Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
Books
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Billboard
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell
CG Search:
Google Search:
Twitter:

The Sound of the City

It was "You Get What You Give" that filled Shine for the New Radicals last Thursday. From MTV and Rolling Stone to alt radio and Z-100, people notice this tuneful rant, which calls out the Dust Brothers, Beck, Courtney Love, and Marilyn "Rhymes With Beck's Last Name" Manson. All "fakes," Gregg Alexander charges. Live in "mansions"--which, even if they don't, almost is Marilyn's last name.

What imparts interest to this opinion is how different Alexander seems from the above-named luminaries, especially Beck and Love, both of whom were obliged by history or fashion to pursue showbiz dreams from a bohemian base. Alexander is like it used to be--a showbiz wannabe whose bohemianism is a side effect of his stubbornly starry-eyed aspirations. A plumber's son from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, he was a teenager when he first hit L.A., where he soon cut a born-dead debut he compares to Phil Spector and others recall as being more like Meat Loaf. At Shine, the material was all from the new Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too, said to have garnered him a $600,000 advance from MCA. Clearest musical referents: Todd Rundgren and Hall & Oates. How many boho bands have the uncool to inspire such comparisons? How many have the knowledge? How many have the chops?

Backed by a generically rockish-looking band distinguished by a scrawny blonde in hooker mufti on tambourine, harmony vocals, cheerleading, and navel, Alexander, a tall white nonteen with a shaved head who sings and sings only, performed, projected, stretched out his arms like the winner on election night and crossed his heart when he said he loved you. Midrange pitch problems often compel him to shout, not to say yell, but he lives off the kind of emotive falsetto only showbiz kids dare. Together with the funk-lite underpinnings, that's the Hall & Oates part. The Rundgren runs deeper--falsetto and timbre and vocal affect, melodic contour too, alternating keyb and guitar leads, complete pop arsenal. Everything except lyrics, which are as verbose as early Dylan, or Meat Loaf. "You Get What You Give" may only be "Sex and Candy" '99. But Alexander wants the world. Why should Beck and Courtney present at the MTV Awards when he and his hooker honey are available?

Village Voice, Dec. 22, 1998