Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Beguilement and Rage

So many unpretentious young bands with a geniune knack, so many others without a clue

BETTIE SERVEERT: Attagirl (Palomine/Minty Fresh) Down on my luck in Amsterdam, I'd want Carol van Dyk for an aunt, or a second cousin, or a friend's ex-wife, or something more. Back on my feet, I'd remember her fondly for the rest of my life. But we'd lose touch. And before too long I'd find it impossible to recall the details of the album we used to play at breakfast. B PLUS

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS: Push the Button (Astralwerks) Their genre incontrovertibly passť, they can put futurist games behind them. So, free to do their thing without looking over their shoulders, they turn in their best album since 1996 even though some schmuck from the Charlatans ruins track two. "Believe" and "The Big Jump" rock the block. The Arabian strings of "Galvanize" are augmented-not-improved by the tyrant-bashing rhetoric of "Left Right." And the three abstractions that complete the project clatter, tweetle, shudder, chime, whoosh, and phase. A MINUS

FANNYPACK: See You Next Tuesday (Tommy Boy) The attitude is tougher and the material thinner, but you have to love it for not falling flat on its heightened expectations. Two albums in, these three young things still aren't rich--not with their "dresser drawer full of broken cellphones" and their homeboy who'll "rob Mickey D's for condiments"--and that still hasn't taken them down. With electroclash a dead delusion, what sells their handlers' beats is the girls' faith in the sacred mission of growing up and having fun at the same time, which in case you've been away is no gimme these days. A MINUS

THE GO-BETWEENS: Oceans Apart (Yep Roc) Robert's songs more tuneful in their maturity, Grant's more atmospheric, they punch 'em all up to make a stronger impression than on their comeback album, thus proving that it was one. Settled down in real life, Robert recaptures his peripatetic past with a clear conscience and a sharp eye; still questing, Grant couches his romanticism in instrumental subtleties that soften his detachment. Robert so fond, Grant so elusive, both so beguiling, they're deeply civilized for the leaders of a working rock band. And for just that reason they can follow the calling until that distant day when strumming itself is too much for them. A

THE HOLD STEADY: Separation Sunday (Frenchkiss) Confession booths are for rosary twiddlers, but Bible lore is as American as Sunday school, so I take the scriptural references as tokens of Craig Finn's quality education. And since in my Sunday school, papists like my grandpa were going to burn forever because they never got "born again," I'm glad Finn's guys and gals get "born again" too. At bottom, his people are my people, and I wish them the same shot at heaven my adolescent Billy Graham experience guarantees my reprobate ass. Which is to say that this literature with power chords addresses not only the crucial matter of vanishing bohemias as cultural myth but also the crucial matter of re-emerging spiritualities as cultural fact. From "Lord to be 17 forever" to "Lord to be 33 forever" is a long road, and Finn is old enough now to know it keeps getting longer--and to spread the living gospel that 33 is too good to throw away on myths. A MINUS

KINGS OF LEON: Aha Shake Heartbreak (RCA) There's an early-Stones feel here it would be perverse to deny: 12 songs in 36 minutes, each with an indelible identiriff and its own seductive rhythmic shape. Caleb Hollowill's slippery wiles recall Jagger's without grasping Jagger's gift for the pungent phrase. That Hollowill avoids cock-rock clichés hardly means he's come to terms with the jezebels who were driving backsliding Southern boys past their intellectual limits long before Elvis paid Mr. Phillips to record his love song to Gladys. B PLUS

LIVING THINGS: Black Skies in Broad Daylight (Loog/DreamWorks) Lillian Berlin is Johnny Rotten with politics. His art would be nothing without his rage; he's so possessed by the need to get his point across that he grabs his brothers' music by the throat and makes it bellow his tune. But his rage wouldn't be much without his analysis, which however simplistic--and it is, though at this perilous moment no more so than apolitical cynicism or liberal equivocation--gives shape, purpose, and a referent outside his tortured psyche to feelings that emanate from who knows where. A more balanced person would have gotten this cleansing full-length released in the U.S. last fall, when we needed it so much, but a more balanced person wouldn't have recorded it. The Berlins have bought it back from UniMoth, and maybe some patient U.S. bizzer will put it out eventually. Meanwhile, my advance is identical to the U.K. version, while the Japanese boasts two bonus cuts that'll cost you 12 bucks apiece. Like it says inside their EP: "Just one enemy--The Exploiters." A MINUS

LYRICS BORN: Same !@#$ Different Day (Quannum Projects) Unlike most remix albums, not a fanbase-only ripoff. None of the eight remakes is inferior to the Later That Day . . . version; Evidence and KRS-One's "Pack It Up" and a funked-up "Hello" constitute clear improvements, "Do That There" piles on ridiculous rhyme, and the standout "I Changed My Mind" was a 12-inch. Nor is that all--the five new titles include a Bay Area praisesong, a motormouth "capping" dis, and just one too many showcases for LB's quasi-operatic helpmate Joyo Velarde. In short, had Later That Day . . . come second, you might well prefer this reinterpretation. A MINUS

THE PONYS: Celebration Castle (In the Red) Like so many unpretentious young bands-with-a-knack, the Ponys are assumed by their contemporaries to bring nothing new to the party even though their sound is theirs alone--an object lesson in the primacy of timbre. Their second album isn't quite as good as their first album because its hooks are slightly less inescapable, which you can blame on Steve Albini if you want. But the difference is slight, and other differences are positive: more momentum, the girls get to sing one, and the Richard Hell guy sounds as weedy as the Peter Perrett guy, hence more like himself. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979: You're a Woman, I'm a Machine (Vice) I don't get this. We listen to a Snoop or Lil Jon record--I do, anyway--and say, Yeah, the music is pretty good, but it's really no fun hearing women degraded that way, so the hell with those guys. Maybe if the funk is terrific (Cam'ron, or the new improved--and somewhat more mild-mannered--50) or the rhymes acute (Jay-Z, Ghostface), we let down our guard and try to hear how the other half feels. Otherwise no. So why is this tight, intense, recidivist screech-and-crunch exempted from such complex responses? Preferring funk to crunch as I do, maybe I'm merely insensible to the guitars' siren call. Or maybe its slaves are insensible to misogyny that stops at cut-and-run man's-gotta-do you-hurt-me-too, rather than claiming to control that 'ho. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

  • John Prine: Fair and Square (Oh Boy): "Old Faithful's just a fountain/Compared to the glory of true love" ("She Is My Everything," "Some Humans Ain't Human").
  • Pop-O-Pies: Pop-O-Anthology 1984-1993 (www.pop-o-pie.com): Sans their famed debut EP, San Francisco weirdos prove it's not so hard to make entertaining straight-ahead guitar rock--only now try and imitate it ("Truckin' - Slow Version," "In Frisco").
  • Amy Ray: Prom (Daemon): Indigo Girl's solo sober Southern identity ("Rural Faggot," "Let It Ring").
  • Moby: Hotel (V2): Prefer him to Julian Cope, not to mention Phil Oakey, and she holds up fine against Sarah Cracknell, never mind Martha Wash ("I Like It," "Where You End").
  • Brain Failure: American Dreamer (Thorp): Four-billionths of the vastest nation on earth nail pro-American Clash imitation ("That's What I Know," "New York City").
  • Will Smith: Lost and Found (Interscope/Overbrook): Raps better than Rodney Dangerfield (even when he was alive), and funnier to boot ("If You Can't Dance [Slide]," "Ms. Holy Roller").
  • Ultra Lounge: Cocktails With Cole Porter (Capitol): He's hard to ruin, which doesn't stop Steve Lawrence and Sammy Davis Jr. from trying (Ella Fitzgerald With the Duke Ellington Orchestra, "Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love)"; Sarah Vaughan, "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye"; Louis Prima and Keely Smith, "I've Got You Under My Skin").
  • John Lennon: Acoustic (Capitol): Nirvana unplugged it ain't, and a precious resource he remains ("God," "What You Got").
  • Bloc Party: Silent Alarm (Vice): Benetton boys adrift on Tony Blair's morass of neoliberal compromise ("Helicopter," "Pioneer").
  • Nouvelle Vague (Luaka Bop): At long last bossa newwavo ("Guns of Brixton," "Too Drunk to Fuck").
  • Little Charlie and the Nightcats: Nine Lives (Alligator): Cool cats confront or deny their own inevitable decreptitude ("Circling the Drain," "Quittin' Time").
  • Maroons: Ambush (Quannum Projects): Latyrx-Blackalicious alliance plots next move ("If," "Best of Me").
  • Tegan and Sara: So Jealous (Vapor): Believe your old dad--"What I figured out was I needed more time to figure you out" ain't gonna work ("Take Me Anywhere," "You Wouldn't Like Me").
  • Kaiser Chiefs: Employment (Universal): Provincial lads make a go of Tony Blair's morass of neoliberal compromise ("Saturday Night," "Born to Be a Dancer").
  • The Moaners: Dark Snack (Yep Roc): Melissa Swingle's slide attack carries lyrics that deserve better, sometimes ("Talk About It," "Hard Times").

Choice Cuts

  • John Lennon, "My Baby Left Me," "Angel Baby" (Rock 'n' Roll, Capitol)
  • Living Things, "A.D.D." (Resight Your Rights, DreamWorks, EP)
  • My So-Called Band, "Patriot Act," "Message Board" (Weapons of Mass Distortion, SW)
  • Garbage, "Bleed Like Me," "Why Don't You Come Over" (Bleed Like Me, Geffen)
  • Fatboy Slim, "The Joker" (Palooka-ville, Astralwerks)

Duds

  • British Sea Power: Open Season (Rough Trade)
  • Daft Punk: Human After All (Virgin)
  • Snoop Dogg: R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (Doggy Style/Geffen/Star Trak)
  • The Used: In Love and Death (Reprise)
  • The Walkmen: Bows and Arrows (Record Collection)

Village Voice, May 17, 2005


Apr. 19, 2005 June 27, 2005