Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

Punk rock pass? Only a music-biz trend-monger or some similar kind of fool could believe such a canard, and it is in awe of such foolishness that I have tried to make everything crystal clear below, interpreting the term narrowly to indicate high-speed basic-chord rock with the sort of unflagging and unsentimental propulsion punk junkies like me have learned to crave. Perhaps promo men and other discriminating reactionaries will now be able to tell the misguided fadhoppers from the genuine ringleaders and abandon their lingering suspicion that anyone new and English might be Johnny Rotten in disguise. For the rest of you, there are the grades; A minus or better is a shorthand way for me to let you know that the record might be worth a rock and roll fan's time and money. There are more good new records out right now than at any time since I returned to The Voice four years ago. And punk rock, of course, has nothing to do with it.


BOOTSY'S RUBBER BAND: Bootsy? Player of the Year (Warner Bros.) When I pay attention, I note that the slow stuff oozes along sexy as come-from-the-state-they're-named-after (back when they knew how to ooze) and the fast stuff gets over the hump just like rhymes-with-Podunk (long may they wave). When I think about it, I like the joke, too. So how come I'm not fucking, dancing, or laughing? B [Later: B+]

ROY C.: More Sex and More Soul (Mercury) This guy started out making soul records in his garage on Long Island just as soul was going out of fashion; he now has a following in Africa and the Caribbean. As you might have guessed from the title, this isn't up to the standard of his previous Sex and Soul (strings, thinner material), but it's quirky and basic, with witty horn charts and a pleasantly anachronistic vocal attack. Killer cut: Roy shots a friend who's in bed with Roy's wife and is inspired to the moral reflection that now he's "in a whole lot of trouble." B [Later]

SHAUN CASSIDY: Born Late (Warner Bros.) Desperate to keep up with the younger generation (i.e., their kids), a few old Beatlemaniacs are murmuring that Shaun isn't so bad--he likes the music more than David ever did, his covers show some feeling, and "Hey Deanie" actually rocks. All of which is true. And all of which is still pretty lame. C

CHRIST CHILD: Hard (Buddah) This is not punk rock. This is an ambitious, anonymous bunch of heavy metal pros who thought it might be timely to use the words "punk" and "New Wave" on the back of their debut LP, and who are now really pissed at Johnny Rotten. Inspirational Verse: "Blow it up/Tear it down." C MINUS

ELVIS COSTELLO: This Year's Model (Columbia) This is not punk rock. But anyone who thinks it's uninfluenced should compare the bite and drive of the backup here to the well-played studio pub-rock of his debut and ask themselves how come he now sounds as angry as he says he feels. I find his snarl more attractive musically and verbally than all his melodic and lyrical tricks, and while I still wish he liked girls more, at least I'm ready to believe he's had some bad luck. A MINUS [Later: A]

IAN DURY: New Boots and Panties!! (Stiff) This is not punk rock. Dury is a pub rock survivor, as tough and homely as a dandelion, as English as music halls, billingsgate, and Gene Vincent. The tenacious wit and accuracy of his lyrics betray how uncommon he believes his blockheaded protagonists really are, and his music rocks out in the traditional blues-based grooves without kissing the past's ass. Tender, furious, sexy, eccentric, surprising. A MINUS [Later]

JOE ELY: Honky Tonk Masquerade (MCA) You know all that you keep reading about Texas music? Here's a record that bears it out for more than two songs at a time. Ely's emotional openness seems neither sentimental nor contrived. He balls the jack with irrefutable glee and sings the lonesome ones so high and hard he makes the next room sound 500 miles away. With Butch Hancock sharing the writing, there are maybe two less-than-memorable songs on the entire album. There's great (Louisiana?) accordion, apt (Mexican?) horns, and lots of (Lubbock!) rock and roll. In short, there hasn't been anything like this since Gram Parsons was around to make Grievous Angel, or do I mean Gilded Palace of Sin? A [Later]

BRIAN ENO: Before and After Science (Island) To call this album disappointing is to complain that it isn't transcendent. In fact, my objections begin only when he makes transcendence his goal: I don't like the murkiness of the quiet, largely instrumental reflections that take over side two. Dirty sound is functional in loud music, but no matter how much of a "water album" this is, the airy specificity of the Another Green World mix might save music like "Through Hollow Lands" from the appearance of aimlessness. None of which diminishes side one's oblique, charming tour of the popular rhythms of the day, from Phil Collins's discoid-fusion drumming on "No One Receiving" to the dense, deadpan raveup of (find the anagram) "King's Lead Hat." And none of which means I won't find side two useful. A MINUS [Later]

LEIF GARRETT (Atlantic) This is not punk rock. And it isn't Shaun Cassidy, either. D

HOUNDS: Unleashed (Columbia) This is not punk rock. This is a hard-working, not untalented bunch of cock-rock pros who thought it might be timely to put a dragon lady sporting dog collar and chain on the cover of their debut LP, and who are now really pissed at Johnny Rotten. C PLUS

GARLAND JEFFREYS: One Eyed-Jack (A&M) If this were a "sellout" it would be mottled with slavish attempts at a catchiness inimical to the reggaefied groove Jeffreys explores so deliberately. Take it as Product Due from an artist who for some reason hasn't written any of his best songs in the past year, and hope his muse returns. C PLUS

NICK LOWE: Pure Pop for Now People (Columbia) This is not punk rock. It's an amazing pop tour-de-force demonstrating that if the music is cute enough the words can be any old non-cliché. Lowe's people cut off their right arms, castrate Castro, love the sound of breaking glass, roam with alligators int he heart of the city, and go to see the Bay City Rollers. But because the hooks cascade so deftly from sources as diverse as the Beach Boys and the Boomtown Rats, I care about every one of them. As for Lowe, this Inspirational Verse: "She was a winner/Who became a doggie's dinner/She never meant that much to me." A [Later]

EDDIE MONEY (Columbia) Sorry, girls (and guys)--live inspection reveals that the sleek stud on the cover (and in the ads) is as pudgy and sloppy as his voice. He even has jowls. Watch those cheeseburgers, Eddie boy, or you'll never get to the caviar. C MINUS

RAYDIO (Arista) In a depressing time for readymades, here at last is a group--led by a session ace, no less--that seems delighted enough with the tricks it's stolen to put them together with some flair. This trails off into filler on side two, but I like five of its eight songs more than the smash hit "Jack and Jill." Black pop music like they've almost stopped making. B PLUS [Later: A-]

PATTI SMITH GROUP: Easter (Arista) This isn't punk rock unless you want it to be--Patti may not like categories, but she knows art is what you make it. What she and her boys are making is as basic as ever in its instrumentation and rhythmic thrust, but grander, more martial. That's what she gets for starting an army and hanging out with Bruce Springsteen (not to mention lusting after Ronnie Spector), and she could have done a lot worse: The miracle is that most of these songs are rousing in the way they're meant to be. Meanwhile, for bullshit--would it be a Patti Smith album without bullshit?--there's the stuff about "niggers" and "transformation of waste," and as if to exemplify the latter there's a great song from Privilege, a movie I've always considered one of the worst ever. Guess I'll look at it again. A MINUS [Later]

THE SUICIDE COMMANDOS: Make a Record (Blank) This is punk rock. The hooks are buried even further into the mix than the vocals and the drumming, but they're there somewhere, and I must admit that every time I hear the opening chords of either side I sit up. For punk junkies only. B MINUS [Later]

THE VIBRATORS: Pure Mania (Columbia) This is punk rock. And it's been raving without letup ever since it arrived at my house as an import last September. Mixing raw vocals and relentless tempos with hooks that should strike familiar chords among over-20s, it's a way into the style for seekers after the pure musical rush. Those who listen to lyrics may regret, as I do, that they care so much about sex, since despite the distancing and pacing their s-m interests are clearly more than a flirtation with the absolute--they're narsty. Then again, so were the Velvets'. And this remains good new-fashioned rock and roll at its wildest. A MINUS [Later: A]

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: Final Exam (Arista) The renewed bite here seems more a sign that producer John Lissauer has a knack for the exquisite programmatic effect--check out the Roches' demure buffoonery on "Golfin' Blues" or the way the band calls Loudon "Mr. Guilty"--than that Wainwright is once again willing to apply his scalpel to himself. It was always brave, painful jokes like "Motel Blues" and "Kick in the Head" that gave the rest of his funny stuff its strength, and their absence from his two most recent albums may be why even his best new songs sound like one-liners rather than comic classics. Lotsa great one-liners, though. B PLUS

BOB WEIR: Heaven Help the Fool (Arista) It should surprise no one who's kept an eye on Weir over the years that he manifests himself here as an El Lay country-rock crooner with studio-duperstar backup. But I bet thousands of Dead heads are lying to themselves about it right now, while at the same time Dead haters equate him with Richie Furay and Michael Murphey. Predictably, Weir is better--funnier, more feeling, harder to predict. But how much better can an E. L. c.-r. c. be? C PLUS

WOODSTOCK MOUNTAINS: MORE MUSIC FROM MUD ACRES (Rounder) This superhoot features such upstate notables as John Herald, John Sebastian, Eric Andersen, the Traums, etc. The problem with such collaborations is that--unless the audience is autohyped, as is often the case--no group of 15 or 20 performers can touch any individual listener uniformly. It was love at first chorus between me and Herald's "Bluegrass Boy", and I suspect the song is irresistible. But is everyone else going to enjoy Artie Traum's arch "Cold Front" or John Sebastian's take on "Morning Blues"? Does Eric Andersen make everyone else's teeth hurt? Do harmonica duets put everyone else to sleep? Eventually the boredom is bound to even out. I'll play the first side again for sure, but that's me. For folk tokies only. B

Additional Consumer News

A sweep through the country best-ofs yields six rejects (Barbara Fairchild, Mickey Gilley Vol. II, Charlie McCoy, Kenny Rogers, Jean Shepard, and Tanya Tucker on MCA, an especially grisly tale) and four that made the listening shelves, including three squeakers. Mercury's Tom T. Hall Vol. III is lower in schlock than I and II (most of Hall's best songs are buried on regular-issue LPs) and features his classic tale of pacifist violence, "Turn It On, Turn It On, Turn It On"; Jimmie Rodgers--A Legendary Performer is heavy on the TB material and interrupted by documentary reminiscences (there's a good Best of in catalogue); a selection from Dolly Parton's early work for Monument, In the Beginning, isn't as fresh or as consistent as I'd have hoped, although it has its moments. And then there is Greatest Hits by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, the finest mainsream country album to come my way since, hmm, All-Time Greatest Hits--Volume 1, by the aforementioned Jones. It's the perfect blend of corn, humor, and white soul, and there's not a cut on it I don't find some way to enjoy. . . .

One hears complaints that the new Clash single, "Clash City Rockers"/"Jail Guitar Doors," breaks no new ground. Insofar as it is true, this is saying that "Come See About Me" represents no artistic advance over "Baby Love." One hears rumors that domestic Epic plans to release a version of the first Clash album but one will believe them when the record is in the stores. . . .

Fans of Tom Robinson's "Glad to Be Gay" may be interested to learn that an equally effective piece of music on the same message is available as a Motown disco disc: "I Was Born That Way," by Carl Bean.

Village Voice, Apr. 24, 1978


Mar. 27, 1978 May 29, 1978