Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide:
Turkey Shoot

I guess there are still chronic flunkers and anarchists out there who object to the very idea of letter grades, but as I see it the CG's main credibility problem isn't that I'm too judgmental, but that I'm too lenient. Every month for years more than half the records reviewed here have received at least a B, which indicates something like "listenable for aficionados." This happens because I actively enjoy many different kinds of music, most of which deserve as much ink as they can get. I'm always finding some honorably comment-worthy piece of reggae or funk or country or blues or indie rock or just plain weirdness, with the result that I end up never acknowledging many of the more disgusting records I labor through. Lately, however, I've been feeling sore-headed enough to want to redress this injustice. Hence, the Consumer Guide Turkey Shoot: 20 albums B minus or below by obvious annoyances, incipient has-beens, obnoxious pros, overrated tyros, and cult artists completely unknown to the lucky many. Not every bad record on my shelves proved irritating enough to earn inclusion, and if a few selections seem less than current even by traditionally ruminative CG standards, well, they're the ones that stuck so deep in my craw that I was driven to this stratagem. Caveat emptor--in spades.


THE ALARM: Declaration (I.R.S.) Oh, I know who they sound like--that Mick-cum-Joe front man, those football choruses, the militant strum of it all. Brings a tear to the eye, yes it does. But the whatchacallum, the Clash, wrote whatchacallum--songs! And does anybody actually know what these boys are declaring for? C PLUS

IRENE CARA: What a Feelin' (Geffen) I know voice lessons are a must if you want to get to the Oscars, and believe me, I prefer this woman to most of her white exemplars. But I wish she'd gotten her training in church rather than at Performing Arts. And would suggest that a creative writing teacher couldn't possibly hurt. C PLUS

JIMMY CLIFF: The Power and the Glory (Columbia) He never gives up, and he never learns from his mistakes, exemplified by the stupefying professionalism with which his authentic JA band negotiates the U.S. pop-funk beats and changes on side one. Nor does he ever take full advantage of his gifts, exemplified by the gracefully sung and not unintelligently conceived international pop-reggae protest on side two. C PLUS

THE DOORS: Alive, She Cried (Elektra) The concert and sound-check tapes they've unearthed for the revival are of some quality, with Robbie Krieger, a white blues twister on "Little Red Rooster" and Jim Morrison an effective focus as long as he just sings. But when he emits his poetry or deigns to lay his narcissistic come-on on an imaginary teenybopper, it is to duck. If kids today feel cheated by history because they never experienced the fabled Jimbo charisma first hand, that's one more reason to be glad there are no new rock heroes. B MINUS

THE ELVIS BROTHERS: Movin' Up (Portrait) If you're really committed to the "fun" only unpretentious pop can provide, you might as well go directly to these proud posers, who generate hooks in an abundance that will shame whatever "authentic" locals you retain a sentimental yen for. Connoisseurs of pop plasticity will get an additional kick out of how affectlessly they shift from the usual ersatz teen romance to equally meaningless and equally commercial outlaw and rebel themes. Plus an uncanny Beatle impression on "It's So Hard." B MINUS

HAGAR, SCHON, AARONSON, SHRIEVE: Through the Fire (Geffen) I know, no point complaining about these grizzled dildos--it's only corporate metal. But shouldn't their merger at least produce a decent name for a law firm? D PLUS

HANOI ROCKS: Back to Mystery City (PVC) This Finnish fivesome is led by glam guys named Monroe and McCoy who yowl English-language lyrics that must impress Finns more than native speakers like myself. The quintet's patina of two-guitar anarchy is cute if over-calculated, but they seem to have spent more time contemplating their Dolls photos that their Dolls records. Maybe in Helsinki a look is supposed to beat a hook. That's certainly the trend in London. C PLUS

ICICLE WORKS (Arista) Of course they know how to play--art-rockers usually do. And in correct contemporary art-rock fashion they've modeled their Byrds and Bootsy studies into a densely rhythmic synthesis that might even signify something interesting were it attached to different vocals and lyrics. But all it means at the moment is that Young Love is Important and Poetic in this Doomed World. I already believed that. I'm less sure of it now. C PLUS

ISM: A Diet for the Worms (Original Sin) Liberal plaints about hardcore protofascism are so ignorant that it's a little surprising to find a band who fit the bill. Oh, they do an anti-Moonie number and probably couldn't hack it in the KKK, but "Put on Your Warpaint" ("They send us spies/We send them grain") is galloping anti-Russkie paranoia and "White, Straight and Male" ("I'm a victim of the quota system") middle-class backlash at its most vicious. Relatively oblique about race ("no speak-a English") and women ("I don't wanna catch your herpes"), they make it up on gays; though homophobia is only to be expected in sexually insecure young men whose brains are up their asses, and though pederasty is hardly beyond criticism, I do think "Man/Boy Love Sickie"--"You've got no human rights/We have to protect"--goes a bit far. Worst of all, sometimes they make it stick: "White Castle at 3 A.M." and "Dance Club Meat Market" are riotously memorable, two more scary reminders that lots of straight white males are feeling more squeeze than their talents deserve these days. C PLUS

MILLIE JACKSON: E.S.P. (Spring) It stands for extra-sexual persuasion, but that's not what it means--it means he knows where her hot spots are. This is doubly inappropriate because Millie seems sick of sex. She's still convincing when she parodies sexercise or does her on-the-make impression or pleads a generic headache, but the preposterous "Slow Tongue" is obviously just the faked orgasm that follows the faked foreplay of the title cut. And since South Africa, she's somehow lost her feeling for the slow sermons that used to save her bleep. B MINUS

HOWARD JONES: Human's Lib (Elektra) "The cynical few," by which Howard appears to mean people who can think, will detect in the very title of this revolving self-help manual a hint of what the German cynic Nietzsche called ressentiment. No special interests here, folks, because all of us--male and female, rich and poor, white and other, top of the pops and glued to the telly--are in the same human boat. You think you have problems, even enemies? Think again: "And if they were not meant to be/Well don't you think they wouldn't be"? Howards music, up-to-date synthpopbeat featuring a human voice that may well belong to Howard himself, reflects his acceptance of the known world by adding not a thing to it. Here's hoping he changes his head sometime soon--he sure could use a new one. C MINUS

PAUL KANTNER: Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra (RCA Victor) A concept album about "a San Francisco band that, in the near future, develops a computer assisted telepathic amplification technology" which enables it to flee first to Australia and then to outer space? Could be--they haven't put any r&d into their music in years. And god-speed, sez I. D PLUS

LAID BACK: Keep Smiling (Sire) The Danes in this duo are to disco what the Germans in Trio are to rock and roll--just as deliberately minimalist but, in the tradition of the genre, a lot smarmier. If you wanna be rich, scratch 'em where they itch. C PLUS

MOTLEY CRUE: Shout at the Devil (Elektra) It's hardly news that this platinum product is utter dogshit even by heavy metal standards; under direct orders from editors who don't know Iron Maiden from Wynton Marsalis, my beleaguered colleagues on the dailies have been saying so all year, and every insult goes into the press kit. Still, I must mention Mick Mars's dork-fingered guitar before getting to the only truly remarkable thing about this record: a track called "Ten Seconds To Love" in which Vince Neil actually seems to boast about how fast he can ejaculate (or as the lyric sheet puts it, "cum"). And therein, I believe, lies the secret of their commercial appeal--if you don't got it, flaunt it. Follow-up: "Pinkie Prick." D

LAURA NYRO: Mother's Spiritual (Columbia) Though for a long time Nyro's heartfelt commitment to solipsism blocked her access to the greater truth, the romantic generalizations of matrifocal ecofeminism prove as ideally suited to her moody style of gush as the pat improvisations of "women's" folk-jazz do to her once unique and still arresting swoops and changes. Now that she's not only a refugee from the city but a mom herself, she's created an album "dedicated to the trees." Of course, earth motherhood can be a bummer sometimes, so if she can get hold of "a ship from space" she'll take her leave of this "world that cannot give." Then we'll be sorry. Inspirational Footnote (to the line "while hawks* destroy"): "*This word is being used in it's traditional sense of war consciousness and not in reference to the spirit of the soaring bird." C PLUS

QUEENSRYCHE (EMI America) Heavy metal's excuse for existing is its status as the generic expression of a white-male-adolescent underclass, but these five devotees of "the American work ethic" from an affluent Seattle suburb buy none of that--they're into selling. They woodshedded for two years, avoiding the seamy bar circuit in their pursuit of the rock and roll dream, which is of course a big contract. And when they got it they gave two weeks notice on their day jobs like the second-generation managers they are. What EMI paid for was the operatic tenor of Geoff Tate emoting "fantasy" lyrics over hyped-up, new-metal tempos, and if you think the brand name panders to sexism and fascism, you're free to set up picket lines for as long as the First Amendment remains in force. D PLUS

THE RAIN PARADE: Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (Enigma) I guess what's supposed to make the psychedelic revival cool is that it's postpunk; secondhand purism like this suggests that in our negative age it's a positive statement to replicate the wimpy singing, wispy tunes, unsure drumming, repetitive guitar effects, and na´ve world view of, oh, Kaleidoscope, Morning Glory, Aum. It ain't. Smart hippies knew how dumb a lot of that music was even then. It's twice as dumb now. C PLUS

RE-FLEX: The Politics of Dancing (Capitol) If you want to explore "the politics of feeling good," a correct enough program, then make people feel good first. Avoid "carbon copies of the same old lines." And return to beauty school any front man whose guitar simulates a second synth and whose Bowie rip might just as well be Bryan Ferry and Rick Ocasek harmonizing in a sewage pipe. C MINUS

GRACE SLICK: Software (RCA Victor) Gracie keeps up with the times: in 1974 she called her sludge-rock Manhole, and if her silicon-pop title doesn't have quite as sharp a reverse-sexist twist it's because the ensuing decade has done more for her amour-propre than for her IQ. She demonstrates her usual staunchness of principle with an amazingly dumb piece of satire or something which takes on EKGs and electric blankets but not Linn Drums. And is that Gracie singing "Through the window through the window/I could almost touch the pane"? Rhymes with "I was in the pouring rain," doesn't it? C MINUS

.38 SPECIAL: Tour de Force (A&M) The function of the catchy nothing-but-love-songs on this skillful but otherwise derivative slice of boogie is to enable Don Barnes to show the would-be hellions in his audience, all of whom have to betray their rowdy principles if they're to keep their jobs and get on with their lives, just exactly how a good old boy acts sincere. Gauge its potential usefulness in your own life accordingly. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Liked the Single, Filed the Album: Nena: "99 Luftballons" (Epic) (99 Luftballons); Freeez: "I.O.U." (Streetwise) (I.O.U.); Yes: "Owner of a Lonely Heart" (Atlantic) (90125); Ebn-Ozn: "AEIOU Sometimes Y" (Elektra) (Feeling Cavalier); Midnight Star: "No Parking on the Dance Floor" (Solar) (No Parking on the Dance Floor); Jackson Browne: "Lawyers in Love" (Asylum) (Lawyers in Love); Berlin; "No More Words" (Geffen) (Love Life); China Crisis: "Working with Fire and Steel" (Warner Bros.) (Working with Fire and Steel: Possible Pop Songs Volume Two); Dead or Alive: "That's the Way I Like It" (Epic) (Sophisticated Boom Boom); Wang Chung: "Dance Hall Days" (Geffen) (Points on the Curve).

Village Voice, June 12, 1984


May 29, 1984 June 26, 1984