Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

Big Star: Radio City (Ardent). This sounds completely unique if you don't count Beatles '65. Especially if you remember the Beatles as spare, skew, and sprung, which is hard, since they weren't. Can an album be catchy and twisted at the same time? Find out. B PLUS [Later: A]

Henry Gross (A&M). Henry manages to sound like one of those hebephrenic country-rock clowns--you know, the guys who make you want to run out and buy the complete works of Black Sabbath--without appearing to have a screw loose. In other words, he's really fun. Maybe he's credible because he woos Sweet Sassafrass on Eastern Parkway and dedicates one song to a fuck star friend of his. Or maybe he's just better. B PLUS [Later: B]

Steve Grossman: Caravan Tonight (Mercury). If I were gay, I imagine I'd love this record, because it would be about me, which I imagine would be some kind of relief. Since I'm straight, I have to complain about the forced, husky sensitivity of the man's timbre even as I hum his melodies and commend his all-around intelligence. B

Thomas Jefferson Kaye: First Grade (Dunhill). No way I'm gonna like a record that begins with "Northern California" and "Easy Kind of Feeling," right? That's what I thought. Then I noticed the two Fagen-Becker songs and the Dr. John cut that sounded like a Rick Derringer special--one is nice, on any album, also enough--and soon I was deciding that this is my favorite laid-back shit since Motel Shot. A MINUS [Later: A]

Richie Lecea: Magic (Wooden Nickel). Country schlock-rock rides again, beating itself about the head and genitals with violins. Inspirational Verse: "Got a feelin' what I think is real/I been wantin' to tell you 'bout the way I feel/'Cause every moment you're here with me/Your smilin' and laughin' makes me feel so free." D

The Marshall Tucker Band: A New Life (Capricorn). If I were from the South, I imagine I'd love this record, because it would be about me, which would be some kind of relief. Since I'm from New, York, I have to complain about the almost complacent evenness of the band's aural landscape even as I take off from an occasional rill and dig into their heimische rural mysticism. B

Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now (Warner Bros.). Van chose to shape up this live double-LP as if it meant something, so it does. Songs that wore poorly or were just lame in the first place have more force and tightness here than in their studio versions, and "Here Comes the Night" sounds fresher and more passionate than it did in 1965. Plus debts paid to Bobby Blue Bland and John Lee Hooker and Ray Charles. His best since Moondance. A MINUS [Later: A]

Mott the Hoople: The Hoople (Columbia). Last time I complained that Mott hadn't convinced me it was the great failed band of the new loser mythology. This time I'm convinced. Ian Hunter's ego, which he deserves, has crowded out the other egos, and the result is your basic rock and roll failure--not enough marginal differentiation to keep it from getting boring. I find myself humming a few of the melodies, but not with unmitigated pleasure, and I'm annoyed by the anglicisms and the sound affectations and the simulated-arena echo. I don't ever play Mott. Why should I expect to play this? B

Martin Mull: Normal (Capricorn). Not funny. D PLUS

Anne Murray: Love Song (Capitol). I wonder whether Murray, always my second-favorite clean-cut female singer, is going to do a Helen Reddy and begin to remind me of Patti Page despite myself. Well, not yet. I still enjoy her fresh-air sincerity and the sexy catch in her voice. But I wish she had better taste in material--the only standouts here are two (great) rock and rollers from a decade or more ago. B

Elvis Presley: Good Times (RCA Victor). It seems somehow fitting that EP's best collection of new material in years looks just like some Camden reissue. B MINUS

Suzi Quatro (Bell). I'm glad she exists and I like the single, but the last time I got off on someone dressed all in leather was before John Kay started repeating himself, and this woman doesn't know how to do anything else. C [Later: B]

Charlie Rich: Very Special Love Songs (Epic). I had heard about the genius of Charlie Rich for so long that I felt guilty about not liking the Behind Closed Doors album, especially since there were good singles on it, but this is so unspecial that I'm convinced in retrospect that I was right. The man sounds depressed and confused, as if he wishes Billy Sherrill's syrupy strings and sappy songs would go away but can't quite figure out why, since it was Sherrill who made him a star. Reportedly, Sherrill has put all the rock and blues sides Rich has cut into the vault. Wait for them, and meanwhile thank Billy Sherrill for one thing--all of Rich's old companies are reissuing. Highly recommended: Fully Realized, on Mercury (some astringent strings, even) and Tomorrow Night, on RCA (the definitive "Big Boss Man" is not B.S.). D PLUS

Smokey Robinson: Pure Smokey (Tamla). This includes the most audacious and appropriate song Smokey has written in years, "Virgin Man," but otherwise it is better-than-average undistinguished, and like any other mortal he would be well-advised to get it together. C PLUS

Leo Sayer: Silverbird (Warner Bros.). I'm still intrigued by this after two months, which must be the music. The tricks repeat themselves, but they're good--the sharp, punky growl that accedes so naturally to the vulnerable falsetto, the punch of the drums against the depth of the strings. But the words fail me. Sayer makes much of his mask, but the mask is so enigmatic that it registers, at best, as a blank. Why then should I wonder what's behind it? B MINUS

Spinners: Mighty Love (Atlantic). I like "I'm Coming Home" as much as I like anything on Spinners, which did duty as best black album of 1973 for almost everybody but me. The rest leaves me lukewarm, one more instance of the disastrous fragmentation now besetting every aspect of our national life. B [Later: B+]

Steely Dan: Pretzel Logic (ABC). In which the world's first post-boogie band rocks on like Brooklyn and glitters like L.A., turning in its third winner in 16 months. The music can be called jazzy without implying an insult, and Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are the real world's answer to Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia. Anybody who thinks nothing new is happening should shut up and listen hard. A MINUS [Later: A+]

Barbra Streisand: The Way We Were (Columbia). Theoretically, I am encouraged by Barbra's abandonment of Richard Perry and Contemporary Material, and in practice I love the title song, one of those beyootiful ballads that are the gift of AM programming to the reprobate rock and roller. But my big theory has always been that we like contemporary material because it is, well, contemporary, and in practice most of these performances generate a pristine, somewhat chill unreality even as they simulate warmth, maturity, all that stuff. Plus I'm not humming any of them after half a dozen plays. B MINUS

Tanya Tucker: Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone) (Columbia). If you think the inflatable dolls they sell with the Orgy-Gell in the back of cheap skin mags are sexy, then you will doubtless find this 15-year-old wonder of nature the hottest thing since that waitress who brought you the screwdrivers the time you blew $220 playing blackjack in downtown Winnemucca. A cute little ass, better-than-average pipes, and the usual "who gives a shit if the title cut is commercial" country album. Up a notch for no strings. B MINUS

Bill Withers: + 'Justments (Sussex). Side two sounds like Robert Flack, which disappoints me even though it probably doesn't surprise anyone else, Withers included. Well, I had my own hopes for this man, but then, so did all the Roberta Flack fans, everyone of whom must love "Lean on Me." (I tolerate it affectionately.) Side one, I am happy to report, begins with a nasty song to a trendy fox who wants Bill to see a shrink. Keep it up, Bill! And he does! Pretty much. For one side. B PLUS

Creem, July 1974

June 1974 August 1974

Postscript Notes:

Reordered this, moving Marshall Tucker Band up because there is no Tucker or for that matter Marshall in it, and moving Spinners ahead of Steely Dan because that was plain wrong.