Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Art Bears

  • Hopes and Fears [Random Radar, 1978] B
  • Winter Songs [Ralph, 1979] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Hopes and Fears [Random Radar, 1978]
Despite rock instrumentation from Fred Frith, Chris Cutler, and friends and the rousing Who quote that kicks the best original song into high, this music is either consciously antipopular or "serious" with pretensions to accessibility. In either case it's Art--political Art, I know. The problem is, I don't get as much out of it as I do out of, say, the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, or at least Bertolt Brecht and Hans Eisler, whose "On Suicide" announces the band's intent. Despite Dagmar's self-indulgent austerity, the stark, atonal music is often compelling, but while the lyrics are never stupid, they do depend on intellectual commonplaces--labyrinth imagery, reference to Greek myth, and other roundabout ways of saying not much. "In Two Minds," about a teenager's schizophrenia, is a commonplace too, but an illuminated one. And the envoi to Piers Plowman is a touch I like. B

Winter Songs [Ralph, 1979]
With its tape loops, orchestral percussion, and artsong timbres, this is as far from rock as guitar-based music can be; it's also closer to Eno's hypnotic repetitions than Henry Co. has ever come. This time the lyrics aren't so much attempted myths as haiku-like apothegms set in some abstract historical space. They're not great poetry, but they're not bad poetry either, which combined with the music makes for pretty good poetry. B+