Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Cool for Cats [A&M, 1979] B
  • Argybargy [A&M, 1980] B-
  • East Side Story [A&M, 1981] B+
  • Sweets From a Stranger [A&M, 1982] B+
  • Singles -- 45's and Under [A&M, 1982] A-
  • Babylon and On [A&M, 1987] B-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Cool for Cats [A&M, 1979]
Power poppers (remember them?) suck this stuff up, and I understand why--not only does its songcraft surpass that of the band's debut, but it also isn't quite as sophomoric. It's sophomoric enough, though, and like so many such records makes you wonder where the power is. Not in the vision, that's for sure. And not in the beat. Great song: "Up the Junction." B

Argybargy [A&M, 1980]
Popophiles Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook don't settle for have-fun fall-in-love fear-girls. They pen short stories worthy of early Rupert Holmes, and with a beat (alternate title: Herkyjerky). 'Tis said McCartneyesque tunefulness is the ticket here, but to me Tilbrook sounds more like Ray Davies after est--at peace with himself and out for big bucks, pounds being a foregone conclusion. B-

East Side Story [A&M, 1981]
They're finally beginning to show the consistency that's the only excuse for obsessive popcraft. The songs are imaginative, compassionate, and of course hooky--the warped organ on "Heaven" bespeaks divine intervention. And with Elvis Costello coproducing, the music is quite punchy, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it rocks. B+

Sweets From a Stranger [A&M, 1982]
In a classic rock and roll success story, Tilbrook & Difford are getting laid more and enjoying it less. Not that enjoyment in the usual sense is the point--flesh is hardly their specialité. But the ever more disconcerting hookcraft signifies a "maturing" emotional grasp in which a scheduled album seems like as good a reason as any to think up nine new ways to leave your lover. B+

Singles -- 45's and Under [A&M, 1982]
They're so principled in their unpretension, so obsessed with the telling detail, that their lesser moments are passively minuscule--not unfine when you squint at them, but all too easy to overlook. And as self-conscious craftsmen, they know their own strengths--no blowing the compilation they're made for with pet failures. Pop connoisseurs will of course crave the entire oeuvre--all the albums, all the picture sleeves, and now the previously unreleased "Annie Get Your Gun." Nonminiaturists will wonder why so few of their working-class protagonists call up the compassion of "Up the Junction" and save shelf space. A-

Babylon and On [A&M, 1987]
The most noticeable of Difford & Tilbrook Mark II's three LPs is a case study in pop-star devolution, suffused with the regrets of successful young professionals who drink too much liquor, smoke too many cigarettes, and don't want to be alone any more. Their best song is about how they really don't understand Americans, most of the rest leech off love lives that comprise long successions of small failures, and where once they were storytellers, now they've withdrawn into metaphor--surprisingly murky metaphor for such detail specialists, with lots of time references. B-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]