Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Stay Awake [A&M, 1988]
Packed the tape but forgot the notes, which after three bewildered plays had me wondering whether Hal Willner's Disney tribute featured not the usual smart rocksters but lounge-jazz singers Whitney Balliett himself wouldn't profile. Then Willner acting alone would have perpetrated the feckless equation of fantasy and whimsy that wrecks this pastiche. Instead, his accomplices include Los Lobos, the Replacements, the Roches, NRBQ, Nilsson, Garth Hudson, and Ringo Starr. The arty, the miniature, and the atmospheric give way to "straight" interpretations that provide relief only until you realize how slight the song is. For me, the big exceptions are Sun Ra's jolly "Pink Elephants" and Aaron Neville's supernal "Mickey Mouse Theme," the small ones Buster Poindexter's villainous "Castle in Spain" and, yup, James Taylor's sleepy "Second Star to the Right." In none of them are the personal and the literal mutually exclusive--none of them goes flat or makes high-flown excuses for itself. Each takes pleasure in Disney's reality without hypostasizing it. Isn't that the idea? C+