Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide

BIG STICK: Hoochie Koo Time (Blast First import) This duo is so mysterious I've never read anything about them I believed or heard anything by them I didn't play again. And without benefit of a "Crack Attack" or "Shoot the President," here's 10 inches of ugly introduction to their politically incorrect punk-industrial. The guy processes his voice down deep and then talk-sings like a demented trucker, drag racer, or metal animal, leaving a sexy Kim Gordon tribute/parody to the gal, who also shines in groupie and waitress cameos. Yes, Virginia, there is an underground. B PLUS

CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARD: Greatest Hits (HDH) General Johnson has had a hand in more choice songs than many El Lay millionaires, like for instance "It Will Stand," "Bring the Boys Home," "Want Ads," the Grammy-winning (and here obtrusive) "Patches." He rules Carolina beach music, living off club gigs and checks in the mail without ever venturing 500 miles from home. But this early-'70s group was his baby. More striking than his clenched throat or Holland-Dozier-Holland-approved hooks is the skewed guitar funk he bore down on after his secondhand Motown stopped selling. Since pop was his game, the influences are Sly and Norman Whitfield rather than George and JB. And if "Let's Have Some Fun" isn't slammin', my name is Rumpofsteelskin. A MINUS

DRAMARAMA: Vinyl (Chameleon) Their existential confusion goes global, especially with the nonprotest protest of "What Are We Gonna Do?" But as they burst upon the world after a maturing process without a public history, I'm sorry, they're a touch too slow. And long--the three six-minute jobs sink them in the very ponderousness skewered by the four-minute "Classic Rot." Not a very vinyl length, six minutes--especially in songs that might be as sharp as the rest speeded up and cut down. B PLUS

THE FUGS: Songs From a Portable Forest (Gazell) Ed Sanders is a Romantic who's outlived his wild days without disowning or betraying them. As a young Fug, he affected comic hippie raunch; solo, he half-realized a pseudohillbilly twang. But pushing 50 in a group that reunited for an antinuke rally, he sings like the poet he is. And it's his singing that turns these 12 unjokey songs from the Fugs' three '80s imports into nothing you've heard before. Sanders's care, compassion, and, yes, sensitivity are credible even when he's comparing protesters to Prometheus--the seven-part, 11-minute lifework "Dreams of Sexual Perfection" has William Blake coming in his grave. You almost begin to think any spiritually advanced rockpoet could do this--until Leslie Ritter's Maria-McKee-as-Joan-Baez contralto turns Sanders's "World Wide Green" into a pompous preachment and brings you back to earth. A MINUS [Later]

THE GO-BETWEENS: The Peel Sessions (Strange Fruit) The quality of the B sides etc. on 1978-1990 surprised fans who thought they were buying greatest semihits, and like any world-historical pop band, the Go-Betweens were more than a song vehicle. Pumped by drummer Lindy Morrison, the four fine fast ones on this 1984 broadcast session--a B from 1978-1990 and three I'd never heard--rock tougher than you'd expect from their 1984 studio LP. I propose a posthumous live. A MINUS

MICHAEL JACKSON: Dangerous (Epic) It's hard to hear through the oversell, but--especially if you ignore the faith-hope-and-charity, bringing it down under an hour--this is plainly his most consistent album since Off the Wall, a step up from Bad even if its hookcraft is invariably secondary and its vocal mannerisms occasionally annoying. Teddy Riley acting alone has never manufactured such abrasively unpredictable beats, much less the singer to top them--if they're not as catchy as a six-year-old might hope, that's just Michael riding the rhythmic moment, as always. And though it's futile to analyze the love life of an invisible man who's convinced he's more popular than the Beatles now, he's hawking the most credible sex-and-romance of his career. "In the Closet" implores his mystery woman to keep their--get this--"lust" behind closed doors. Soon he's going wild, or fabricating desperate nostalgia for their used-to-be. And then he's muttering "Can't Let Her Get Away" through clenched teeth--mantralike, over and over into the void. Coulda happened, doncha think? With Brooke Shields maybe? A MINUS [Later]

JIT--THE MOVIE (Earthworks) Highlighting Eddy Grant fan Oliver Mutukudzi, whose trademark cough reappears as Solomon Skuza's grunt-in-transition, six songs from the soundtrack and six from the southern African ether complement Zimbabwe Frontline's earlier survey of a roughly soulful pop idiom--less mbira-rooted and more internationalist, with English lyrics that never grate. Not every musician in Harare is as ital as Thomas Mapfumo, or as light-headed as the Bhundu Boys. A MINUS

KENYA DANCE MANIA (Earthworks) A more Zairean--hornier, earlier, less distinctive--mix of soukous, salsa, mbaqanga, and indigenous whatever than the transcendent Guitar Paradise of East Africa, but with the same fundamental virtue: a melodic magic that only asserts itself after a few beloved grooves work their not-quite-exportable charm. Pretty homespun for disco, its most impressive (translated) lyric is a survey of siesta folkways entitled "Lunch Time." Call it rumba, call it benga, but don't call it late for chow. And if music be the food of underdevelopment, play on. A MINUS [Later]

THE LEAVING TRAINS: Loser Illusion Pt. 0 (SST) Not exactly original, if that's what you call that monkey on your back--the six tracks run Ramones, Pistols, Jim Carroll, Angry Samoans, Replacements, Green on Red. Classic Ramones, Pistols, etc.--Pistols song goes: "Fuck you, God! I'm already living in hell." Punk lives, eats itself, or whatever. I love it. A MINUS

LORDS OF ACID: Lust (Caroline) Though I wish they'd re-remixed the I-wanna-sit-on-your-face one even further into the pornographic stratosphere, here at last is product brazen and unwavering enough to live up to the canard about never underestimating the power of cheap music. Sure disco denizens already know its four hooks and big-beat blare backwards and forwards. But ignoramuses like me might as well pick up a few sex tips while broadening our cultural horizons. B PLUS

P.M. DAWN: Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (Gee Street) Not only is their mind excursion less threatening than Hammer, it embraces the Beatles and Spandau Ballet with a nerdy passion that might have been designed to assuage white consciences and fears. I doubt it, though--listen true and its escapism seems not willful but willed, Prince Be's deft, thought-out response to a world that bugs him politically, spiritually, existentially, and because he's fat. This is rap that's totally idiosyncratic, yet so lost in music it's got total outreach--moving effortlessly from speech to song, the quiet storm of sweet hooks and soft beats surprises like prime Big Star or XTC, only it's never brittle or arch. The sharpest synthesis since Prince, who we should probably start calling Prince Fuck just to keep our teen spirits straight. A

PULNOC: City of Hysteria (Arista) I balked because I loved the dark inevitability of my live tape, but for you, the problem will more likely be their provincial notion of good rock and roll--of "rock." And to make our unease mutual, new guitarist Tadeus Vercak's articulated strut and ex-guitarist Josef Janicek's high keybs skirt schlock-metal flash and art-rock ostinato respectively. But this is just the American studio version, complete with digital definition and dollops of English, of a music whose strength has always been a stylistic commitment, misprised though it may be, that has nothing to do with rock and rollers' provincial notions of the latest in consciousness. Existential anxieties that might merit a postcollegiate sneer in America spoke for the people in Stalinist Prague and continue to signify in the ur-Bush version. Ditto for lovingly nurtured musical melodrama that seems more inevitable every time through. A MINUS

PULNOC (Globus International import) If their Arista power-glitz leaves you craving something more mythic, murky, and underdeveloped, happy hunting. Maybe you coul prevail upon a world traveler to find a copy on the far side of the EEC. Sometimes calm, often passionate, usually gloomy, always earned, and a potential boon to post-Stalinist foreign exchange. A MINUS

OUMOU SANGARE: Moussolou (World Circuit) Cut in Côte d'Ivoire the week of this Wassoulou woman's 21st birthday, it'a a crucial quantum more pop than Stern's's far-from-folkloric Women of Mali collection, where Sangare's "Diaraby Nene" stands out even more proudly than it does here. But it's also a crucial quantum less pop than copyright holder Ibrahim Sylla's usual Gallic West Africanisms, not to mention those of such world travelers as Salif Keita or Youssou N'Dour. No archivist, Sangare nevertheless avoids horn charts, synthesizers, and Afrodisco overdrive for the deliberate rhythms and acoustic hooks of her own tradition. Call it a Sahel version of Los Lobos or early Dolly Parton--with a deeper groove. A MINUS [Later]

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: Weld (Reprise) File the 35 minutes of orchestrated amplifier overrun that is Arc. Snicker as 1980-88 gets schneidered. Grouse that he reprises all six songs on the rock half of the 1979 summum Live Rust, several of which he defined then and none of which he redefines now. But don't dare forget that except for Saint Jimi there's no live-er rock and roller than Mr. Time Fades Away--not because he's an ace improviser, though he can amaze you, but because his edges cut conceptually, rough where blooze and punk and garage jokers settle for ragged. And remember too that in 1979 he was half a folkie, as he will be again. This live double is all rock and roll. Anyway, repeating yourself a dozen years later is a concept in itself. A MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

  • Leonard Dillon the Ethiopian, On the Road Again (Heartbeat): difficult love, endless sufferation, sweet-souled music ("On the Road Again," "One Step Forward," "Feed the Fire")
  • Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages (Axiom): Bill and Elvin's excellent jazz record ("Little Rock")
  • Sonny Sharrock + Nicky Skopelitis, Faith Moves (CMP import): atmospherics for an oxygen-depleted biosphere ("Uncle Herbie's Dance," "Who Are You")
  • Dave Alvin, Blue Blvd (HighTone): voice a little better, corn a little worse ("Guilty Man," "Haley's Comet," "Wanda and Duane")
  • Swamp Dogg, Surfin' in Harlem (Volt): Afrocentricity with a middle-aged spread ("I've Never Been to Africa (And It's Your Fault)," "Appelle-Moi Noir")
  • Mike Seeger, Solo--Oldtime Country Music (Rounder): 18 salty tunes, 11 acoustic instruments, no overdubs ("Ground Hog," "Tennessee Dog")
  • Slayer, Live: Decade of Agression (Def American): praise the Lord--I can hardly understand a word they're singing ("Hell Awaits")
  • Skatemaster Tate and the Concrete Crew, Do the Skate (4th & B'way): rap so swinging it takes its bass upright ("Irv's," "Hey Wooley")
  • Ranking Ann, A Slice of English Toast (RAS): "Liberated Woman" plus Mad Professor ("Kill the Police Bill")
  • Bad Religion, Against the Grain (Epitaph): life still sucks ("21st Century (Digital Boy)")
  • Def Jef, Soul Food (Delicious Vinyl): self-appointed griot ("Fa Sho Shot," "God Complex")
  • 22-Pisterpirkko, Bare Bone Nest (Spirit import): they have garages in Finland--speak English sometimes too ("Don't Play Cello")
Choice Cuts:
  • Geto Boys, "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" (We Can't Be Stopped, Rap-a-Lot)
  • Type O Negative, "Unsuccessfully Coping With the Natural Beauty of Infidelity" (Slow, Deep and Hard, RoadRacer)
  • Tim Dog, "Fuck Compton" (Penicillin on Wax, Ruffhouse/Columbia)
  • Aster Aweke, "Yedi Gosh" (Kabu, Columbia)
  • Hammer, "Brothers Hang On," "Street Soldiers," "Good To Go" (Too Legit to Quit, Capitol)
  • L.L. Cool J, "I Be Gettin' Busy" (Marley Marl in Control Volume II--For Your Steering Pleasure, Cold Chillin'/Warner Bros.)
  • Andy Prieboy, "Whole Lotta Love" (Montezuma Was a Man of Faith, Doctor Dream)
  • The Walkabouts, "Stir the Ashes" (Scavenger, Sub Pop)
Duds:
  • Avtograf, Tear Down the Border (Bizarre/Straight)
  • Boyz II Men, Cooleyhighharmony (Motown) [Later: **]
  • The Leaving Trains, Sleeping Underwater Survivors (SST)
  • Shabba Ranks, As Raw as Ever (Columbia)

Village Voice, Jan. 28, 1992


Dec. 24, 1991 Mar. 3, 1992