Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

The Consumer Guide has not been notable for formal innovation. Excluding out-of-Voice adjustments, the change we have just initiated here is the first since 1969, when the 20-record alphabetical format was set for all time in CG (2). I refer not to typefaces, which shift like soybean futures around here, but to the two illustrations immediately to the right of this intro. Last time they were designated "Must to Avoid" and "Fave Rave"; this time the Fave Rave is the Pick Hit, a locution I expect to survive. Pick Hit is actually less accurate, but I want to avoid becoming immersed in what might appear to the uninitiated as '60s nostalgia.

The purpose of these illustrations, aside from making the page look good--a purpose I as a print person of course disdain--is to single out special records from each month's mishmash. Originally, I had thought the honor might accrue automatically to the highest and lowest grades of the month, but I seem to be constitutionally incapable of doing anything so simple. What's the point of warning you off Lou Rawls or John Mayall just because I judge that the time has come to reinforce your prejudices? Whereas Ace . . . well, you may not have heard of Ace, but let me warn you, you will. A lot of muscle behind a modicum of talent equals media blitz. And although the talent of the group can't be entirely denied, it's a comfort to be able to place it in yet another negative context. Pick Hits will function analogously. To select Michael Jackson over Loudon Wainwright, or Eno over Miles Davis, is to celebrate a pleasant surprise. It won't always work exactly the same way, but you can be sure that each month the Pick Hit will be a record I feel warm and sure about--not picked to hit the world, just me, and maybe you.

The rest you presumably know. Ratings go from A plus down to E minus, with the good ones usually in the A minus/B plus range, and the bad ones descending from C plus. Employ.


ACE: Five-a-Side (ABC) The catchiest debut album in years is even more banal than that term normally implies, sung and played with a mildness infuriating in musicians of such talent but totally appropriate to lyricists of such underweening triviality. C PLUS [Later]

BONNIE BRAMLETT: It's Time (Capricorn) The first two cuts on this album are the only ones I want to hear again, and one of them was coauthored by Delaney. C PLUS

CAN: Soon Over Babaluma (United Artists) As überrock goes, this is diverting enough, ricky-ticking along through various moderately arresting sci-fi soundtrack noises, some of them melodies. But fondness for the machine does not necessitate separation from the body. Just ask Miles Davis. B MINUS

COMMANDER CODY AND HIS LOST PLANET AIRMEN (Warner Bros.) The whole point of glorified bar music is its expendability, but that's no reason to record the world's most otiose version of "Willin'" or to make up a song called "The Boogie Man Boogie" when you can't find one on the back of an old 78. Side two has the spirit--I admire "Hawaii Blues," an original, as well as the Commander's Phil Harris rip-off--but if you're going to expend on Cody records you might as well start with the Paramount stuff. B [Later: C+]

MILES DAVIS: Get Up With It (Columbia) I don't trust Miles these days. Sometimes I suspect that his newer LPs are ripped off in a day or two of noodling over a pick-up rhythm section, and although I'm never sure--I'm never even sure whether it matters--I haven't played any of those records twice, just filed them as beyond me. Well, this set I play: since it contains over two hours of what sometimes sounds like bullshit: it's not exactly music to fill the mind. Just the room. A MINUS [Later]

THE DICTATORS: Go Girl Crazy (Epic) If you love the Dolls you'll like the Dictators. Maybe. New York smart-asses who have fastened on circa-1965 California teendom at its dumbest--at times, the singing recalls (you remember) the Syndicate of Sound, only without that natural humor--they play punks rather than embodying punkdom with a predictable loss of tone. But the production is three chords of pure power and the joke is often quite funny. Anyone who can make a sobersides like me laugh at a song called "Back to Africa" can't be entirely devoid of subtlety, and I love this bit of inspirational verse: "We knocked 'em dead in Dallas/We didn't pay out dues/We knocked 'em dead in Dallas/They didn't know we were Jews." B [Later: B+]

SWAMP DOGG: Have You Heard This Story? (Island) His best since the notorious Total Destruction to Your Mind, which was about five years, five albums, and five labels ago. A writer-producer with a voice like an Afro-American air-raid siren, Swamp is as ambitious as he is eccentric, as brilliant as he is misinformed. This time there is a one-side concept. Swamp's hypochondria--what's the last soul lyric to contain the word "hyperventilation?"--and side two leads off with the singer catching his wife in bed with another woman. B PLUS [Later]

ENO: Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (Island) For all his synthesized, metronomic androidism, Eno is more humane than Bryan Ferry--its romanticism less strident, its oddness less devilish--and it's nice that in his arch, mellow way the man (or even android) is willing to hide some politics behind the overdubs. A MINUS [Later]

JOHN ENTWISTLE'S OX: Mad Dog (Track) This bit of inspirational verse is meant to apply to "ladies," but it might just as well apply to you and me: "Ooh you're trying too hard, sit down and relax/I'll tell you what you gotta do/There ain't no sense in running after them/We'll turn around and let them run after you." B MINUS

GLORIA GAYNOR: Never Can Say Goodbye (MGM) The disco-hit side (three multi-percussed six-minute cuts, two of them Motown remakes) is a solid, danceable B plus. The flip (five shorter songs, the most irritating written by the singer herself) punches in at C or maybe lower. That averages out to B minus or maybe lower. But albums with listenable sides are all too rare these days. B

HENRY GROSS: Plug Me Into Something (A&M) Living proof that in rock and roll, good tunes can addle the brain. Henry's first album made him sound like a bright fella, now he sounds like he remembers how a bright fella sounds. C PLUS

CAROLE KING: Really Rosie (Ode) I've been saying she needed a new lyricist, and here he is--Maurice Sendak, a writer of children's books favored by adults, which makes him a rock (not rock and roll) natural. By side two you begin to resent the repetitiousness of some of King's devices, but since side one comprises her most exciting music since Tapestry you're already converted and it doesn't matter. B PLUS

KRAFTWERK: Autobahn (Vertigo) The Iron Butterfly of überrock--Mike Oldfield for unmitigated simpletons, sort of, and yet in my mitigated way I don't entirely disapprove. A melody or two worth hearing twice emanates from a machine determined to rule all music with a steel hand and some mylar, and the title track is longer than "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" sans drum solo, with a lyric (trot provided) that could become the "What's Life? A magazine" of high school German classes all over America. C PLUS [Later: B-]

JOHN MAYALL: New Year, New Band, New Company (Blue Thumb) And a brand new batch of clichés. C MINUS

KEITH MOON: Two Sides of the Moon (Track) It's hard to imagine the auteur of this alternately vulgar, silly, and tender travesty/tour de force as anyone but Keith Moon; his madness translates not only to film (Stardust, Tommy) but even to the supersolo studio jobs that this parodies so deliciously. I presume they thought it was funny to mix the backup singers (Nilsson, Nelson, Flo & Eddie) up in front of the guy with his name on the cover. And it was. B

LOU RAWLS: She's Gone (Bell) Since we've stopped resisting middle-class soul, why is Lou Rawls more objectionable than Gladys Knight? Because for Rawls, middle-class soul feels like a compromise rather than an achievement. Again and again, the sureness of his rich voice betrays a subtle disdain for what he's doing, and even worse, what he's doing often deserves it. Respectful Gladys would never settle for a song as fustian as "Hourglass" or as contrived as "Now You're Coming Back Michelle." Which is why she's irresistible. C MINUS

RUFUS: Rufusized (ABC) I can understand why a sexy-check singer with the spiritual mannerisms of Stevie and Aretha (Chaka Khan, whose voice floats) fronting the first black garbage-rock band (who's ever seen a look-ma-no-hands organ solo at the Apollo?) attracts attention. But the singer has none of the power or interpretive ability of Wonder or Franklin (or Joplin) and some garbage-rock is better than other. Not yet. B MINUS [Later: B+]

RINGO STARR: Goodnight Vienna (Apple) Unlike Ringo, this doesn't strain for unpretentiousness, and the upbeat stuff actually quickens the heart. But if Ringo is out to show that John Q. Tuneless has a right to sing the pretty ones ("Only You," "Husbands and Wives") he ought to shoo Richard Perry out of the studio and record with a piano and an engineer. On John Q. Star, tunelessness sounds like arrogance. B [Later: B-]

ALLEN TOUSSAINT: Southern Nights (Warner Bros.) Like Toussaint's two previous solo LPs (one on Scepter, one on Reprise) this has one good side (the first again). Unfortunately, even the good side is uninspired by either nonsense or philosophy, and is nowhere near as typical of the genius in the man as, say, Frankie Miller's Highlife. C PLUS [Later: B-]

LESLIE WEST: The Great Fatsby (Phantom) Whaddaya mean, is Leslie West a singer? Is the Pope Jewish? Do bears hum in the shower? And why has the hairy guy in the wet vestments forgotten the tune to "Ave Maria"? C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Apparently my claim that Robert Stigwood was married to Yvonne Elliman occasioned much amusement, and I apologize to Elliman's real husband, Bill Oakes, who is president of Stigwood's RSO label, for not checking half-heard gossip. Or is that Phil Ochs? Oh well, deadline. . . .

A music-biz veteran named Irving Mills has set up a firm called Around the World in Music which is purveying a vast selection of albums that contain melodic themes and instrumentations from every major national and ethnic tradition.

Village Voice, Apr. 7, 1975


Mar. 17, 1975 May 12, 1975