Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Grin [extended]

  • 1 + 1 [Spindizzy, 1971] A
  • Grin [Spindizzy, 1971] B+
  • All Out [Spindizzy, 1972] A-
  • Gone Crazy [A&M, 1973] B-
  • Nils Lofgren [A&M, 1975] B+
  • The Best of Grin Featuring Nils Lofgren [Epic, 1976] A-
  • Cry Tough [A&M, 1976] B-
  • I Came to Dance [A&M, 1977] C
  • Nils [A&M, 1979] C+
  • Flip [Columbia, 1985] C+
  • Silver Lining [Rykodisc, 1991] Dud
  • The Very Best of Grin Featuring Nils Lofgren [Spindizzy/Epic Associated/Legacy, 1999] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Nils Lofgren/Grin: 1 + 1 [Spindizzy, 1971]
This is what Paul McCartney might be like if he were a wunderkind: romantic balladeer on the "dreamy side," raucous yowler on the "rockin' side," with both halves miraculously innocent instead of alternately cloying and hyper. Lofgren has a lot to learn about life and love and such, but the guitar macho of "Slippery Fingers" is so dirty and so cute, the soap opera of "Lost a Number" so fantastic, that watching him learn is sure to be a pleasure. A

Grin [Spindizzy, 1971]
In which Crazy Horse phenom Nils Lofgren comes up with his own little group on producer David Briggs's own little Epic subsidiary. Choruses of children mix with gospel-cum-Robert-Plant high counterpoint; future folk tunes like "Everybody's Missing the Sun" and "If I Were a Song" vie for the lad's soul with soulful ravers like "Direction" and "18 Faced Lover." Watch him. B+

All Out [Spindizzy, 1972]
This record speaks to my peculiar sensibility. It even includes a song that begins in a house in the country and includes the line: "Life has been kinda easy on me." Nils Lofgren is everything I think a rock and roller should be--pugnacious, explosive, cheerful, loving. But I'm not sure my taste is any more universal than someone else's for, I don't know, some minor song poet, David Blue, say, or George Gerdes. A-

Gone Crazy [A&M, 1973]
Didn't "Beggar's Day" sound better on Crazy Horse, and haven't we heard those girl-world boy-toy rhymes before? You bet. This is where Nils starts to repeat himself. Not only does the lack of a moderately interesting new lyric close off a source of pleasure, it also leaves Lofgren with nothing to sing about. Let's hope this was a rush job for his new label and warn him not to rush the next. B-

Nils Lofgren: Nils Lofgren [A&M, 1975]
Lofgren has apparently regained his prodigious gift for the hook, and most of these songs catch and hold. But his visionary flash has dimmed. Somehow I expect more of this always-the-best-man never-the-popstar than a concept which demands devotion from his various women on one side while declaring devotion to his career on the other. B+

The Best of Grin Featuring Nils Lofgren [Epic, 1976]
In which CBS replaces three terrific flawed albums with a single very nice unflawed one. In other words, this does avoid clinkers, but it also avoids Nils the Eloquent Weirdo ("Slippery Fingers," "All Out") in favor of Nils the Accomplished Simp ("Like Rain," "We All Sing Together"). A-

Nils Lofgren: Cry Tough [A&M, 1976]
This one makes me feel shitty. Epic could never break his best stuff and has now topped off the disservice by discontinuing his albums. Meanwhile, over at A&M, Nils begins to sound like a professional next-big-thing, the surprise of his lyrics reduced to a turn or two and his gift for pop melody subsumed by his gift for the one-man rave-up. Crying tough is playing tough, not being tough, and there was always more than toughness to Nils anyway. B-

Nils Lofgren: I Came to Dance [A&M, 1977]
In which the aging prodigy flirts with hackdom and almost scores. He still makes killer licks sound easy, although the melodies are drying up fast, and despite an ominous piece of Inspirational Verse--"I'll play guitar all night and day, just don't ask me to think"--and a road song that sounds like the first of a series, there's more ambitious lyric-writing here than on either of the two previous A&M LPs. Thing is, except for "Happy Ending Kids" and a sly ditty about eating pussy, the lyrics don't work; whether "Jealous Gun" is straight anti-hunting propaganda or an allegory about who knows what, its language is stillborn and its pretensions annoying. C

Nils Lofgren: Nils [A&M, 1979]
If Lofgren's early mini-Western, "Rusty Gun," was the modestly laconic offering of an up-and-comer who remembered, then "No Mercy," the boxing melodrama now getting airplay, is the rodomontade of a shoulda-been-a-contender. I bet cocomposer Lou Reed wrote the best line, but Nils sings it with indubitable bitterness: "I thought you were being ironic when you ripped your jeans." C+

Nils Lofgren: Flip [Columbia, 1985]
The wuntime wunderkind is "talkin' 'bout survival," which he at least points out beats "self denial," and I guess it's a small miracle that he's no longer the blustering never-was of the late '70s. But 1983's Wonderland testified more gracefully to his eternal youth, and even there it was hard to tell what he's learned since 1971. To seek eternal youth in the absence of temporal wisdom is one of the great American vices, and most Americans aren't even wise enough to know it. C+

Nils Lofgren: Silver Lining [Rykodisc, 1991] Dud

The Very Best of Grin Featuring Nils Lofgren [Spindizzy/Epic Associated/Legacy, 1999]
Lofgren is an even better argument than Buddy Holly himself for the historically dubious proposition that rock and roll is the proper province of inspired striplings, because he didn't die. Instead he turned pro, grinding out dozens of overstated, unfulfilled albums before and after Bruce Springsteen provided a use for an enthusiasm that got pretty grotesque as his spontaneity vanished with his chronological youth. Consisting entirely of material selected from or contemporary with the three albums he released before he was 22, these 19 songs are dazzling evidence of the grace and spritz with which the kid fused teen spirit and prodigious virtuosity--an evolved rock and roll that articulates the romantic lyricism left implicit by Holly. Nothing wrong with implication. But you can feel it rising up in such unnecessarily obscure titles as "Slippery Fingers" and "Everybody's Missin' the Sun." A