devised by anyone who knows English as a native language. Like so much good disco, it's funny, and not intentionally, one of those aberrations that could be turned into a major annoyance by major popularity. For the time being, however, it's catchy yocks. B [Later: B+]

THE SUNSHINE BAND: The Sound of Sunshine (T.K.) You can't trust anybody anymore. Fronted by K.C., a/k/a H.W. Casey of Casey and Finch, they are the Booker T. and the MG's of the great Southern label of the '70s. But this is, just the boys in the bands sans vocals, the post-soul equivalent of a Paul Kossoff or Vassar Clements LP. Wait for them to put "Miss B." on a K.C. collection. Time: 26:32. D PLUS

TAVARES: In the City (Capitol) It's so simple even arrant schlockmeisters like Lambert and Potter can pull it off. You'll need a dynamite single to set the mood, of course, but if you're patient and work hard there'll be an "It Only Takes a Minute" every year or two. Make sure a couple of the other entries from your songwriting mill are of top quality ("Ready, Willing and Able," "In the City") and then--this is important--fill holes with outside material (Edgar Winter, George Clinton, AWB) for variety. So how come no other disco-oriented vocal group has produced a satisfying album this year? Might as well as why money is green. B PLUS

LILY TOMLIN: Modern Scream (Polydor) When I hear Tomlin impersonate Suzie Sorority or explain how she managed to play a heterosexual in Nashville ("I've seen these women all my life, so I know how they walk, I know how they talk.") I thank God for making us a woman comedian instead of another light comedienne. Next time, though, I hope She makes her a little funnier. B

TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS: Funky Kingston (Island) The quick way to explain the Maytals is to say that in reggae they're the Beatles to the Wailers' Rolling Stones. But how do I explain Toots himself? Well, he's the nearest thing to Otis Redding left on the planet: he can make the words "do re mi fa sol la ti do" sound like joyful noise. I wish he had more politics--any Jamaican who can only pray to God about this time tough hasn't ever felt compelled to explore all his options--and lately his arrangements have been looser than I'd like, but this is a gift, at least the equal of any Maytals album presently available anywhere. P.S.: I'll pay $20 for a copy of the now-departed greatest hits collection on Beverley's. A [Later: A-]

Additional Consumer News

Shakespeare-omania hits Broadway January 5 when the previews of "Rockabye Hamlet" begin at the Minskoff Theater. The great old tale will be related entirely in song, for as producer Gower Champion says: "I feel that traditional musical comedy has almost run its course because the musical comedy doesn't relate to where the music is today. But I really think the rock musicians are breaking new ground." There will be a group on stage--do you think Black Sabbath would be about right for a musical tragedy? And while Roger Daltrey is too obvious a choice for the lead, an English actor would be advisable, which leaves out David Cassidy. How about David Essex? And who was that guy who starred in Privilege?

Village Voice, Oct. 27, 1975


Sept. 22, 1975 Dec. 1, 1975