Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Black Vinyl Shoes [PVC, 1978] A-
  • Present Tense [Elektra, 1979] A-
  • Tongue Twister [Elektra, 1981] A-
  • Boomerang [Elektra, 1982] B
  • Best [Black Vinyl, 1987] B+
  • Stolen Wishes [Black Vinyl, 1989] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Black Vinyl Shoes [PVC, 1978]
Recorded by elves on a TEAC four-track in a living room in Zion, Illinois, this offers fifteen hooky, bittersweet reflections on sexual strategy among the under-twenty-fives. Clever melodic contours plus vocals faded and echoed so far back they take on the mystery of synthesized guitars equal a natural for pop obsessives. A-

Present Tense [Elektra, 1979]
A formalist's delight--the three principals pursue their theme of Sad Love as obsessively as a cavalier writing sonnets to his lady. Their voices are interchangeably breathy, their tempos unflappably moderate, their guitar hooks unfailingly right. And when for a change of pace one of them sounds bitter the effect is as startling as a Johnny Ramone guitar solo. A-

Tongue Twister [Elektra, 1981]
For three straight albums I've started out resenting the pure pop-rock blandishments of these Ramones of the heartland, and for three straight albums I've ended up clucking appreciatively at every fill. As befits heartlanders, they wear theirs on their sleeves, not just for decoration but because that's where they belong; their formula serves a supple expressionism in which sincerity is a given. Inspirational Liner Note: "No keyboards." A-

Boomerang [Elektra, 1982]
These aging, insulated teen romantics haven't lost their skill at hook construction, but added studio muscle does nothing for their fragile allure. Striving to preserve their male-adolescent prerogatives--"Does he keep you amused between the covers?" is hardly a teen question--they fail to conquer the distinction between girl trouble, a forgivable adolescent malady, and woman trouble, an offensive adult affliction. Maybe they should try out this Inspirational Verse in the first-person plural: "She's losing her tested charms/Any little thing seems hard." B

Best [Black Vinyl, 1987]
Starting with the most ironic label name ever entered in the digital sweepstakes (Coated Aluminum just wouldn't sound as homy), this compilation is quintessentially problematic. Fine bit-by-bit, with worthwhile bonus goodies (especially the four from the import-only Silhouette) and unexceptionable sequencing and selection, its generous length places an impossible burden on these quintessentially slight popsters, reducing them to the light background entertainment those with no tolerance for fragility thought they were to begin with. Who but their moms and their girlfriends (especially their girlfriends, some of whom I hope are wives by now) want to concentrate on such fragile virtues for an hour and a quarter? B+

Stolen Wishes [Black Vinyl, 1989]
Still hooky after all these years, the three principals divide up 15 more love songs: John Murphy makes up to break up, Jeff Murphy starts happy-happy and gets blown away, Gary Klebe obsesses and suffers and obsesses some more. All over Zion, Illinois, bedrooms quake at the mere mention of these thirtysomething lotharios' names. B