Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Rough Guide to Paris Café Music [World Music Network, 2002]
Great food, great wine, great countryside. Beautiful paintings and fine cinema. Bohemia soi-même. Fairly belle langue. Cool esprit. But then, over on the other side, le snobisme, as epitomized by both the academy (a French invention) and "theory" (a French brand name). As for music, not so hot. In the classical world, nobody would rank France with Germany or Italy, and though chanson's structural and procedural contributions to pop are major, it doesn't travel, in part due to its lyrical raison d'être and in part due to whatever gives Italians the tunes and Germans the big ideas. With help from Auvergne laborers and Italian immigrants, chanson evolved into the danceable accordion-equipped style called musette, which flourished in the '20s and '30s and has been compiled on a Paris Musette series I'll dig out again as well as two Music Club discs I'll now bury. This typical Rough Guide potpourri ignores intrastylistic continuities and favors revivalists (hiding the older, simpler stuff at the end). Droll, impassioned, tuneful, gay, its limitations are French limitations--too much cocked eyebrow, not enough baby got back. But as mood music for that mystery merlot or soundtrack for a drive to Quebec City, mais oui--just the travelogue a day tripper needs. B+