Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Clear [Ode, 1969] C+
  • The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus [Epic, 1970] B
  • Feedback [Epic, 1972] B-
  • The Best of Spirit [Epic, 1973] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Clear [Ode, 1969]
A talented group with guts of cellophane. Randy California is the rock equivalent of the cool, progressive jazzman of the '50s. The group can be very good--side one is mostly excellent rock--and incredibly empty--"Ice" on side two. Down a notch for not telling us who's playing, up one for concentrating the good on one side. C+

The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus [Epic, 1970]
Both Randy California and the band have their own cool, rich, jazzy style--a genuine achievement, but that doesn't mean you have to like it. They play better than they write, and since they still play songs, that's a problem. A worse problem is that the lyrics are rarely as cerebral as the music. "Nature's Way," for instance, sounds as if it ought to be sardonicus, but though I'm intrigued by the suggestion that it's about death I still think it's a slightly inarticulate ecology song. Could be covered by Peter, Paul & Mary--who also have their own style. B

Feedback [Epic, 1972]
In a way, Al Staehely's earthy rock and roll is a relief from the California spaces of what were supposedly this band's great days--songs as hard as his fast ones aren't easy to come by these days. Unfortunately, he sounds like the kind of guy who's more likely to think of his dick than his music when you tell him he's hard. B-

The Best of Spirit [Epic, 1973]
The notes identify them as "pioneers" of "topical lyrics that were realized by the production of the song," which makes me think again about the way the first two cuts, "1984" and "Mechanical World," shift texture and tempo. By the stars, I do believe these fellows helped invent art-rock. This is not an unmixed distinction, but it could be worse: the topicality is a notch above ordinary rock sci-fi (they have a sense of humor), the derivations more jazz than classical. The big plus here though, is that great shining 2:39 of hard rock guitar, Randy California's "I Got a Line on You." B+