Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • End of the World [(unlabeled), 1981] B+
  • Out of Line [Zoar, 1983] B
  • Frederick Douglass [Twin/Tone/Coyote, 1985] A-
  • Messenger Dogs of the Gods [Lost, 1986] A-
  • End of the World, Part 2 [Lost, 1987] B+
  • Bugged [SST, 1988] A-
  • Work [SST, 1989] A-
  • Unreleased [, 2001] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

End of the World [(unlabeled), 1981]
These aging no-wave stalwarts have outgrown the blinding-headache approach without giving up their stubbornly untrendy belief that you play music for love, with some well-aimed hate thrown in. "End of the World" could pass for early Television, and "El Salvador"--the title is half of the lyric--is the political song of the year (and available even more clear and tortured as a Rough Trade single). Perhaps because the final ten tracks weren't mixed by Chris Stamey, this fourteen-song, thirty-minute tape does cry out for aspirin as it proceeds. But I play it for love. B+

Out of Line [Zoar, 1983]
Where hardcore kids rail against empty leisure and media images, these working bohemians ground an analysis in the dismal daily grind. Their politics more or less match thick, uningratiating music that is dissonant but not quite amelodic, industrial but not at all mechanical. The match isn't exact because their lyrics are sometimes so simplistic they deserve a single dumb folkie guitar, while the music gets thin in a more unavoidable way, reflecting their blocked access to the means of production. And though I doubt anything would render their "We're gonna change the world" literal, my analysis is that a few extra tunes wouldn't hurt. B

Frederick Douglass [Twin/Tone/Coyote, 1985]
What would a stranger make of this friendly but apparently overwrought and tuneless cacophony? Wish I were sure s/he'd find it as winning as I do. Not counting "El Salvador," this is the only time in eight years they've treated themselves to a mix forceful enough to clarify the apparently casual musicianship that goes into what are actually canny, complex, and suggestive structures. Even when you have no idea just what words they're hanging from titles like "Migrant Assembly Line Workers" and "Our Days of Weakness Are Over," you know they like grunge, a good joke, and other people. You know they're pissed off, too. A-

Messenger Dogs of the Gods [Lost, 1986]
Things fall apart--that we know. The question is what to do about it. Pop craftsmen combat this truth, or lie about it, by fashioning antientropic modules within which a salutory dose of abandon can do its work, while keepers of the avant-garde tradition walk into a collapsing building and plug in their amps. An infinity of further choices awaits both camps, and most of them are wrong. Mofungo's are right: pride rather than self-congratulation, anger rather than loathing, struggle rather than despair. Both funny and witty, unassumingly compassionate, glancing fondly off the folk musics they look to and the rock they play, they sound less weird and inchoate the more you listen. Some avant-gardists would tell you that's their problem. What do you think? A-

End of the World, Part 2 [Lost, 1987]
In its weary postfolk delicacy and righteous politics, "Ku Klux Klan" is definitive despite a clumsy Willie Klein add-on about Rehnquist, who deserves worse. A bow to Apollinaire, kiss-offs to Reagan and Baby Doc, and three Elliott Sharpened remakes do the job as well, but the remakes also suggest shortfall. As does the useless militancy of "Science Song #1" (ozone lesson), "SR-71 Blackbird" (even Bruce Cockburn could blow it out of the sky), and "Lemmings" (guess who). B+

Bugged [SST, 1988]
In an evolution that now seems inevitable if exceedingly slow, they jam hot, and this is how they'll prove it in Alaska, California, Buffalo, and other distant locales. Helps that they've learned their own instruments and each other's moves after 10 years. Helps even more that they've integrated a real live misguided virtuoso into the concept. Elliott Sharp's fills and solos are the making of "#1 for Take-Off" and "The Pope Is a Potato" and "The Wit and Wisdom of Judge Bork." Which latter I trust SST's dance department will get on immediately. A-

Work [SST, 1989]
Despairing, cynical, basically unlistenable unless you grant it your full attention, this is far more pessimistic than anything disco doomsters purvey--it's literal, articulate, no fun. I don't necessarily agree that "voting is for suckers" or "the oceans are dead," but I know why they do, and their most inaccessible yowls in years aided my understanding. Alternate title: End of the World: The Final Chapter. A-

Unreleased [, 2001]
(free) download-only of great lost (good mislaid?) 1992 album by Loisaida's longest-running indie band ("In Imitation of Willie," "Tobacco Road") *