Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Gil Scott-Heron

  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised [Flying Dutchman, 1974] B+
  • Real Eyes [Arista, 1980] B+
  • Reflections [Arista, 1981] B+
  • Moving Target [Arista, 1983] B
  • The Best of Gil Scott-Heron [Arista, 1984] A-
  • Spirits [TVT, 1994] Neither
  • I'm New Here [XL, 2010] *

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised [Flying Dutchman, 1974]
The "hairy-armed women's liberationists" of the title track are still with us, but at least this compilation avoids the fag-baiting that dishonored his first album, not the only sign of growth. His agitprop has lost a lot of punk arrogance over the decade without surrendering commitment, and as he learns to sing his compassion becomes palpable. B+

Real Eyes [Arista, 1980]
Never would have believed it, but the switch from Brian Jackson's supportive groove to Carl Cornwell's elliptical horn charts adds intellectual and historical weight to the songs that merely say good things as well as those that put them pungently. The two that constitute the latter category kick this off like the great album he's got in him. The two that say sentimental things slowly and unredeemed by Jackson's groove and Cornwell's flute, respectively. B+

Reflections [Arista, 1981]
"'B' Movie," his smartest political rap ever, is also his first airplay hit since "Angel Dust," maybe because black radio cherishes no expectation of crossing over to Ray-Gun. Hooray. But no less than four cuts--the jazz and reggae tributes as well as the Bill Withers and Marvin Gaye covers--are diminished by the mere serviceability of Scott-Heron's post-Brian Jackson musical conception (execution?), because each invokes the power of music that only becomes truly powerful when it's more than serviceable. That's not to say each of them isn't of service, though. B+

Moving Target [Arista, 1983]
With Malcolm Cecil coproducing, Scott-Heron's music comes back strong--the horns and rhythm are progressive funk as it was meant to be, Tower of Power without Vegas, dissonant and intricate and talky and natural. But the Caribbean inflections are compromised enough to suit a lyric that sounds commissioned by the Jamaican Tourist Board if not Edward Seaga himself, and while this album has plenty of good parts, they come together only on the side-openers: two on side one, one on side two. B

The Best of Gil Scott-Heron [Arista, 1984]
Good that he refuses to shy away from explicit revolutionary reference, but 1980's "Third World Revolution" would have spared us the "hairy-armed women's liberationists" Scott-Heron's been smearing ever since he recorded "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" in his angry immaturity fifteen years ago. Besides, it's catchier. From "The Bottle" to "Re-Ron," though, this should convince doubting sympathizers that effective political art--aesthetically effective political art, I mean--isn't tantamount to avant-garde polarization. It's got a good line, and you can dance to it. A-

Spirits [TVT, 1994] Neither

I'm New Here [XL, 2010]
The premise isn't "I'm new here," it's "I'm not dead," and he strains mightily to get 28 spare minutes out of it ("Me and the Devil," "On Coming From a Broken Home [Part 1]"). *