Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide

The annual Pazz & Jop edition of Consumer Guide plays catchup with 1993, leaving a few stones unturned, not including records by the following artists, all of which ended up in the limbo file I call Neither: Dinosaur Jr., Bob Dylan, Luscious Jackson, Stereolab, Uncle Tupelo.


THE AFGHAN WHIGS: Gentlemen (Elektra) With the turn-ons of Liz Phair's music-qua-music a commonplace, how about giving it up to Mr. Greg Dulli? No Butch Vig or Steve Albini tidying or toughening up this sucker--those conflicted guitars are a direct function of the singer-writer-producer-guitarist's agonized self-exposure/-examination. If the album wears down into covers and instrumentals, that's only to signify its spiritual exhaustion. No reason to trust him--just his brain selling his ass at a higher convolution. But anyone susceptible to simpler lines, as fisherman or prey, can learn plenty. And the jaded can appreciate the clean, snakelike trajectory of the cast. A MINUS [Later]

BEFORE BENGA VOL. 2: THE NAIROBI SOUND (Original Music) We all know African music is meant to be apprehended rhythm foremost--except for the oddballs who think maybe it actually comes tunes first. Early electric pop from a high-set city too temperate for open-air dance halls, these lovingly collected Kenyan singles lilt and sway beguilingly, and the lyrics mix timeless courtship and dated topicality with an earnest smile I'm sure will charm Swahili speakers. But the collective genius is in the tunes. Play it a dozen times, then attend as each melody makes its modest entrance, and you'll swear you've been hearing every one for years. And I guess it's possible you have. But not in the same place. A

BIG STAR: Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93 (Zoo) Nostalgia has nothing to do with it. For Alex Chilton, redefining garage pop with Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel was but a single obscure step on a pilgrim's progress toward eternal oblivion, and that they came up with one of the great catalogues in the process merely constituted one of life's little ups and downs. Here he and Stephens and a couple of Posies who play loud even if they sing wimpy remake that catalogue as a rock and roll noisier and more impolite than anything he would have tried at the time. Or anything he's especially inclined toward now, either--last time I caught him he covered Johnny Lee, Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, and the Vancouvers (the Spanish ones, how did you miss them?) A MINUS

THE CRANBERRIES: Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We? (Island) Dream-pop as techno-folk-rock. Lissome Limerick lass Dolores O'Riordan injects spiritual lilt, Smiths/Furs producer Stephen Street applies commercial grease, and like a good dance comp with one set of tonsils, it never quits. Every song diddles your beauty spot by hook or by slick, and with O'Riordan swooping, moaning, and emoting, the worst you feel is a bit of a softy. Believe in the dream. A MINUS

SUE FOLEY: Without a Warning (Antone's) After a pleasant debut, an Austin-based Canadian comes up an original. Blues in form, she's girl-group in spirit--"Cry for Me" steps as lightly as the Magic Sam covers, and the Earl Hooker tribute has the weight of a charming novelty. Just don't trifle with her--not unless you can name another blueswoman who'd lead three instrumentals on a single album, or call her a liar when she goes out on "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" and "Annie's Drifting Heart." Which latter provides at least two Inspirational Warnings: "I got a woman's body but a little girl's mind," and "Good luck follows me all around." A MINUS

PJ HARVEY: 4-Track Demos (Island) All right, so this isn't a cult artist's first ripoff. The new songs assure that. "Easy," "M-Bike," "Hardly Wait," and especially the fleshpotted "Reeling"--where "Robert De Niro sit on my face" leaves no doubt about whose blow-job queen she wants to be--share the kind of eager emotionality that makes Steve Albini cringe, and the same looseness animates this "Yuri-G." But I don't know how anyone can compare Rid of Me's "Rid of Me" without succumbing to its marshalled power, or concluding that with some forethought she could find even more juice in her sexual enthusiasm. She is a performer, after all. B PLUS

HEAVENLY: P.U.N.K. Girl (K) Licensed from England, a sometime Pooh Stick and four inept-plus friends (three male, if you're counting) combine the K aesthetic--five mild-sounding ditties catchier than K's more-amateur-than-it-knows norm--with the Kill Rock Stars ethos--two of them about date rape. I wish aesthetic or ethos allowed for clearer vocals--would like to hear Melanie's dreams before the deed was done, and wonder whether p.u.n.k. really stands for "painful ways" as well as "utopia-""new jeans"-"kid in her." Too often budget is a concept that encompasses aesthetic and ethos. A MINUS [Later]

JOURNEYS BY DJ: BILLY NASTY MIX (Moonshine Music) An English DJ's one-cut, 78-minute set, comprising healthy swatches of 19 technohouse instrumentals. Despite occasional overdubbing and lots of switching back and forth, Nasty's basic strategy is to lay the best parts end to end and make you like it, and although I must have encountered some of these songs on ordinary dance comps, all I can tell you is that they're long on bass lines, midrange coloration, and vocal sound effects--and that they sound great whenever you tune in. For years hardcore dancers have been complaining that compilations and single-artist albums don't do their experience justice--the songs remain too discrete. Except for DJ DB's supernal Rave Mix, soon to be commercially available in rather different form, the few street and private tapes I've heard don't live up to the fantasy. A second volume in this series, The Stress Compilation, is more like an ordinary house collection. But this--this is sort of what they're talking about. Bravo. A MINUS

JUDGMENT NIGHT (Immortal/Epic Soundtrax) Here's a little something that you've never heard before: mostly black rappers rhyming over the live guitars and drums of mostly white bands, all alternative-identified and only De La Soul helpmates Teenage Fanclub less than hard. This music knows lots of ways to say blunt; if the wordplay is minimal, that fits concept and movie, which ain't about a bobsled competition. Whoomp, there it is--beats the new Motorhead and the new Cypress Hill simultaneously. A MINUS

THE KILLER SHREWS (Enemy) This ideologically inconvenient all-male trio sounds more like the Mekons than the 3 Johns and more like great Mekons than I [Heart] Mekons. Departed non-drum machine Steve Goulding rock-'n'-rolls away and Gary Lucas signifies untoward virtuosity with his guitar as Jon Langford hectors, derogates, prophesies, and propagandizes. Sure hope "It's Happening Again" is the best song about the return of fascism I ever hear. Inspirational Verse: "Just one thing you'd better understand/We know your secrets/I wrote them all down on the palm of my hand/They go naaahh nah-nah-nah-nah nah-nah." A MINUS

PABLO LUBADIKA: Okominiokolo (Stern's Africa) Lubadika's guitar is one of the almost interchangeable signatures of the HI-NRG Paris soukous sound. Delicate, nimble, tripping the light fantastic where Diblo Dibala and Syran M'Benza peal and billow, he is nevertheless delighted to feature each on a different three of these nine tracks. Generic Franco-Zairean at its most beguiling--the kind of record that makes you want to get serious about unlocking your pelvic girdle. A MINUS

MOBY GRAPE: Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape (Columbia/Legacy) They were quintessentially inauthentic--three bar-band honchos, a showbiz kid, a hippie head case, and a svengali with a specialty in indentured servitude. Their accomplishment was nothing less and nothing more than the invention of El Lay country-rock--in San Francisco, where they were dismissed as phonies and interlopers. The Eagles would have happened without them, Poco too, but these guys got to the hyper harmonies and amped-up licks before they constituted any kind of copout. They also played the blues, jammed supernaturally hard, and put 14 loopy, optimistic songs that saw beyond the provincial counterculture of the Haight on a debut album ineptly overhyped by a label that still doesn't know what to do with it. The canard that they never cut another decent track is no more absurd than said label's assurances that they have two-and-a-half hours of memorable music in them. Yet only on this two-CD set can you purchase Moby Grape. Conveniently, it comprises the first 14 cuts. And typically, the sublime "Fall on You" is wrecked by a minute of producer gab even more justly unreleased than the rest of the crap that fills out the package. De trop, de trop, de trop--their motto and their curse. B PLUS

THE SHAMS: Sedusia (Matador) Three quiet, simple, exquisite songs about love. If you're an alternative kinda guy, the sexually explicit "Love Me With Your Mind" will score first--your specialty, right? But if you're a truly alternative kinda guy, the ones about absence and doubt will fill your scheming organ with thoughts of paying attention, settling down. A MINUS [Later]

Dud of the Month

DR. DRE: The Chronic (Interscope) The crucial innovation of this benchmark album isn't its conscienceless naturalization of casual violence. It's Dre's escape from sampling. Other rappers, as they are called, have promised to create their own musical environments, usually without revealing how much art and how much publishing fuels their creative resolve. But Dre is the first to make the fantasy pay out big-time. The world he hears in his head isn't the up-to-date P-Funk fools say they hear--that would be too hard. Instead he lays bassline readymades under simulations of Bernie Worrell's high keyb sustain, a basically irritating sound that in context always signified fantasy, not reality--stoned self-loss or, at a best Dre never approaches, grandiose jive. This is bell-bottoms-and-Afros music, its spiritual source the blaxploitation soundtrack, and what it promises above all is boom times for third-rate flautists--sociopathic easy-listening. Even if it's "just pop music," as some rationalize, it's bad pop music. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

  • Salt-N-Pepa, Very Necessary (Next Plateau/London): they go their own way, they know whereof they speak, they sample Whitney's mama ("Shoop," "Whatta Man," "I've Got AIDS")
  • James Booker, Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah (Rounder): live fantasias and self-indulgences ("Medley: Slow Down/Bony Maronie/Knock on Wood/I Heard It Through the Grapevine/Classified," "Medley: Tico Tico/Papa Was a Rascal")
  • Dwight Yoakam, This Time (Reprise): neotraditionalism as neoclassicism, which he knows; cold son of a bitch as victim, which he doesn't ("This Time," "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere")
  • Heavenly, Le Jardin de Heavenly (K): shambolic sweethearts ("C Is the Heavenly Option," "Tool")
  • The Prodigy, Experience (Elektra): assaults get irritating sometimes, sense of humor or no sense of humor ("Jericho")
  • The Velvet Underground, Live MCMXCIII (Sire/Warner Bros.): PSA: booklet notwithstanding, deprogram 4-6 to avoid John Cale singing "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "The Gift" ("Some Kinda Love")
  • Cassandra Wilson, Blue Light 'Til Dawn (Blue Note): respects her texts at long last ("Come On in My Kitchen," "Sankoma")
  • Yo La Tengo, Painful (Matador): Hoboken's answer to My Bloody Valentine ("From a Motel 6," "I Heard You Looking") [Later: A-]
  • A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders (Jive): not just easy-listening rap--intelligent easy-listening rap, which I hope makes you feel better ("Steve Biko (Stir It Up)") [Later: A-]
Choice Cuts:
  • The Juliana Hatfield Three, "My Sister" (Become What You Are, Atlantic/Mammoth)
  • American Music Club, "Johnny Mathis' Feet" (Mercury, Reprise) [Later: B-]
  • Aimee Mann, "Mr. Harris" (Whatever, Imago)
  • Terence Trent D'Arby, "She Kissed Me" (Symphony or Damn, Columbia)
  • Morphine, "Thursday" (Cure for Pain, Rykodisc)
Duds:
  • Marty Brown, Wild Kentucky Skies (MCA)
  • Jeff Buckley, Live at Sin- (Columbia)
  • Mahotella Queens, Women of the World (Shanachie)
  • Me'Shell Ndege'Ocello, Plantation Lullabies (Maverick/Sire/Reprise) [Later: **]
  • Pearl Jam, Vs. (Epic Associated)
  • Shaver, Tramp on Your Street (Praxis International/Zoo)
  • Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope)

Village Voice, Mar. 1, 1994


Jan. 18, 1994 Apr. 5, 1994