Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Hyping Thelonious Monster's Stormy Westher (Relativity) and Too Much Joy's Son of Sam I Am (Alias) as the hottest independent rock albums of early 1989 is like hyping Ozark Ike for hitting .364 in the Piedmont League. If anything, the ballplayer has a better shot at the bigs--with vanishing exceptions, the rough-hewn guitar-based pop bands that dominate the collegiate-bohemian Amerindie circuit are stylistic aliens in a world of mildly funky synthesized hits. Don't think they're upholding the one true faith, either--most indie musicians are semi-talented, self-involved neotraditionalists-in-disguise. They're rarely prefab, though, and while synthesizers have their charms, prefabrication is a must to avoid.

Thelonious Monster began as a joke hardcore band from Orange County led by Bob Forrest, a locally famous bad boy who has suffered, just like so many other bad boys--Richard Speck, Axl Rose, etc. By 1987's Next Saturday Afternoon he was getting songful and soulful about it, and now he's cut down on the self-involvement. The keys are "Sammy Hagar Weekend," a joke hardcore putdown that feels for its victims, and "Colorblind," about how his family's white flight made his boyhood (more) miserable. Also Tracy Chapman's For Your Lover, played straight.

Too Much Joy play nothing straight--they're overeducated wise guys (from Yale, Stanford, like that) who tread the thin line between smart and smart-ass. The tunes are such that the first one to hit you could be the L.L. Cool J cover, but they do sink in. And behind Tim Quirk's postpreppie projection, the lyrics--about suburbia, homelessness, reincarnation, the terrors of turning 23--kick ass, or at least smart-ass. These guys are funny, yet they have feelings, too. Not prefab.

Playboy, Apr. 1989


Mar. 1989 May 1989