Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
Books
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
NAJP Blog
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell
CG Search:
Google Search:

Consumer Guide

To reward Garth Brooks for topping the Billboard 200 as fast as Skid Row, I celebrated Country Music Month--and found more Choice Cuts than consumables.


GARTH BROOKS: Ropin' the Wind (Capitol) As El Lay song doctors process NutraSweet, textured cellulose, and natural fruit flavors through a web of synthbites, a Nashville neotraditionalist thrice-removed wins a nation's heart standing up for the studio-pop verities. Backed by apparently living session men as he imitates now Merle, now George (Strait), now Charlie (Daniels), he picks sure-shots from the if-you-say-so rebellious "Against the Grain" to the if-you-say-so soulful Billy Joel cover, and now and then he helps write one: the light-hearted death-to-cheaters yarn "Papa Loved Mama," or the marriage counselor's theme "We Bury the Hachet" ("And leave the handle stickin' out"). Last album he landed only three; this time there are maybe six, plus a couple of marginals. Ergo, this one's twice as good. A MINUS [Later]

MARTY BROWN: High and Dry (MCA) His wailing purist intensity closer to Hank than to any of the proud Hank fans who made him a gamble worth taking, Brown tries to get across on sound alone and damn near makes it. Just before you've had it with "I'll Climb Any Mountain" (guess what he'll swim any), you realize he was smart enough to expend one of his few catchy tunes on it. But soon you also notice that the chorus of "Every Now and Then," which you went along with because it was fast, does actually go: "Like a thief in the night/It cuts like a knife." Imagine Hank without hits. Pray Brown gets the knack, or buys himself a few. B PLUS [Later]

CYPRESS HILL (Ruffhouse/Columbia) "How I Could Just Kill a Man" is about what it says it's about, anger rather than advocacy, but that doesn't mean I buy their this-is-reality we-don't-glorify-it any more than anybody else's--putting a hole in someone's head because he's trying to steal your car is foul, not to mention bad for your health, and I wish they'd say so. Still, shit happens, and from their Beasties-Spanglish accents to their guitar-hip samples, it sounds different when these guys make music out of it--funny, for one thing, which in hard guys amounts to a new vision. They like hemp, hate cops ("pigs"), use the word "fag"in vain, and celebrate their neighborhood rather than their dicks. I like their music--plenty. A MINUS

I.K. DAIRO M.B.E. AND HIS BLUE SPOTS: I Remember (Music of the World) Two Nigerian album sides and four new six-minute moments by the 60-year-old singer-guitarist-accordionist, who in the 60s ruled Yoruba pop with innovations that made King Sunny and the rest of the modern juju possible--whereupon modern juju nearly ended his career. Then, in 1985, after a decade of mixed success as a hotelier and Christian preacher, Dairo returned. Inspired or chastened, he's learned to adapt, and though his arrangements aren't quite as intricate as the younger guys', some may prefer his old-fashioned songfulness. The two English-language market ploys remember his darling and "Goerge Washington, Marcus Garvey/Booker Washington, Abraham Lincoln/John Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King." The Yoruba titles get the best tunes. And the album side "F'eso J'aiye" is modern juju at its most intricately delightful. A MINUS

JOHN LEE HOOKER: Mr. Lucky (Pointblank/Charisma) So primal he subsumes all corruption, the old man--he turned 131 in August--accepts as his due ace solos etc. from Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Carlos Santana, Johnny Winter, etc. The rock moves don't impede the groove any more than unaccompanied stomps would, and rarely has he enjoyed a shuffle as definitive as the one Jim Keltner, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, and to-the-session-born Johnnie Johnson lay under "This Is Hip." He hasn't released a more thrilling or hypnotic album since he was 112. A MINUS

VAN MORRISON: Hymns to the Silence (Mercury) The usual wealth of bullshit spread over two shortish CDs, long on love songs and the aforementioned hymns--wish the rejected title Ordinary Life was more accurate. Maybe they renamed the thing so churls like me wouldn't ask why nobody 86'd a few hymns. Like all of his recent and no doubt future work, it's slower than necessary, even in an artist of Van's advanced years. And like so much of his recent and I expect future work, it's more affecting than you'd figure. True love, eh? The simple life, huh? The days before rock and roll, did you say? Sounds kind of good. B PLUS

NIRVANA: Nevermind (DGC) After years of hair-flailing sludge that achieved occasional songform on singles no normal person ever heard, Seattle finally produces some proper postpunk, aptly described by resident genius Kurt Cobain: "Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, bad solo." This is hard rock as the term was understood before metal moved in--the kind of loud, slovenly, tuneful music you think no one will ever work a change on again until the next time it happens, whereupon you wonder why there isn't loads more. It seems so simple. A MINUS [Later: A]

PAVEMENT: Perfect Sound Forever (Drag City) Hüsker Dü for the age of indie irony--hooky grunge as guitar power, turnoff splatter as loyalty test, mad drummer as mad drummer. All on 10 inches of 45-r.p.m. vinyl-only sporting seven titles and four songs. A MINUS

LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY: Lord God Muzick (Heartbeat) Prophesying, imprecating, free-associating, name-dropping, rhyming, gibbering, making animal noises, the big chief of the space police inquires into the demise of King Tubby, shoots the IMF, and conquers Chris Blackwell--among other things, all of which occur in his capacious head over Niney the Observer's equally capacious dub. Never as striking as the record he did for Blackwell, it's considerably more grooveful and sustaining. Open your ears and close your eyes, and he will give you a big surprise. A MINUS

JOHN PRINE: The Missing Years (Oh Boy) Occasionally too fantastic but never too bitter, the sagest and funniest of the new Dylans writes like he's resigned to an unconsummated life and sounds like he's enjoying one. Augmenting his droll drawl and a band comprising his producer and his engineer, the studio all-stars might be visiting his living room, which is always the idea. He says he put a lot into his first album in five years because he figured it might be his last ever, which it won't be; I attribute its undeviating quality, gratifying variety, and amazing grace to talent, leisure time, and just enough all-star input. I wouldn't swear there's a stone classic here--just nothing I wouldn't be happy to hear again. A MINUS

PUBLIC ENEMY: Apocalypse 91 . . . The Enemy Strikes Black (Def Jam/Columbia) Hard, hard, hard--hard beats hard news, hard 'tude. Hard on the brother man (African slave traders, black rookies, dead gangstas, malt liquor addicts, Quiet Storm, Jet, and anybody who calls Flav "niga"), hard on the other man (American slavemasters, white lifers, pirate corporations, malt liquor suppliers, noise laws, the Post, and anybody who calls Flav "niga"). Trademark dissonances and quick-witted interactions are sui generis, yet it's so in-your-face spare and sneaky deliberate that it's further from Fear of a Black Planet than Black Planet was from Nation of Millions (which was a lot further than a nation of others noticed). Strong top to bottom, it could peak higher: the closest thing to a "Bring the Noise" or "Terrordome" or even "911" is that niga song (the other group's "Bring tha Noize" included). Motto: "Justice evolves only after injustice is defeated." A [Later]

TABU LEY ROCHEREAU: Man From Kinshasa (Shanachie) The king placates soukous fashion instead of following it, and having kicked off with an electrokickdrum that's never so forward again, his third U.S.-release variety show eschews total speed trip. Catchy tunes, plangent pace changes, Cuban/Ethiopian horns, Eiffel Tower accordion--and enough rippling guitar to keep them coming back for more. A MINUS [Later]

JIMMY SOMERVILLE: The Singles Collection (London) As he fills out his technologically appointed hour and a quarter, the drag has nothing to do with mascara, pulling the educational "There's More to Love Than Boy Meets Girl" down toward the zipless Communards-period electrodance that surrounds it. But punch a few buttons and you get a 10- or 12-track tribute to great divas male and female. The predisco Bee Gees cover defines Somerville's context the way his thin, rapt, ethereal, sexy-by-fiat falsetto defines his devotional passion. Not only is the homoerotic the political--the high tenor is the political. B PLUS

2 BLACK 2 STRONG: Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth (Relativity/Clappers) Hard, harder, hardest--fuck America, fuck daisy age, fuck you. The music of this Harlem crew is loud beats anchored to spare guitar, the hip hop obverse of death metal if death metal didn't always strain for drama. In between the bleakest, strongest crack track ever and realest, losingest prison track this side of the Lifers Group comes the autobiography of some Nino Brown or other, only the last we see of him he's still counting his money; fuck Bensonhurst, he says, but that doesn't stop him from enslaving his own people, and the rappers append no warning, no moral. Without reveling in brutalitiy for its own sake, they state the amoral facts as they understand them--or misunderstand them, if it makes any difference. B PLUS

Additional Consumer News:

Honorable Mention:

  • Lee "Scratch" Perry, From the Secret Laboratory (Mango): sane weirdo exploits mad genius ("Secret Laboratory (Scientific Dancehall)," "Inspector Gadget," "African Hitchiker)
  • Van Morrison, Bang Masters (Epic/Legacy): New York 1967--hungry young Irishman spouts blues poetry in a roomful of session pros ("T.B. Sheets," "Brown Eyed Girl," "The Back Room")
  • Basehead, Play With Toys (Emigré): laid-back Howard minimalists outart and outjosh the Native Tongues ("Not Over You," "Ode to My Favorite Beer")
  • Legal Weapon, Take Out the Trash (Triple X): Exene without sensitivity, folk music, a notebook--with hard rock and a voice like a fire alarm ("Under Fire," "96 Tears")
  • A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (Jive): dope jazzbeats and goofball rhymes from the well-meaning middle class ("Excursions," "Show Business") [Later: ***]
  • M'Bilia Bel, Bameli Soy (Shanachie): Rochereau's breathy ex still knows some players ("Faux Pas")
  • Dangerhouse Volume One (Frontier): L.A. circa 1977--let's get rid of everything (Randoms: "Let's Get Rid of NY," Howard Werth: "Obsolete")
  • MC Lyte, Act Like You Know (Atlantic): knows what she knows ("When in Love," "All That")
  • Miles Davis, Pangaea (Columbia): can the flute and add track listings ("Zimbabwe")
  • I.K. Dairo, M.B.E., Juju Master (Original Music): Ibadan circa 1963--a quiet revolution in a language you don't understand ("Omo Lanke")
  • Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion I (Geffen '91): what pros ("Don't Damn Me")
  • Overweight Pooch, Female Preacher (A&M): fatback hip house plus handle of the year ("I Like It")
  • Patty Loveless, Up Against My Heart (MCA): solid-plus plus a stone godsend ("God Will")
  • Spacemen 3, Recurring (Dedicated): Stooges for airports ("Big City")
Choice Cuts:
  • Transvision Vamp, "Down on My Knees Again" (Little Magnets Versus the Bubble of Babble, MCA)
  • Mark Collie, "She's Never Comin' Back" (Born and Raised in Black and White, MCA)
  • Prince and the N.P.G., "Jughead" (Diamonds and Pearls, Paisley Park/Warner Bros.) [Later: **]
  • Lionel Cartwright, "30 Nothin'," "Waiting for the Sun To Shine" (Chasin' the Sun, MCA)
  • Alan Jackson, "Someday" (Don't Rock the Jukebox, Arista)
  • Guns N' Roses, "Civil War" (Use Your Illusion II, Geffen)
  • Big Daddy Kane, "All of Me," "Big Daddy vs. Dolemite" (Taste of Chocolate, Cold Chillin'/Reprise)
  • KMD, "Mr. Hood at Piocalle's Jewelry/Crackpot," "Mr. Hood Gets a Haircut" (Mr. Hood, Elektra '91)
Duds:
  • Blake Babies, Rosy Jack World (Mammoth)
  • Charles Brown, All My Life (Bullseye Blues)
  • Sheila E., Sex Cymbal (Warner Bros.)
  • Leaders of the New School, A Future Without a Past (Elektra)
  • Macka-B, Peace Cup (Ariwa)
  • Queen Latifah, Nature of a Sista' (Tommy Boy)

Village Voice, Nov. 5, 1991


Oct. 1, 1991 Dec. 3, 1991