Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

The Voice lives. Consumer Guide lives. Additional Consumer News lives. And this month that's all ye need to know.


THE CARLA BLEY BAND: European Tour 1977 (Watt) Although the basic concept--Kurt Weill Meets Ornette Coleman for Indiscreet Ellingtonian Frolic--is a little abstruse, this actually does reward the sort of close listening that earns so many theoretical payoffs. Perhaps amusement is the reward a little too often, however. I like a joke as well as the next fellow, but a few emotional expositions do help assuage one's conscience. A MINUS

BILL CHINNOCK: Badlands (Northern State) I hope the reason Chinnock made his breakthrough in Maine is that no audience of city dwellers could tolerate his pervasive urban sentimentality, but I'm not taking bets. Decent melodies, humdrum Joisey arrangements, and a thick voice to go with his head. C PLUS

LEE DORSEY: Night People (ABC) This record has been growing on me so slowly for so long that I wonder whether my old Allen Toussaint fixation is acting up. Then again, why shouldn't it? Dorsey's subtle, small-scale rock and roll genre statement defines songwriter-producer Toussaint better than Toussaint the performer ever has. Every cut on this astonishingly listenable album is a minor pleasure; I'm delighted by even its silliest ("God Must Have Blessed America") and simpiest ("Can I Be the One") moments. Major credit goes to Dorsey's soft, snaky, infinitely good-humored and long-suffering vocal work, but Toussaint's touch is sublime throughout. A MINUS

FM (MCA) An AOR wish fulfillment--Superstar top twenty. I mean, the most mechanistic radio offers an occasional ear-opener, but even though all twenty songs on this soundtrack-compilation are pretty good, including Foreigner's, they're as predictable as cuts on a disc, and (worse still) diminished by their mutual proximity. This is frequency modulation at its blandest, with specific content subjugated to "sound"; it cries out for deprogramming. Typically, Steely Dan contributes a title tune that elucidates this dilemma while reveling in it. Atypically, Linda Ronstadt's live "Tumbling Dice" is so passionate and revelatory that it leaps out of its context and stomps all over the Rolling Stones. B MINUS

GENERATION X (Chrysalis) This band's notorious commitment to pop is evident mostly in surprising harmonies and song structures--musically, they're not trying to be cute. And although as singles "Your Generation," "Ready Steady Go," and "Wild Youth" never knocked my socks off, they're the nucleus of a tough, consistent, inventive album. Who said punk rock was dead? B PLUS [Later]

ROBERT GORDON WITH LINK WRAY: Fresh Fish Special (Private Stock) Gordon has perfected his craft since cutting his first album, and the follow-up is less lively as a result, because the heroic stance he's homed in on is rockabilly balladeer, which is a lot harder to approximate than '50s rock and roller. After all, the credulous lucidity of Presley's slow songs is beyond mortal imitation, and how much secondhand early Twitty (or Husky) does anyone need? Even sadder, a certain sterility is beginning to infect Gordon's live show. His best moment at the Palladium came when he played rhythm guitar on a fast song that I don't find on either LP, but I suspect that was an aberration--the ersatz teen matinee idol has already taken him over. C [Later]

JEFFERSON STARSHIP: Earth (Grunt) This is slightly better than Spitfire (not to mention Bark) and rather worse than Red Octopus (not to mention Crown of Creation). Its only ambitious lyric seems to equate skateboarding with sex with (male) hubris; its expertness conceals not schlock nor shtick nor strain of ego. It is leading the nation in FM airplay. C [Later]

MADLEEN KANE: Rough Diamond (Warner Bros.) The perfect punk rock ashtray. Madleen looks like a Penthouse blonde with a camera-shy vulva and sings the same way--Andrea True telling little white lies. Promo copies of her LP come with a promo booklet featuring lotsa pix (dig those leg warmers) and text in six languages, including the original Japanese: "She chooses to sing. With her own voice. . . . The wildest words grow tame. . . ." D PLUS

BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS: Kaya (Island) If this is MOR, it's MOR like good Steely Dan--MOR with a difference. Marley has sung with more apparent passion, it's true, but never more subtly, and his control of the shift in conception that began with Exodus is now absolute. He hasn't abandoned his apocalyptic vision--just found a day-to-day context for it, that's all. B PLUS [Later: A-]

MINK DEVILLE: Return to Magenta (Capitol) The main thing wrong with Willie DeVille is that he hasn't had a new idea since he decided he didn't like acid in 1970. Even as the songpoet of greaser nostalgia he's got nothing to say--the most interesting writing on this record is an old David Forman tune--and the romanticism of his vocal style makes me appreciate George Thorogood. C PLUS

WILLIE NELSON: Stardust (Columbia) I can always do without "Unchained Melody," and at times I wish he'd pick up the tempo. Basically, though, I'm real happy this record exists, not just because Nelson can be a great interpretive singer--his "Moonlight in Vermont" is a revelation--but because he's provided me with ten great popular songs that I've never had much emotional access to. Standards that deserve the name--felt, deliberate, devoid of schmaltz. A MINUS [Later]

LOU REED: Street Hassle (Arista) I know it's a little late for my two cents, but despite the strength of much of the material here, I'm still not very impressed by this album. I find its production muddled, its cynicism uninteresting, its self-reference self-serving. I don't think the racism of "I Wanna Be Black" is mitigated by "irony." And I don't think it's accidental that the current singer-with-backup-soloists lineup is Reed's most conventional live musical conception in years. B [Later: B+]

THE RUTLES: The Rutles (Warner Bros.) I dream of power poppers brazen enough to apply a few rough edges to "I Must Be in Love." Could be a fave rave. Could even be fun. Unlike this limp aural satire. C

BOZ SCAGGS: Down Two Then Left (Columbia) It's taken me six months and dozens of listenings to make sure that side one is tedious and side two quite listenable. Sometimes I wonder whether it's all worth the trouble. B [Later]

CARLY SIMON: Boys in the Trees (Elektra) Carly generally makes marriage seem both more boring and more nasty than I've found it to be, but not on this album, where matrimony is abandoned for more adolescent subjects. Even the two please-don't-cheat-oh-hubby songs--the better (and nastier) of them written by Carly's hubby--can be interpreted by her younger fans as please-don't-cheat-oh-boyfriend. In a way, this is too bad--if Carly were to come up with an interesting song about marriage, someone less conventional musically than Carly & Arif might cover it and give Carola and me something new to sing along to. John and Yoko, where are you now that we need you? C PLUS [Later]

STATUS QUO: Rockin' All Over the World (Capitol) In which Europe's premier boogie band remembers its commercial beginnings in pop psychedelica. You've heard the riffs these twelve simple rockers are based on before, and you're almost certain to enjoy hearing them again--both the filtered ensemble vocals and the limited solo space distance and depersonalize each cut into an artifact of ass-shake. Good old rock and roll in yet another award-winning costume. B PLUS

STIFFS LIVE (Stiff) Elvis the C provides a brand new existentialist pronunciamento, "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," but the real threat there is Nick Lowe's "Let's Eat," which garnishes a hot-and-greasy Mitch Ryder organ pump with lyrics like "I wanna move move move move move my teeth" and "Let's buy two and get one for free." Filling out the good side are "I Knew the Bride" (Lowe's answer to "You Never Can Tell"), Larry Wallis's "Police Car" (grand theft automatic), and two cuts by Wreckless Eric that seem unlikely to be eclipsed by their studio versions. Unfortunately, Costello's live "Miracle Man" and the three Ian Dury performances were eclipsed before they came out. Marginal. B PLUS [Later]

TELEVISION: Adventure (Elektra) Those scandalized by Marquee Moon's wimpoid tendencies are gonna try to read this one out of the movement. I agree that it's not as urgent, or as satisfying, but that's only to say that Marquee Moon was a great album while Adventure is a very good one. The difference is more a function of material than of the new album's relatively clean, calm, reflective mood. The lyrics on Marquee Moon were shot through with visionary surprises that never let up. These are comparatively songlike, their apercus concentrated in hook lines that are surrounded by more quotidian stuff. The first side is funnier, faster, more accessible, but the second side gets there--the guitar on "The Fire" is Verlaine's most gorgeous ever. A MINUS

ALLEN TOUSSAINT: Motion (Warner Bros.) I've always found pleasure in Toussaint's hackwork and clucked sympathetically over his ambitious failures, but complaints about Jerry Wexler's conventional soul production here miss the point--it's Toussaint himself who aspires to conventionality. Abandoning the infectious, melody-shy chanting of his best LPs, he now sings with all the passion of James Taylor, which is probably as close to Glen Campbell as he can get. Auditioning for "Southern Nights II" there are various mild concoctions--I forget which is which, but the title tune could well be with Barry Manilow at this moment--that are not offset by several mixed successes and one reminder of eccentricities past. "Optimum Blues" indeed--that Grammy nomination has given him delusions of mediocrity. C PLUS [Later]

WINGS: London Town (Capitol) You have to admit that Paul has steadfastly resisted the International Pop Music Community. No Richard Perry supersessions for him--he's been loyal to his group, which has now recorded longer than the Beatles, and for me their light, unmistakable, rather capricious lyricism has finally jelled. That is, these songs aren't merely quirky; their silliness isn't aimless. Not that they're free of inanity or icky-poo. But even on the one about the fairy who'll invite us to tea, Linda adds a few harmonies that are as charming as they're meant to be, and more than half the cuts are not only attractive musically but functional verbally, ranging from "Penny Lane"-style slice-of-life to an affectionate goof on "Famous Groupies" and a reassuring "Girlfriend." B PLUS [Later: B]

Additional Consumer News

Warner Bros.' failure to use master takes on seven of the 27 cuts on The Very Best of Bird is, as Gary Giddins has written in these pages, perfidious and inexplicable. But the two-record set earns its title anyway--not for many years have Charlie Parker's greatest sessions been available as consecutive melodic themes, as opposed to encyclopedic sequences of takes and retakes. This two-LP set is better even than Arista's Savoy Bird. . . .

The most compelling punk singles I've heard recently are by Plastic Bertrand, who sing in French, and La Peste, who don't. "Ça Plan Pour Moi," on Sire, is lightened by Beach Boys chorale and looks like it might be a novelty hit; "Better Off Dead," on Black, is propelled on raw power and should be available at weirder retailers. The new Virgin 45s by Magazine ("Touch and Go") and Penetrations ("Firing Squad"/"Never") will make excellent album tracks, I hope, but lack that great-single kick. Kicking away are the Only Ones, whose second (I think) 45, "Another Girls, Another Planet," a CBS import, mines an art-punk/power-pop vein more effectively than their good album track debut. Also bringing off the artiness, at least on the A side, are Stiff's, and Akron's Jane Aire & the Belvederes ("Yankee Wheels"). But the two most captivating singles to have come my recent way are Joyella Blade's "Cairo" (Virgin Front Line import), a delightful rip on the reggae success of Althia & Donna, and Eruption's version of Ann Peeble's "I Can't Stand the Rain" (Ariola America). Punks/new wavers can, of course, skip the latter--don't want to contaminate yourself with disco just because it's got some life to it, now do you? Not when there are all those modishly attenuated singles by the Cramps and Teenage Jesus to scarf up. . . .

American Hot Wax flopped so fast I missed it. I caught I Wanna Hold Your Hand only because films rarely close before they preview. There are no ads for FM in the same issue fo the Times that gives the soundtrack a kind review. And it's almost impossible to see The Original Punk Rock Movie From England even when it's on the screen in front of you, because it was shot in Super-8, giving it the look--and much worse, the sound--of the first work of cinematic art (zoom close-up) of tit) ever created on a Xerox machine. You think maybe rock and roll movies will prove a lad? I kind of hope not. FM was so dull and silly that even Eagles' manager Irving Azoff, the film's music coordinator, took his name off it, but rock and roll people like American Hot Wax, and I loved I Wanna Hold Your Hand--aesthetically, it reminded me of a good Tommy James single, relying on simple, surefire gag effects to exploit the mood of a less pretentious time. The Last Waltz takes on a more pretentious time with predictable results-alas, the '60s! Ugh.

Village Voice, May 29, 1978


Apr. 24, 1978 June 26, 1978