Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Back in the U.S.A. [Atlantic, 1970] A-
  • High Time [Atlantic, 1971] B+
  • Babes in Arms [ROIR, 1983] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Back in the U.S.A. [Atlantic, 1970]
A severe disappointment at first--a rather obvious and awkward attempt, I thought, to tailor a record to some dimly conceived high school "underground," with titles like "Teenage Lust" and lines like "Young people everywhere are gonna cook their goose/Lots of kids are working to get rid of these blues" (political italics mine). But the music had its way with me. Under Jon Landau, the 5's style has become choppier, harder, and more concise; when his discipline is imposed on the soaring Sinclair-meets-Coltrane expansionism of their Elektra album, as on "Looking at You," the tension is pyrotechnic. The only failure is the ballad, "Let Me Try." But all that will make this album an undeniable success is for it to sell--with propaganda, that's the test. Which means it will probably remain an ambiguous experiment. A-

High Time [Atlantic, 1971]
At its best, this combines the anarchic energy of John Sinclair's album with the pop control of Jon Landau's album. "Sister Anne" is a passionate farewell to a Catholic boyhood, and the jazz climax, however ill-conceived sonically (the horns sound funny after all those guitars), gets where it's going, fast. Mistake: "Miss X," an atrocious fuck-me-babe ballad. Some things they'll never learn. B+

Babes in Arms [ROIR, 1983]
Despite all the rare mixes and original versions adduced in the notes, the only great track totally unfamiliar to this proud (and lucky) owner of the 5's three albums is a cover of Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything." The rest of the obscure stuff merely augments a superbly paced compilation. The raw songcraft and new-thing chaos of Detroit's other great protopunk band were further ahead of their time than it seemed five years ago. And drummer Dennis Thompson was a motherfucker. A-

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