Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (52)

As always, the January Consumer Guide cleans up pre-Christmas business. All those year-end lists reminded me of a few putatively hi-quality elpees I'd done my best to ignore, and this is where I attempt to confront them. If some of those listed seem dated, blame it on my distaste for critical riddles. Little Feat and Eno and Blue Magic and Jesse Winchester received my all-too-painstaking attention, and one of them scored, which is what makes it all worthwhile. In the end, however, I did shy away from Jackson Browne. I think he's a wimp and what else is there to say about him? Just another pretty face? Thomas Chatterton, you'd died too soon? You like him or you don't, and no amount of nastiness from me is going to change it.

Small pickings this month--the Christmas release was even more compromised than usual. The usual guidelines apply. Grades of B plus or above indicate ascending enthusiasm. B minus and down, descending dismay.


DAVID BARRETTO (Mercury) If you don't believe a Fats Domino medley is likely to go with something called "Time to Sow the Seed," featuring not one but two harps, you're like me, and like me you're wrong. This is schlock with a difference, and the difference is faith. Believe me, Shadow Morton can make a believer out of anybody. B

BLUE MAGIC: The Magic of the Blue (Atco) In my gut, I've never been able to go all the way with groups that specialize in no-backbeat falsetto ballads. The few I've liked--only the Chi-Lites and the Stylistics for more than one song at a time--barely redeemed their simpiness by sounding sincere, or do I mean dumb, and these hotshots just don't. They're too fucking professional. At their best, they sound like the Spinners, which isn't so great unless the song is. More often, they sound like the Stylistics will sound after Russell Thomkins gets his B.A. C PLUS [Later]

BOB DYLAN: Blood on the Tracks (Columbia) The first version of this album struck me as a sellout to the memory of Dylan's pre-electric period; this recut, utilizing unknown Minneapolis studio musicians who impose nothing beyond a certain anonymous brightness on the proceedings, recapitulates the strengths of that period. Dylan's new stance is as disconcerting as all the previous ones, but the quickest and deepest surprise is in the music itself. By second hearing its loveliness is almost literally haunting, an aural déjà vu. There are moments of anger that seem callow, and the prevailing theme of interrupted love recalls adolescent woes, but on the whole this is the man's most mature and assured record. A [Later]

ENO: Here Come the Warm Jets (Island) The idea of this record--top of the pops from quasi-dadaist British synth wizard who makes out with the Soft Machine--is a lot worse than the actuality, which engages the ear and the mind in a vaguely Velvet Underground sort of way. Minimally differentiated variations on the same melody recur and recur, but it's a nice melody, and chances are he meant it that way. Some good words, too. B PLUS [Later: A]

BRYAN FERRY: Another Time, Another Place (Atlantic) In which he who plays at corruption is afflicted with disease--lead poisoning, I think; affecting not only his brain but also his lungs and his pants. C PLUS [Later: B+]

ARETHA FRANKLIN: With Everything I Feel in Me (Atlantic) All Aretha Franklin records are not alike. In fact, her capacity not just for endurance but for adaptations is unequalled among vocalists of her generation, and in many ways this LP is more of a breakthrough than its predecessor, Let Me in Your Life. Even the ethereal direction of the change--less bottom, more (and more aimless) la-la scatting--has for its precedent the Young, Gifted and Black album's brave exploitation of the spirituality of black pop. Nevertheless, I prefer Let Me in Your Life. Aretha has become such a solid property--certain to hold onto an audience for years to come, but unlikely to expand any further--that it's no longer possible to resist thinking of her as a cross between Frank Sinatra and Nancy Wilson, turning out collections as custom-designed as next year's Oldsmobile. B PLUS [Later]

THE GUESS WHO: Flavours (RCA Victor) The Burton Cummings part of this group always wanted it to be the Doors, Santana, and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap all rolled into one. This rather monstrous goal has finally been realized. Personally, I always preferred the part that wanted to be Bachman-Turner Overdrive. C

GEORGE HARRISON: Dark Horse (Apple) Such transubstantiations. In which "Bye Bye Love" becomes "Maya Love," in which "window-pane" becomes "window brain." Can this mean that pain (pane, get it?) is the same as brain? For all this hoarse dork knows . . . C [Later: C-]

HONK (Epic) Funky California eclecticism in the grateful tradition of Stoneground, with the difference in names indicating a gain in irony and the forced jollity of "Gimme That Wine" exemplifying the limitations of the style. Good songwriter: Richard Stekol. Good song: "Mademoiselle." B [Later: B-]

LITTLE FEAT: Feats Don't Fail Me Now (Warner Bros.) Despite the reputation they've earned as the thinking man's bar band--classic line: "I'm gonna boogie my scruples away"--these hip Angelenos have been turning me off for three albums now, and I've figured out why: beneath that dixie-fried exterior they're closet Europeans. Their overtones may be bent and bluesy, their rhythms may have a funky catch to them, but some of those runs sound like they were copped from Rick Wakeman, and I don't even want to know where he copped them. B MINUS [Later: B]

OHIO PLAYERS: Fire (Mercury) The makers of Shoogity-Boogity bring you: More Shoogity-Boogity. B

THE PERSUASIONS: I Just Want to Sing With My Friends (A&M) Because recorded a cappella lacks the dimensions of live, the albums of this national resource have never reached me or probably you. Does that mean we forced their collusion with producer-songwriter Jeff Barry, whose benign commercialism sounds positively metastatic when counterposed against the arty purity of the acapella cuts still permitted them? In a way, it does. For penance: seek out We Came to Play, a Capitol cut-out, and go see them next time. B MINUS [Later]

FLORA PURIM: Stories to Tell (Milestone) If there were no lyrics on this revolving misnomer, I might kowtow before the kozmic ineff of its big-name jazz accomp, but I know that any musician (singer) who tells me "time is lie" ain't telling nuthin but lies. C

SONNY ROLLINS: The Cutting Edge (Milestone) Rollins is one of those certified geniuses who didn't pan out for me when I had the time to investigate jazz, and although I hoped for belated paydirt from his first live album in years, more careful examination reveals that the straight melodies do get dull and the improvisations aren't rich enough to invite deep digging, just like all the jazz metallugists warned me. B

LINDA RONSTADT: Heart Like a Wheel (Capitol) For the first time, everybody's sexpot shows confidence in her own intelligence. As a result, she relates to these songs instead of just singing them. It's even possible to imagine her as a lady trucker going down on Dallas Alice--and to fault her for ignoring the metaphorical excesses of Anna McGarrigle's title lyric just so she can wrap her lungs around that sweet, decorous melody. A MINUS

THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND: The Impossible Dream (Vertigo) Harvey: "Garry Glitter, meet Arthur Brown. Gary and Arthur. Uriah Heep. Gary, Arthur, and Uriah, this is Samuel Beckett." Beckett: All went well at first, they all came to me, pleased that someone should want to play with them. If I said, Now I need a hunchback, immediately one came running, proud as punch of his fine hunch that was going to perform. It did not occur to him that I might have to ask him to undress." C MINUS

BOOKER T: Evergreen (Epic) This laid-back, folk-funk has body; it's physically attractive. And the candor of its rock-aristocrat complacency--in addition to the song that puts down streetlights there's one about Mr. T's in-laws, Kris and Rita--is refreshing, in a way. But it also pisses me off. B [Later: C+]

JESSE WINCHESTER: Learn to Love It (Bearsville) Jesse sounds well. His singing has taken on character and humor and the new songs are pretty good. Yet there's something depressing about his resigned good cheer. Can domesticity be this disappointing--even domesticity confined within a draft resister's Canada? Only if you believe to your Mississippi soul that you were born a rambling man. B MINUS

JOHNNY WINTER: John Dawson Winter III (Blue Sky) Those who considered Saints and Sinners a masterpiece of hard rock-and-roll should find this satisfactory. I consider it well-made schlock, very short on songwriting. Somebody should try to figure out why Helen Reddy's version of "Raised on Rock" scores two out of a possible three on a credibility scale of 10 while Johnny's gets one. (Hint: Showbiz kids relate to rock-schlock more authentically than albino bluesmen.) C PLUS [Later]

RON WOOD: I've Got My Own Album to Do (Warner Bros.) For a few minutes I thought Ron's version of "Far East Man" was co-composer George Harrison's. What can this mean? It means the next Rolling Stone ain't no Keith Richards in the vocal department. It also means that in the future he would be well-advised to stay away from Krishna. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Press Release I Never Followed Up: "First racial discrimination suit against a major record company will be brought by an all-white soul group, 'Ronnie Lamar & Co.' for prejudicial bias of their black 'Philadelphia Sound.'"

The best drug rumor in years concerns Barry Manilow's "Mandy," a nadir among number-one records in a time of creeping nadirism. According to the rumor, a "mandy" is a highly regarded British down. Wouldn't it be perfect? All that welling kandy korn, all that phony emotion, all of it directed at 14 hours a day of unconsciousness.

As a civil libertarian, I was of course delighted at a triumph of free speech recently overheard on WNBC. The tune sounded like something you might have learned at camp, and for that matter, so did the lyric. Title: "Shaving Cream." Gimmick: the rhyming word in the middle of each stanza is "fit," "quit," etc. But instead of rhyming, the end of each stanza segues with a sibilant sh-h-h-h into the chorus, which begins, "Shaving cream, shaving cream . . ."

Village Voice, Jan. 27, 1975


Dec. 23, 1974 Mar. 17, 1975