Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Freedy Johnston: Can You Fly [Bar/None, 1992]
Defying the taste for tortured chaos that the triumph of Nirvana signifies, the Kansas-born Hoboken fixture is a case study in bringing confusion under control--in loving your life as beautiful mess. Contained, mature, realistic in philosophy and aesthetic, its every song a model of open-ended lyrical detail and lithe, sly melodicism, it's a flat-out monument of singer-songwriterdom--up there with Randy Newman's 12 Songs, Joni Mitchell's For the Roses, and other such prepunk artifacts. Johnston is modest in everything but his perfectionism, his rage repressed if that and his puzzlement so permanent it comes as naturally as breathing. The epiphanies he runs through his flat Midwestern inflections evoke a heartland miniaturist like Bobbie Ann Mason more than any rock artiste. Hitting the festival circuit with the ozone layer shot to hell, losing a daughter in Manhattan's concrete dreamscape, deconstructing a house and a marriage simultaneously, his oblique, decipherable tales of not quite getting it together are summed up by the title of the first: "Trying To Tell You I Don't Know." A+