Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

If this month's CG seems more cognizant of the charts than has been my recent practice, that's because there are a number of records of moderate quality on the charts these days. Very moderate, I grant you, but that's enough to make them worthy of note. Chart records do have one salient virtue, after all--they stick out enough so that human beings who don't happen to be music addicts are cognizant of them. Ah, communication.


COLONEL ABRAMS (MCA) With Eurodisco orgymaster Cerrone and Ameridisco worker-bee Sam Dees augmenting Anglodisco scenemaker Richard Burgess in the coproducer's slot, you-know-what revival is obviously on tap. Ah well, it could be lots worse, and it probably will be--I hope not with this artist, a likable fella whose Teddy Pendergrass impression has its social function. Though speaking of soul, I wonder why the only ladyfriend he makes me care about is eight years old tops. B

THE BELLAMY BROTHERS: Howard and David (Curb) The untoward success of Dwight Yoakam sent me scurrying to my shelves to compare and contrast. And from next big purist Pake McEntire to last big expurists the Judds, from Hollywood celeb Kenny Rogers to Nashville everyman Mel McDaniel, from who-he? T. Graham Brown to whoo-ee Waylon Jennings, these harmonizing eclectics were as good as I could find. Which ain't great and never has been, but will do. No matter its pretensions, all country music has the same primary reward: tuneful variations on the verities of the ordinary. The second side, which proceeds from a Marshall Crenshaw cover to the generic paradox of "I Would Lie for Your Love" to the rueful "Old Hippie" to filler, is exemplary. B PLUS

BLACK FLAG: Who's Got the 10-1/2? (SST) My War, Slip It In, the Live '84 tape, the instrumental sides, Henry's poetry readings--it was all too much, the excess production of bohemian businessmen ready to shove any old shit up the wazoos of their presold believers. So I hardly heard the 1985 studio LPs Loose Nut and In My Head, which prove their sharpest since Damaged, with Loose Nut especially showing off Greg Ginn's fangs as lyricist and riffmaster. The demented acceleration and guitar squiggles of this live date improve most of the hottest songs from the '85 albums. And while introducing the band members by cock size may protest their belated obsession with sex too much, I can't complain when the answer to the title question is Kira, who plays bass so stalwartly she deserves all the credit she can get. A MINUS

JACKSON BROWNE: Lives in the Balance (Asylum) These antiwar songs give him plenty in common with Holly Near--he even puts nueva canción musicians on the title track. While Browne goes in for higher octane folk-rock, I'll pass on the remixes if you don't mind. The difference is that Browne shouldn't be doing this--however goody-goody his fans or political his recent rep, he's a pop star who's stretching his audience and endangering his market share merely by making such a statement in 1986. And he's thought hard getting here--not only does his way with words render these lyrics somewhat deeper than Holly Near's, but his moralistic put-downs have that edge of righteous anger nobody's yet found the formula for. [Original grade: B plus] B

BELINDA CARLISLE: Belinda (I.R.S.) At least Jane Wiedlin's solo was a well-meaning failure. This one's pure El Lay, vacuous would-be CHR with chief songwriter Charlotte Caffey spelled by numerous ringers. The best you can say about the best of these songs--namely, "Band of Gold"--is that you've heard it before; the best you can say about the rest is that once in a while you think you have. C

GEORGE CLINTON: R&B Skeletons in the Closet (Capitol) Conceptually, featured vocalist Vanessa Williams and Pedro Bell's Neegrow cover are the only coups. Lyrically you'll have to settle for pidgin pygmy here, title credo there, some fast-food jokes, and the cautionary "Cool Joe." Groovewise it's Clonesville. In short, George's flattest in a decade. And you'd still settle for it in Boise. B PLUS

GEORGE CLINTON/PARLIAMENT-FUNKADELIC: Mothership Connection (Live from the Summit, Houston, Texas) (Capitol) Listening to their long-gone live double is like sitting midway back in the Garden because the fun is atmospheric: familiar epiphanies rise up out of the smoke, leaving the roof intact. This budget-priced one-sided video soundtrack offers a healthy serving of '70s raunch from about Row H of a hot '80s show--intense bottom, vocals loud and clear. Second side's a compilation, leading from "Atomic Dog" to two rereleases that'll make friends for Some of My Best Jokes. For fans, obviously. But if you're not some kind of fan by now, I've failed in my life's mission. [Original grade: A minus] B PLUS

THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS: Tuff Enuff (CBS Associated) The groove's tough enough, but like their fellow retroists the Bangles they don't write 'em as good as they pick 'em. This is the wages of retro--trying to replicate the musical spirit of a time that's passed means going against history and sacrificing the authenticity retroists live for. Can't blame Dave Edmunds for that. Or for the video, either. B MINUS

PHILIP GLASS: Songs From Liquid Days (FM) From Satyagraha to Mishima, much of Glass's recent work has invoked the mood if not the methods of nineteenth-century classical music, a realm of discourse where I'm reluctant to pass judgment, though I will mention that this hardly makes him unique among soundtrack composers. When it comes to vocal production, though, I have my proud prejudices. Without passing judgment on Satyagraha's Douglas Perry, who applies his tenor to one song here, I'll insist without fear of ignorance that he's a less than apt model for the Roches and Bernard Fowler (Linda Ronstadt can do what she wants). Even Suzanne Vega's lyrics read better than they sound. Which may just mean Glass is too spiritually enlightened to set meaningful texts to music. C PLUS

JANET JACKSON: Control (A&M) I scoffed at Janet's claims of autonomy--figured Jam & Lewis wrote her in as collaborator for a price she could afford. But she must have had some input--otherwise what would be not to like? Great beats here, their deepest ever. If her voice ever changes, she may even live up to them--and convince the world she's her own woman. Till then she's just playing, which does have its entertainment value. [Original grade: B minus] B

PATTI LABELLE: Winner in You (MCA) No previous crossover diva has purveyed such an out-and-out fabrication. Tina's weathered sexpot, Whitney's soulful yuppie--these are credible plays on credible personas. But though Patti is managed by her longtime husband and advised by her longtime son, she nevertheless keynotes her multiplatinum bid with a tribute to the loneliness of the soulful yuppie, written by yet another successfully married couple but inspired I'm sure by one-cut-stand Michael McDonald (cf. Tina meets Bryan, Aretha meets George, and I bet Whitney trades Jermaine in on Phil Collins or somebody next time). Then again, Patti doesn't start out with such surefire goods--her abrasive nasality has always kept her reputation cult. Which is why it's just as well for Patti that Richard Perry overwhelms the eight other producers: beats and tunes kick in till you could care less what organ she's singing through. B

ROBERT PALMER: Riptide (Island) If we're to take the old fashion plate at his word (yeah sure), his pop breakthrough (finally! after all those good reviews!) was inspired by an affair with a high roller--holdings in Singapore and IBM, great dancer, like that. Sounds daunting, I must say. And as usual, what makes him barely listenable is his holdings in r&b. C PLUS

PET SHOP BOYS: Please (EMI America) The music's blandness is part of the quite well-executed concept: articulating the ambivalent romanticism, immodest hopes, and not-so-quiet desperation behind the suburban facade of the people who create Smash Hits pop, and maybe consume it, too. I hum most of the catchily namby-pamby tunes and ponder most of the yearningly cynical lyrics, but the moments I really love are provided by sound effects--sirens and breaking glass so skillfully integrated into the synthesized textures that at first I didn't notice they were there. [Original grade: B plus] A MINUS

RAMONES: Animal Boy (Sire) Even if "Animal Boy" and "Ape Man Hop" were code for B-boy, which they're not, this wouldn't keep the promise of the remixed and retitled "My Head Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)," because these days code is too fucking subtle. And what we get instead is jungle bunnies, two (pretty good) songs about Joey's drinking, another (not so good) one about his misery, Dee Dee one-for-three, the defensive-sounding "She Belongs to Me," the defensive-sounding "Crummy Stuff," and an anthem I believe called "Something to Believe In." If only they could stop squandering their compassion on cartoons and believe in something. B PLUS

RED LORRY YELLOW LORRY: Paint Your Wagon (Red Rhino) Poised provocatively between revolutionary powerhouse and droning bore, the Lorries are yet another sign that music in Britain may yet again get as tough as life in Britain. The sound is New Order meets Test Dept., with singer Chris Reed having it both ways. Always a skeptic in re dirges, I wish they'd picked up the pace with a single like "Spinning Round." And will spin their next around posthaste in the vain hope that they've taken my advice. B

LOU REED: Mistrial (RCA Victor) Young modern Lou makes his electronic move, dispensing with live drums on six tracks and leaving the programming to newly annointed computer whiz Fernando Saunders. Old fart Lou works up a pretty fair head of current decrying "Video Violence" and bows to the '80s by situating evil "Outside." His most expedient album since The Bells and his worst since Rock and Roll Heart. B

JONATHAN RICHMAN AND THE MODERN LOVERS: It's Time for . . . (Upside) I think eternal youth is the secret of rock and roll myself. But if anybody really and truly believes that feeling "Just About Seventeen" is the way to achieve it, the arch nostalgia of this moderately gifted neoprimitive egomaniac should send them running for the Geritol. B MINUS

STAN RIDGWAY: The Big Heat (I.R.S.) Greil Marcus argues that the former Wall of Voodoo frontman is "playing with" the American voice Raymond Chandler once described: "flat, toneless and tiresome." Pretty clever, only I don't hear much play. That voice is no creation--it's Ridgway, who shares with Chandler the literary sins of cynicism and literariness. Like a city reporter with a drinking problem or a novelist turned night clerk, Ridgway is a wise guy who isn't as wise as he thinks he is, and while a fair number of these songs have the sleaze-infatuated atmosphere L.A. artists from West to Waits have gone for, only a couple--"Walkin' Home Alone," a song of lost love any asshole would be proud of, and "Pick It Up (And Put It in Your Pocket)," the dirt on Reagonomics--belong in the same paragraph as Raymond Chandler. B

RUN-D.M.C.: Raising Hell (Profile) Like the Rolling Stones twenty years ago, they're middle-class lads who are into music that's hard above all--they're street because they want to be. Granted, the analogy is less than exact. Where the Stones dramatized their streetness by becoming bohemians, Run-D.M.C. remain defiantly and even paradigmatically middle-class, a much tougher trick. Run-D.M.C. project less respect for women than the Stones, and less interest in them, too. They commit more lyrical gaffes. And their music is a lot further out. Without benefit of a "Rock Box" or "King of Rock," this is their most uncompromising and compelling album, all hard beats and declaiming voices. They're proud to be black all right, but I don't think it has much to do with George Washington Carver. They're proud to be black because it means they can do this. A MINUS

THE S.O.S. BAND: Sands of Time (Tabu) The all but anonymous creatures of the hottest rhythm team in the universe, they could almost pass as the new Chic, getting whole albums over on groove alone. But though there's frisson in the way Jam & Lewis put their slow drag through its paces, what got Chic over was Rodgers & Edwards saving their trickiest beats for their love child. B

Village Voice, July 1, 1986


June 3, 1986 Aug. 5, 1986