Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Turkey Shoot

A rising gorge is the Turkey Shoot litmus test. The records I select for this annual Thanksgiving blowoff don't inspire mere disapproval--I demand contempt, ridicule, and preferably something that feels like disgust. So let me assure anyone less revolted than I am I by this dire national moment/era that I didn't set out to pick on white guys. That's just how the test came out.


DOCTOR AMMONDT: The Legend Lives Forever in Latin (K-Tel Latin) For the prelate who has everything, a Finnish (naturally) musicologist sings all of seven Elvis songs, including the oft-requested "Wooden Heart (Cor ligneum)," in what sounds from here like Eye-talian, but nobody's asking me. The style is Eurovision, the orchestration boilerplate, the voice tender and mild. Just thought you should know. D

BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY: E. 1999 Eternal (Ruthless) If the popular songs you love are gunslinging tales recited over a faux Bernie Worrell tootle, of course this wordy quintet will sound like some kind of change. Unison chants, schoolyard tunes, and goopy slow jams may not be how to rock anybody else's world, but gangstawise they add up to a new flava, kinda. Anyone musical enough to hum good, however, will find the concoction unfathomably dull even if they don't notice the cold hand of Eazy-E deadening beats from beyond the grave. C

BUSH: Sixteen Stone (Trauma/Interscope) You think the million-plus American rockers who've purchased Gavin Rossdale's not altogether unmusical howl of male pain are this far gone? For that matter, you think Rossdale is? Nah. It's an idealization--a level of despair to aspire toward rather than shared pain requiring collective catharsis. In other words, things could get worse. B MINUS

JODECI: The Show, the After-Party, the Hotel (Uptown/MCA) No way does the sex on this concept album recall Prince or Marvin Gaye--spiritually, its precursors are Kiss and Judas Priest. Rather than lust between equals, it's powerful men manipulating starstruck girls. And since the backstage adventure with the lawsuit attached somehow goes unrecounted--supposedly, DeVante pointed a gun while K-Ci felt the complainant up, with both love men pleading guilty to less specific charges--only a fool would take their word about how knowing their honeys are. So here's hoping your mama didn't raise no fools. And here's hoping this papa didn't either. B MINUS

KORN (Epic/Immortal) The cover depicts a frightened little girl peering up from a swing at a hook-handed rapist whose huge shadow slants across her space; the girl's shadow seems to hang from the gallows-shaped K of the band logo. They love this image, exploit it in every trade ad as Sony flogs their death-industrial into its second year. They sing about child abuse, too--guess what, they're agin it. But if their name isn't short for kiddie porn, they should insist on a video where they get eaten by giant chickens. C MINUS

JERRY LEE LEWIS: Young Blood (Sire) If the blood were literally young, the Killer would now be the Vampire. Instead, producer-wunderaltekacker Andy Paley is the Ghoul. Jerry Lee can still rock the 88s, but his natural voice is a croak or a wheeze, as he proves by heroically holding "Gotta Travel On"'s final "long" until it tails into the pitchless pit he's already filled with croaks and wheezes. He couldn't get away with "Thirty-Nine and Holding" at 45. Yet at 60 he still wishes he was 18 again. C PLUS

LIVE: Throwing Copper (Radioactive) On stage, this intently mediocre young band is U2 without a guitar sound. On record, it's R.E.M. without songs. A quintuple-platinum year-and-a-half past its debut, it generates the "idealistic" arena-rock U2 is no longer hungry enough to bother with and R.E.M never had the stomach to work up. Only with the old guys I wouldn't put the saving word in quotes. C PLUS [Later]

MARILYN MANSON: Smells Like Children (Nothing/Interscope) Unmitigated consumer fraud--a mess of pro forma instrumentals, covers, and remixes designed to exploit its well-publicized tour, genderfuck cover art, titillating titles, and parental warning label. The lyrics to "S****y Chicken Gang Bang" are nonexistent, those to "Everlasting C***sucker" incomprehensible. Only "F*** Frankie," a spoken-word number in which a female feigning sexual ecstasy reveals that it isn't "Fool Frankie" or "Fire Frankie" or "Fast Frankie" or for that matter "Fist Frankie," delivers what it promises. It's easily the best thing on the record. D PLUS [Later]

THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND: Under the Table and Dreaming (RCA) Popular groundswells do vary in discernment, as students of jogging, nail care salons, and tax limits know. Like his homeboy and forebear Bruce Hornsby, Matthews jams politely. His instrumentation invokes classical, jazz, and bluegrass niceties. And although one can understand the deep-seated impatience with agony-as-entertainment his renown reflects, he's as bland as a tofu sandwich. C PLUS

MALCOLM MCLAREN: Paris (No!/Gee Street) Situationism? Get real. This is the Paris of feelthy pictures, of Chirac jingles, of jazzboism as jungle fever, of a climacteric dickhead tunelessly mimicking latter-day yé-yé girls. It didn't sell--why in the world should it? Problem is, the old hustler is beyond sales. All he wants is loads of publicity and enough of somebody else's money to get Catherine Deneuve within range of a copped feel. Presumably, Deneuve can fend for herself. What kills me is that my punk-besotted colleagues can't. Suggested parental advisory: "Features nine-track bonus CD containing ambient remixes." C

JOHN MICHAEL MONTGOMERY (Atlantic) Nashville belched up the usual candidates for ritual slaughter this year, but most of them just weren't worthy. From ten-gallon wimps like Clay Walker to Village People rejects like Tim McGraw, the hunk boom of the early '90s is already playing out, and while I worked up a certain revulsion for Clint Black, who could have been so much more, in fact he still shows flashes even if he did check in with a Christmas album. This guy is slipping from lower on the evolutionary ladder and higher up on the heap. He took album three double-platinum on a bare-faced, two-fisted imitation of Garth Brooks, whom he has the gall to cut with Hank Williams Jr. Garth is great in part because he'd never give a woman a 10 or cap a well-reported verse-and-chorus about the hard labor of divorced motherhood with a covertly resentful verse about how the little lady needs a man. C PLUS [Later]

MOUSE ON MARS: Iaora Tahiti (Too Pure/American) It's a shuck to apply the postfelicitous prefix "post" to instrumental rock, which has been a nothing tradition for a long time. In 1995 as so often before, chops were laughable, compositional notions paltry, big concepts quickly exhausted, and from Pell Mell to Eno/Wobble to FSOL to four out of five ambient comps to two out of three dance comps, the records weren't just forgettable, they were inconsequential. That's not true of this German duo, who care far more about details than their obvious godfathers Kraftwerk and at least as much as their vocal labelmates Pram. They may be quiet, but they ain't ambient--as background music, they're pretty irritating. Unfortunately, they're irritating up front as well. There's plenty of variety, and a well-constructed multibeat fantasia called "Saturday Night Worldcup Fieber" tickles me every time. But all this occurs within an aural universe that has little use for the lefthand three quarters of the piano. Its philosophical roots are in the so-called space-age pop that will remain lounge-rock's legacy long after joke bands from Black Velvet Flag to Friends of Dean Martinez have moved on to prostitution or website design--the vague sound/approach now reified in a three-disc RCA exhumation, a reminder that nothing released under the auspices of a major label stays incredibly strange for long. C PLUS

MOVE TO GROOVE: THE BEST OF 1970S JAZZ-FUNK (Verve) The jazzmen who named funk thought it should swing; the black rockers who stretched its foregrounded bottom every which way thought swing was only the beginning. Hence, "the best of 1970s jazz-funk" is an oxymoron. Funk is muscle on the one, yet most of the drummers here are lightweights, most of the bassists nonentities, and that's to leave hacks out of it. As for the slumming improvisers and pop wannabees up top, not only does this half-measure elicit their worst, but from Chick Corea and Roy Ayers to Sea Level and (jeeze, who remembered him?) Jess Roden, their best is none too good. We get Jimmy Smith trading B-3 for synth, Famous Flames going Vegas, Corea going nowhere, and a few good players whose rent is due. Jazz lifers--Monty Alexander, Houston Person, and especially Randy Weston--contribute the only enjoyable minutes on a 29-track double-CD. Remember, this is the breeding ground of acid jazz and rap jazzmatazz. Now you can't say you didn't know. C

PHISH: A Live One (Elektra) With their damn newsletter at 80,000 and counting, the growth of their economic base is impervious not just to criticism but to any eventuality that doesn't involve the breakdown of the American transportation system. So give 'em 10 years, and don't worry you'll miss something in the meantime. Phish isn't a classic two-guitar jamming band like the Allmans or those guys from Marin. It's a keyb-guitar-bass-drums quartet, its music dominated conceptually by the high-cholesterol chords and florid arpeggios of Page McConnell's piano. Occasionally there's a good song--naif that I am, I like the one called "Simple." But they've never put more than a couple on one studio album, and this two-hour live double is where they show off their base-building specialties, e.g. "a mind-blowing 35-minute version of `Tweezer'"--which is actually only 31, praise God, and guess what else they got wrong? C PLUS

SILVERCHAIR: Frogstomp (Murmur/Epic) All respect to Frankie Lymon and Roxanne Shanté, but every once in a while in this business you catch yourself thinking that teenagers don't know dick. These Aussie adolescents admire Nirvana and Pearl Jam, which is cute, and sound like Pearl Jam, which is natural--almost exactly like Pearl Jam except no good, which is useless. Since their tastes are constantly maturing, next time they can take Tool or if we're lucky Rancid to Kinko's. Inspirational Verse You May Have Noticed Even If You Never Remember Who It's By: "There's no bathroom/And there is no sink/The water out of the tap/Is very hard"--[dramatic power chords]--"to drink." C

KENDRA SMITH: Five Ways of Disappearing (4AD) Near as I can tell, the claim made for Smith's homemade music is that it's livelier than Mazzy Star's. Like, wow. With the pump organ and all she does have Her Own Sound, especially if you don't remember Nico too clearly--and unlike Nico, she also has a sense of humor. But antiurban survivalists rarely like people much. And quiet as it's kept, agape is a richer musical wellspring than nonconformity. B MINUS [Later]

TARNATION: Gentle Creatures (4AD) With the Cowboy Junkies gone the way of regular junkies (who either disappear or sign with Geffen, right?), along come these San Francisco country-mopers. Not that it couldn't be worse--I mean, Joan Baez stripped of her chops is more amusing than Joan Baez clinging to them. I know, because Saint Joan also put out a record this year. C [Later]

SHANIA TWAIN: The Woman in Me (Mercury) A country gal from Canada in the great white-bread tradition of Anne Murray, only how times have changed. Murray's voice is forthrightly wholesome where Twain's is mildly lubricious. She'd never wear bikini-cut jeans--or a cowboy hat, makeup, a lake up to her clavicle, and your imagination. And of course, she hasn't devoted her career to convincing men that women with character aren't a threat. For all this, Murray became a lesbian hero. Shania will have none of that. C [Later: *]

Village Voice, Nov. 28, 1995


Nov. 14, 1995 Dec. 26, 1995