Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide

Records thoroughly checked out and deemed neither good enough for Honorable Mention nor bad enough for Duds end up in a computer file called Neither. They have good stuff on them--that's why I play them again--but nothing memorable enough for Choice Cuts. And there--along with Fugazi, the Leaving Trains, the Shams, and four pretty good rappers you never heard of (Anttex, Sylk Smoov, Hard Knocks, and the big name, Laquan)--I have laid to rest Bruce Springsteen's Lucky Town. Just in case you were wondering.


ASIA CLASSICS 1: THE SOUTH INDIAN FILM MUSIC OF VIJAYA ANAND: DANCE RAJA DANCE (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.) I get my kicks on Golden Voices of the Silver Screen, but I'm too much a creature of my own culture and counterculture to enjoy the strings. Anand's synthesizers, on the other hand, are obviously world music, and this very rock-era composer, dubbed Jude Matthew by his Catholic schoolteacher father and Victory Ecstasy by himself, is a pomo dream. Does he have no shame? The usual amount, probably; the usual amount of taste, too, given his unusual amount of formal training. But in a classic pop meld of artistic innovation and audience appetite, he'll try anything. He doesn't exploit a Vegas-soul horn chart or Indian mode or bluegrass run or Eurodisco beat or the anonymous ur-soprano of a thousand previous soundtracks or any of countless other distinct usages, strings included, because it'd make a cool juxtaposition. He just thinks it'd sound good there, and most of the time he's right. Makes you wonder why John Zorn bothers. A MINUS

BLACK STALIN: Roots Rock Soca (Rounder) There's more fun, which means room for choice, in Buster Poindexter's novelty "Hot Hot Hot" than in the coercive carnivalesque of Arrow's soca original. So what first attracted me to this Trinbago Rasta wasn't his antiparty politics, as in "Wait Dorothy Wait," whose verses list the panoply of injustices that will have to go before he can write verses to match the "smutty" chorus. It was the slackness of his music--his sun-warmed arrangements and smoker's baritone. Anyone resourceful enough to own his 1982 Caribbean Man may balk at repurchasing its seven best tracks. But the lyrics, notes, and remixes are all improvements, and so are the four later songs. Even "Dorothy" is eclipsed by "Burn Dem," in which he begs Saint Peter to let him throw down Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes, and Margaret Thatcher himself. A MINUS

THE DISCO YEARS, VOL. 4: LOST IN MUSIC (Rhino) The first two volumes were so brilliant that too much of a good thing was sure to follow. Keyed to the dumber-than-ever "Rock the Boat" and "Boogie Fever," volume three is obvious when it's listenable at all; volume five at least re-exposes obscurities on the order of Secret Weapon's "Must Be the Music," Hot Chocolate's "Mindless Boogie," and Cheryl Lynn's mad, shrieking "Star Love." But this sharply conceived anthology transcends hodgepodge. By tracing Chic's influence on the music of disco's deformularized commercial decline, Ken Barnes claims more for Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards than they do for themselves on their criminally belated Atlantic best-of. He's right, damn it--not only did Chic inspire rips like René & Angela's "I Love You More" and imitations like Change, they also created the market that would dance to experiments like the Peech Boys' "Don't Make Me Wait" and C-Bank's "One More Shot." And as producers they were auteurs from Nile's impossible coda on Norma Jean's "I Like Love" to Diana Ross's single-entendre "I'm Coming Out" to Sister Sledge's uncoverable title tune--which tunnels deeper into club life than anything Elvis Costello ever wrote, and which wouldn't mean a thing without Nile and 'Nard sucking us in. A MINUS

ROSIE FLORES: After the Farm (HighTone) Formal imagination quotient: zero. She's not even pure country like the last time somebody paid her to put out a record, back in '87--just L.A. country-rock with a barely perceptible edge. But the catch in her voice has gotten so husky you want to give her a squeeze, and she writes more good songs about the usual thing than any of the young hunks who've given Nashville delusions of grandeur in the interim even bother to sing. Guess her problem is that she's kind of uppity--for a girl. A MINUS

GIANT SAND: Ramp (Amazing Black Sand) After a decade of secondhand longhairs pushing paisley and/or Manson and/or paganism and/or mulching and/or altered states as the true flowering of that storied '60s ideal, a postpunk comes up with a new improved aural simulation of hippiedom. It probably wasn't recorded on Howe Gelb's commune--sources indicate that Gelb doesn't have a commune. But what a commune it evokes--friendly, cooperative, never so spaced out it becomes dysfunctional. Guests drift in and out, and from Indiosa Patsy Jean, who sounds about five, to Pappy Dailey, who sounds about 70, there's room for anyone with a song. The first side makes something of the dissociated atmospherics that undermined the band's previous umpteen releases; the second's almost popwise. Together they're what country-rock was never really like, or wanted to be. A MINUS

KRIS KROSS: Totally Krossed Out (Ruffhouse/Columbia) One step up the evolutionary ladder from the cute boy on the steps who's rechristened Fabian or Vince Eager, these two Atlanta 13-year-olds are totally fabrikated. They contributed less to their beats, lyrics, and look than the New Kids. And not only is "Jump" one of those works of art that makes rock and roll worth living for, a trifle that sweeps all questions of import and integrity aside, but there's an album to go with it. Avoiding BBD's girl-bashing and ABC's kiddie escapism, 19-year-old producer Jermaine Dupri writes for irrepressible 13-year-olds so set on enjoying the full privileges of adolescence that only a bad cop would enforce their curfew. Dupri exploits their preadolescent tempos and timbres to the max. And he shades their ebullient music with subtly disturbing samples only lil boys from the hood could be sad and savvy enough to call their own. A MINUS [Later]

MBUTI PYGMIES OF THE ITURI RAIN FOREST (Smithsonian/Folkways) I've never had much use for ethnographic recordings, and I'm not converted. But from the moment Colin Turnbull lets the chatter and work rhythms of the encampment he's approaching engulf the jungle's ambient insect and bird music, I'm hooked. Though "Elephant Hunting Song" is almost protodoowop, that's not the point--most of these songs are as environmental for me as they are, in an entirely different way, for the parttime folk artists who weave-them-into-the-fabric-of-their-lives. Backed by more fauna, the rituals at the end have an eerie power. But I'm equally impressed that after Pakasi blows on his just-carved flute for a few minutes, he throws it away. A MINUS

NIRVANA: Hormoaning (DGC import) Four 1990 Peel-session covers plus two sides of some more or less theoretical single, none duplicated on Bleach, which it smokes (without David Grohl they're sludge monkeys), or Nevermind, which it can hang with (Kurt Cobain yowls like John Hancock crosses his k's). They're obviously a band to hear live (with a multiplatinum sound system, please). Especially since the ticket won't cost much more than this yen-pegged, domestically unscheduled EP. Aren't you glad Mitsubishi owns MCA, so you can home-tape it legally? A MINUS

ORCHESTRA BAOBAB: On Verra Ça (World Circuit) Rarely does Afropop's Cuban connection come out and kiss you on the cheek the way it does on "El Son de Llama," the trad. arr. charanga that sets the mood. Consciously polyglot, the band bends Mandinka and Wolof traditions toward Cassamance, Togo, and Guinea-Bissau as well as Cuba. But these 1978 Paris recordings are suffused with presalsa's elegant charm--the modestly gorgeous arrangements make the less derivative Dakar-'82 Pirates Choice sound too off-the-cuff. Special thanks to guitarist Barthelemy Attisso for the extra melodies and saxophonist Issa Cissako for the messages from earth. A MINUS [Later]

PAVEMENT: Slanted and Enchanted (Matador) Though no outsider wants to believe it, they're not just the latest scruffy rumor. And though no insider wants to believe it, they're more well-schooled than inspired--skilled, gifted, of enduring artistic value, condensing a decade of indie thrashing about into a two-year recording career that takes off with their debut album. Always good at both tune and noise, they sacrifice you-know-what for you-know-what now that they're thinking about quitting their day jobs, and as you'd expect, the content is formal: noise doesn't give up without a fight, often it fights hard, sometimes it fights dirty, and tune digs where it's coming from. As you wouldn't expect, the lyrics are smart enough to get smarter--more bemused than enraged, more depressive than despairing, but they'll learn. A [Later]

VIRUNGA: Feet on Fire (Stern's Africa) Samba Mapangala is no titan--just a persistent pro with studio smarts whose career path took him to East Africa instead of France. A women's wedding song retrofitted with male chauvinist lyrics provides a stolen high. There are telling touches from English session men playing sax and accordion. And the record is definitely his kind of soukous anyway. B PLUS

DELROY WILSON: The Best of Delroy Wilson (Heartbeat) These dozen ditties, quavered over about that many years atop a modest Coxsone Dodd groove that remained skalike well after ska was passe, are all I know of this much recorded, often cited, rarely described originator, whose first hit came in 1964, when he was 12; augmented slightly by two sweet dubs, they're the same dozen briefly available years ago from United Artists' Anthology of Reggae series. Rarely has pop music sounded more underdeveloped--between the scrawny horn arrangements and Wilson's uncertain pursuit of his simple tunes, it remains sweetly tentative whether he's fledgling or legend, naming his pain or pledging his eternal devotion. A MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

  • David Murray Quartet, Black and Black (Red Baron): jazz and only jazz--deeper, funkier, and further out than Ask the Ages ("Black and Black")
  • Music of Indonesia 3: Music From the Outskirts of Jakarta: Gambang Kromong (Smithsonian/Folkways): don't miss the modern stuff--a Dixieland-gamelan head trip you have to hear with lyrics you'll want to read (Gambang Kromong Slendang Betawi, "Stambul Biya")
  • Chic, Dance, Dance, Dance (Atlantic): too much disco, not enough discord ("My Feet Keep Dancing")
  • Yo La Tengo, May I Sing With Me (Alias): hey Mr. and Mrs. Tambourine Man, play that feedback for me ("Some Kinda Fatigue," "Upside-Down")
  • Chic, Chic-ism (Warner Bros.): once upon a time there was a drummer named Tony Thompson . . . ("Chic Mystique")
  • Kid Frost, East Side Story (Virgin): Ice-T as low rider ("These Stories Have To Be Told," "I Got Pulled Over")
  • Garland Jeffreys, Don't Call Me Buckwheat (RCA): Bigotry 101, from a teacher with tenure ("I Was Afraid of Malcolm," "Murder Jubilee")
  • Del tha Funkee Homosapien, I Wish My Brother George Was Here (Elektra): funkentelechy vs. hoodz and Hammer ("The Wacky World of Rapid Transit," "Mistadobalina")
  • Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch (Columbia): windbag in love ("Cross My Heart," "The Long Goodbye")
  • Music of Indonesia 2: Indonesian Popular Music: Kroncong, Dangdut, and Langgam Jawa (Smithsonian/Folkways): the schlock-rock is fun, the kitsch-pop educational (Soneta Group, "Qur'an dan Koran")
  • Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Music for the People (Interscope): one of the good guys ("So What Chu Sayin," "Wildside")
Choice Cuts:
  • Naughty by Nature, "Ghetto Bastard" (Naughty by Nature, Tommy Boy)
  • Field Trip, "Ballad of Field Trip" (Ripe, Slash)
  • Shadow, "Columbus Lied" (Columbus Lied, Shanachie)
  • Heather B., "Don't Hold Us Back" (H.E.A.L.: Civilization vs. Technology, Elektra)
  • Black Sheep, "U Mean I'm Not" (A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, Mercury)
Duds:
  • Arc Angels (DGC)
  • Arrested Development, 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of . . . (Chrysalis) [Later: Choice Cuts]
  • Wynonna Judd (Curb/MCA) [Later: Choice Cuts]
  • Little Village (Reprise)
  • Robert Wyatt, Dondestan (Gramavision)
  • Zimbabwe Legit (Hollywood Basic)

Village Voice, June 2, 1992


Apr. 21, 1992 July 28, 1992