Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Malcolm McLaren

  • Duck Rock [Island, 1983] B+
  • Fans [Island, 1984] B+
  • Paris [No!/Gee Street, 1995] C

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Duck Rock [Island, 1983]
McLaren knows how to record African music for Western ears, and the ebullient tunes he's collected here more than make up for his annoyance quotient. But the intrusions of the World's Famous Supreme Team, not to mention the featured vocalist, are annoying nevertheless. And when "Song for Chango," which has existed since "before Jesus Christ was born," gets credited like almost all the other compositions to Malc and producer Trevor Horn, I wish he'd thought to mention which specific Africans contributed to which specific tracks. Culture may be collective, but (in this culture) wealth ain't. B+

Fans [Island, 1984]
Although what attracts McLaren to opera is proven commercial tunes he doesn't have to pay for, he does end up making sly, slantwise connections between two wildly successful strains of romantic superschlock: Puccini and disco. "Madam Butterfly" has the killer hook, with McLaren's Pinkerton a bizarre yet rather affecting country-cockney hybrid. But the great genre-fuck is "Fans" itself, with disco diva Angie B. doing a recitative so dumb and charming it reminds us not only that you don't need brains to love opera but that this may well be the nicest thing you can say about the stuff. Listen to Angie stumble over a few notes of real Puccini in the coda, then ask yourself whether featured soprano Betty Ann White would improve them by doing them right. B+

Paris [No!/Gee Street, 1995]
Situationism? Get real. This is the Paris of feelthy pictures, of Chirac jingles, of jazzbolism as jungle fever, of a climacteric dickhead tunelessly mimicking latter-day yť-yť 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

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1980s]: I always preferred Fans to Duck Rock myself--rap-mbaqanga big deal, but Puccini-disco was a marriage this old reprobate was born to broker. Still, when I discovered that his mbaqanga rips ("Song for Chango," said to date to "before Jesus Christ was born," is credited like almost all the other compositions to Malc and Trevor Horn) had landed him on the U.N. register as a violator of the cultural boycott, my only regret was "Algernon's Simply Awfully Good at Algebra." That's the one good song as opposed to idea on 1989's Waltz Darling, which romanticized the rich just like he's always romanticized the poor whilst pumping the only message he's ever cared about--teen sexuality as liberation, especially for old reprobates.