Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

ELVIN BISHOP: Hog Heaven (Capricorn) Bishop is a road musician. He doesn't knock himself out making Great Albums, but he doesn't get all twisted up racing after Breakthrough Hits, either. He doesn't even Promote Product much--on tour, he mentioned this LP only when he did a song from it, which happened once. Too bad, actually--with Amos Garrett on second lead guitar and Maria Muldaur on second lead vocal, these songs are solid boogie indeed, and I would have liked to hear him tell the story about how he outgrew his brassiere. B PLUS [Later]

THE CARLA BLEY BAND: Musique Mecanique (Watt) I'm attracted to Bley's humor, best displayed here in the title piece, a wry take on the charms and imperfections of the mechanical mode. But this is basically desultory, hinting at the feckless formalism an obsession with textures so often conceals. Beyond the jokes, and the deliberately aborted moments of lyricism, she really doesn't have much to say. Weill sure did. And so did Satie. B [Later]

THE DICKIES: The Incredible Shrinking Dickies (A&M) You've heard of punk? Well, this is twit. C

JOE ELY: Down on the Drag (MCA) Ely's songwriting pal Butch Hancock, who's beginning to sound like a great one, contributes four more; if "Fools Fall in Love" sounds like a lame title, how do you like "Wise men hit the bottom, Lord/A fool falls right on through"? But Ely himself seems to have run short of tunes, and except for "Crazy Lemon" (which gets across on the crazy force of its lyric and vocal, not on its melody), none of his songs call you back. The weakest of three strong albums. B PLUS [Later]

THE FABULOUS POODLES: Mirror Stars (Epic) You've heard of punk? Well, this is twerp. C

GLORIA GAYNOR: Love Tracks (Polydor) Not only does this lead off with "I Will Survive" (which I--unlike most--find too long in the eight-minute version now included on the repressed album), and "Stoplight," a piece of inspired girl-group foolishness, it winds down into commendable filler-plus. Faves: "You Can Exit" ("If you don't like the size/If you don't like the fit" of what?) and "Anybody Wanna Party" (which for once might induce me to). A better Freddie Perren album than Best of the Sylvers. B PLUS [Later]

GICHY DAN'S BEACHWOOD NO. 9 (RCA Victor) Produced, written, and directed (but not sung) by August Darnell of Dr. Buzzard, this begins with the seduction sequence from a fantastical '40s shipboard movie, establishing a tropical mood that pervades the record--sometimes lyrically, always musically--through its finale, "Winter on Riverside Drive." Like Dr. Buzzard, Gichy Dan mixes nostalgic fun and urban realism into something exotic. And though the melodies aren't always there, the life and imagination that were wrung out of Dr. Buzzard's second album have returned. B PLUS

HOT CHOCOLATE: Every 1's a Winner (Infinity) Errol Brown used to pose interesting questions, mostly about race, and though his conclusions were often quizzical or incoherent, they tended to be more provocative (if no more militant) than "Love Is the Answer One More Time." There are four good songs here and no utter losers, but one of the good ones is already on 10 Greatest Hits, and only "Confetti Day," another installment in this strange group's family series, is up to the title chartbuster. Maybe that's because the question that really interests Brown these days is how to integrate synthesized percussion into English soul-pop. B

BILLY JOEL: 52nd Street (Columbia) Musically [ . . . ] Sayer--he's got that same omniverous hummability. But when he is (was) good, Elton balances(d) off the smarm with camp, while Billy makes as if he really wants people to believe the words. Yuck. B MINUS [Later]

JULES AND THE POLAR BEARS: Got No Breeding (Columbia) Jules Shear is an engaging singer who is no stupe and has a way with a hook. At least half of these songs provide mild pleasure. But Jules Shear is also a limited singer who has nothing special to say and no special way to say it. Los Angeles's version of Steve Forbert? B

KRIS & RITA: Natural Act (A&M) Before the days of Oscar nominations and Jackie Wilson atrocities, when these married hippies were striving to gain acceptance as a mainstream country duo, they actually went out of their way to be boring--the material on Full Moon was so damn acceptable you almost didn't notice it was there. So I guess Breakaway was "transitional," because this time the outlaw superstar duo work with much sharper songs, including three from T-Bone Burnett and two (good ones) from Billy Swan. Unfortunately, K&R don't go out of their way to be interesting, and when you're as somnambulant as this pair, sharp songs aren't enough. B

MCGUINN, CLARK & HILLMAN (Capitol) Despite the occasional Byrdsy guitar run, this is pure supersession, a purposeful AOR move by pros out for a killing, anonymously accomplished in the music and contentless in the lyrics. Granted, McGuinn's vocals are outstanding--look at the company he's keeping--and his "Don't You Write Her Off" is a genuine grabber. But it's also the simplest thing on the record. Moral: at least you can make having nothing to say sound like fun. C [Later]

GEOFF MULDAUR AND AMOS GARRETT (Flying Fish) Because Garrett's amiable baritone and astringent guitar tend toward blues, this is more coherent Muldaur than either of his Warner solos. And I assume a limited budget curbed some of his sillier experimental fancies, which couldn't have hurt. But his fondness for genteel schlock--tunes by Chopin and Tchaikovsky, a rancid chestnut called "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere"--still distracts. B [Later]

BONNIE POINTER (Motown) Thanks to (coproducer) Berry Gordy and the miracle of modern multitracking, Bonnie makes like the Marvelettes of your dreams for an entire side. People didn't conceive vocals this intricate and funky back in Motown's prime, much less overdub them single-larynxed, and the result is remakes that outdo the originals--by Brenda Holloway and the Elgins--and originals that stand alongside. The other side comprises originals of more diminutive stature cowritten by (coproducer) Jeffrey Bowen. B PLUS

THE POINTER SISTERS: Energy (Planet) This comes as a nice surprise to someone who's al[ . . . ] busy and irrelevant as the David Rubinson productions they complemented. With Richard Perry at the helm and the hyperactivity of sister Bonnie channeled into a socially useful project, they reappear here as Linda Ronstadt, in triplicate and with with a beat. In other words, these are excellent songs rockingly performed. But there's something overly temperate about the music, and most of the songs have been interpreted more smartly by artists who care as much about words as they do about notes. B [Later: B-]

THE POLICE: Outlandos d'Amour (A&M) Tuneful, straight-ahead rock and roll is my favorite form of mindlessness, and almost all of these songs--riffs-with-lyrics, really--make the cretin in me hop. But only "Can't Stand Losing You" makes him jump up and down. And the "satiric" soliloquy to an inflatable bedmate makes him push reject. B PLUS

RICHARD PRYOR: Wanted (Warner Bros.) Believe it or not, Pryor has mellowed--he does stuff about kids and pets that's like Bill Cosby with trenchmouth, and he finally seems to have gotten the message about women's liberation. Though the fourth side drags and nothing on the first three is as visionary as the title cut on Bicentennial Nigger, there are a lot fewer nightclub quips and sight gags, and Pryor's warmth has heat. Next best thing to the movie. A MINUS

MITCH RYDER: What I Did on My Vacation (Seeds & Stems) What he remembers best, apparently, is sex with men, and the songs that result put across all the sin, fear, passion, love-and-hate, pleasure, and release that buggery seems to have involved for him. The lyrics sometimes lack coherence, and the music is a more sensitive version of the now outdated r&b-based guitar flash he favored with Detroit back in 1970. But the overall effect is revelatory. B

RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON: First Light (Chrysalis) Richard T. has always redeemed corny themes with a humor dry enough to be mistaken for nasty, as when he includes "I'll punch you in the nose" in a list of odd jobs he'll do. But nowhere else on "Restless Highway," "Sweet Surrender," and "The Choice Wife Died for Love"--the bulk of side one--do the lyrics deviate from the expectable. Just as distressing, the guitar veers away from Thompson's unique, timeless modalism toward the studio country-rock favored by new sidemen Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark. I love "Strange Affair," one of his greatest death songs yet, and still find the austere harmonies bracing. But I want the Thompsons' pervasive Anglicism straight when I want it at all. B

GEORGE THOROGOOD AND THE DESTROYERS: Move It on Over (Rounder) It's impossible not to be charmed by Thorogood's enthusiasm, and instrumentally this band is as likable as, say, Hound Dog Taylor's HouseRockers. But only closet folkies could [vest hope in a noncomposer whose taste in] material is markedly less interesting than the Blues Brothers' and whose only virtue as a vocalist is his complete lack of embarrassment. Harmless, but inconsequential--except as an augury. B [Later]

Additional Consumer News

I've put off writing about Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned, dubbed from homemade tapes recorded by THE PLASTIC PEOPLE OF THE UNIVERSE in Prague in 1973 and 1974, because I was reluctant to criticize heroes who have spent years in jail for playing unofficial rock and roll. I shouldn't have worried. Even when I don't follow the crib of the acerbic yet indomitably buoyant Czech lyrics, the group's spare, gawky, insistent electric music makes the Residents or Carla Bley sound irretrievably thin and arch by comparison. I suppose it should be categorized as "art-rock," but--like Pere Ubu, although in a different way--it conveys the conviction and the forward motion of real rock and roll; it sounds necessary without surrendering a sense of play. The $9 it will cost you from Bayer International buys only one disc (at no markup over its wholesale price), but The Merry Ghetto, a hefty booklet that is part of the package, is worth owning all by itself. . . .

My favorite single of the month is the Brains' "Money Changes Everything" (Gray Matter), a tough, bitter lyric attached to an absolutely inescapable Doors-cum-Mysterians organ hook. The group regards the disc as advance news of their trek up the East Coast (they'll hit NYC in late April) and will mail you one for a buck. Good deal. . . .

I've been enjoying the new double-LP by the Sex Pistols, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (Virgin import), but it's only fair to add that I expect to get my $13.50 back. The album is Malcolm McLaren's joke--the title means what it says--but it's a great joke, including schlock-symphonic and elevator-disco interpretations of your favorite S.P. classics; Sid's "My Way" and two versions of the infamous "Belsen Was a Gas"; Johnny forgetting the words to "Johnny B. Goode" and "Road Runner"; various lesser S.P.s mucking about; and a riveting alternate take of "Anarchy in the U.K." that eradicates all dark thoughts about swindles while it plays, just as it's supposed to. Certainly a more savvy and enjoyable piece of work than Public Image, now scheduled tentatively for June U.S. release, pending a remix and the addition of two new songs. . . .

But never mind the Sex Pistols--punk lives. The proof is "Suspect Device," by Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers (Rigid Data import), a letter bomb of a single that's up there with "New Rose" and "God Save the Queen." The album, Inflammable Material (Rough Trade import), occasionally wears thin in the vocals and programmatic in the politics, but is clever and intense enough to stand toward the bottom of the first rank of English punk albums. I wanna hear "White Noise" at Hurrah or the Mudd Club. . . .

Other impressive singles: the Clash's penetrating remake of the Maytals' "Pressure Drop" (CBS import); Joe Jackson's "You Got the Fever" (A&M import), a sharp, jaunty B side about being horny and helpless that I like better than anything on Jackson's album; the Mod Frames' "Still Smiling Today" b/w "Little Miss Lonelyheart" (Hit), one of those rare mid-'60s trad jobs that actually achieves the elusive Catchy, and on both sides; the Records' "Starry Eyes" (Virgin import), which connects a Byrds-guitar hook to a lyric that seems to be about ditching a manager; and Ray Stevens's "I Need Your Help Barry Manilow" (Warner Bros.), a full-scale parody of guess who. . . .

Late flash: American Chrysalis [ . . . ]

Village Voice, Apr. 2, 1979

Postscript Notes:

The photocopy is clipped on the bottom. The George Thorogood review is probably unchanged, but Billy Joel and the Pointer Sisters have been edited near the break.


Feb. 26, 1979 Apr. 30, 1979