Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1982-06-01


Laurie Anderson: Big Science (Warner Bros., 1982) Like protest singers, novelty artists put too much strain on the words. Anderson's performance, as they say, is richer and subtler than Si Kahn's or John Prine's. But her music is more, as they say, minimal, which diminishes replay potential. Don't get me wrong--she achieves moments of humor so exquisite (timing and timbre of the pilot's chuckles on "From the Air," for instance) that I just have to hear them again, and when I do I enjoy the rest. But while Anderson's alienated patriotic (and romantic) affection is clearly her own invention, it's just as clearly a variant on your basic boho Americanism (and sexuality)--a variant that adds only a voice, not words, by which I mean ideas. Richard Pryor she ain't. A-

Black Uhuru: Tear It Up--Live (Mango, 1982) Third album's awful soon for a live one, you might think, and then notice that only one of the eight titles is on Red or Sinsemilla. That's because six of them can be found--in clearer, denser, trickier, scarier, longer versions--on 1979's Showcase, available as a Joe Gibbs import. "Abortion" is anti, natch, and Jah knows where they can stick it, but you'd never guess from these remakes how effective it and all Uhuru's early songs can be. Here in Babylon we call this kind of thing a scam. C-

Joanne Brackeen: Special Identity (Antilles, 1982) Piano trios are often oversubtle, but Brackeen's assertive presence compensates for her conversational touch. She doesn't swing enough, and her mix of styles overemphasizes modal-to-atonal modernism, but even the densest harmonic clusters here have an appealing clarity. The little tunes stick, the big ones proceed, and Jack DeJohnette plays drums. B+

Ornette Coleman: Of Human Feelings (Antilles, 1982) Ornette's pioneering Dancing in Your Head was completely unrelenting, his ancillary Body Meta somewhat amorphous; Blood Ulmer's records are jagged, Shannon Jackson's uneven. Which makes this album, cut three years ago with five young musicians who have gotten even better since, a breakthrough if not a miracle: warm, listenable harmolodic funk. Most great lyric artists shore up their effusions with irony, but the way this music confounds mind-body dualism should provide all the release from tension anyone needs. The teeming intellectual interplay of the rhythms is no less humane than the childlike bits of melody. And the way the players break into ripples of song only to ebb back into the tideway is participatory democracy at its most practical and utopian. A+

Marshall Crenshaw: Marshall Crenshaw (Warner Bros., 1982) This album seems simple because it is simple, yet it continues to unfold long after you believe its byways played out--not by exploiting the snazzy bridges and key changes of the traditional pop arsenal, but with lines repeated at odd junctures, choruses reentering when you anticipate another verse. Brushing by the everyday phrases that are the stuff of pop songwriting--cynical girl, she can't dance, the usual thing--to add a twist or make an oblique point, Crenshaw captures a magic ur-adolescent innocence without acting the simp. It's as sly and well-meaning as his love of girls. A

"D" Train: "D" Train (Prelude, 1982) Their burgeoning street rep reflects the burly appeal of James Williams, who sings lead like the president of the Teddy Pendergrass Fan Club, Boys and Girls High chapter. More power to him. But their chart success reflects the complete control of keyboard pro Hubert Eaves III. Hooks don't grow on streets. B+

Chico Freeman: Destiny's Dance (Contemporary, 1982) Freeman's previous albums have been pretentious and often static. This one sounds like jazz, and though Freeman's embouchure is thin, his compleatly eclectic concept gets over on the heads and improvs alone. "Wilpan's Walk" is Blue Note for the '80s, "Crossing the Sudan" bows toward Pharoah, "C & M" is as eventful as a Muhal piece because it is one, and "Embracing Oneness" does its best to show Duke and Thelonious the Way, though I myself doubt that they're listening. A-

Fun Boy Three: The Fun Boy Three (Chrysalis, 1982) This spinoff stretches the Specials even thinner--so thin it's like a minimalist statement, as if chants and jingles were the music of the people. And though "The Lunatics" is the only track I'm hooked on (I sing it for anyone within earshot and sound like Robert Goulet by comparison), it might be novelty album of the year if all the others achieved the rudimentary, skeptical charm of "Faith, Hope and Charity" and "The Telephone Always Rings." B

Haircut One Hundred: Pelican West (Arista, 1982) "The important thing to keep in mind is that anywhere else in the world, besides the US, this is not considered a `New Wave' record. It is as mainstream and as accessible as you can get."--Rockpool Newsletter. (Editor's note: cf. Doobie Brothers.) "Britons can't sing"--Simon Frith, New York Rocker. (Editor's note: italics in original.) C+

Huey Lewis and the News: Picture This (Chrysalis, 1982) The onetime Marin country-rocker and Elvis C. backer-upper is now working a working-guy variation on Rindy Ross (Quarterflash, dummy), cutting his macho strut with pop moues and knowing nods at women's lib. Though he has none of Springsteen's feeling for narrative and sings from the diaphragm rather than the gut, he's canny enough to pick good covers and writes his share of reasonable facsimiles: "Workin for a Livin" could be primo Bob Seger and "The Only One" is worthy of Geldof or Lynott if not the master. But Chris Hayes's metal furbelows soon remind you how much Huey sounds like Louie (Gramm) (Foreigner, dummy). I mean, Dewey really need one more rock pro bulling his way through options that just aren't as limited as he makes his living pretending? B-

Loverboy: Get Lucky (Columbia, 1981) Wish I could work up the fine pitch of loathing this received, synthesized, male chauvinist pop metal theoretically deserves, but in fact it's not completely awful: "Working for the Weekend" articulates a real class dilemma, "Get Lucky" puns on the band's careerist fortunes, and "Emotional" is a better Stones rip than "It's Only Rock 'n Roll." C+

Paul McCartney: Tug of War (Columbia, 1982) Most rock-and-rollers look like simps or cynics by the time they hit thirty-five. Others retain the irrepressible exuberance of a Stevie Wonder, or grasp it again in magic moments the way Carl Perkins does on this album's most affecting cut. A few rare ones age gracefully into fresh-eyed wisdom, like Neil Young and John Lennon. But no matter how serious and sensible he gets, McCartney's perpetual boyishness conveys the perpetual callowness of a musical Troy Donahue. I don't think this is intentional--in his personal life he seems at least as adult as anyone I've named, and he's put his hard-earned craft to mature use on this LP. But it might almost be dumb love songs. B

Mighty Diamonds: Indestructible (Alligator, 1982) There hasn't been a Diamonds album as tuneful as this lovingly pieced-together collection since Right Time in 1976, and Sly & Robbie certainly have elaborated their legerdemain in the meantime. But with most of the three-part unisons giving way to Tabby Shaw's lissome but somewhat reserved tenor and the tunes themselves accommodating the dubious "sincerity" of lovers rock, the new classics number only three: one about prison, one about revolution, and one about passing the pipe. A-

Mighty Diamonds: Reggae Street (Shanachie, 1981) As on so many reggae albums, songs that sound flat at first sink in if given the chance. But reggae's simple melodic devices are wearing so thin that this isn't always a plus--I resisted the title cut even more stubbornly once I remembered how it went, and the old political messages remind me more and more of Sunday school. Nevertheless, I remain basically interested until the middle of side two, with special curiosity as to the current whereabouts of "King Kong." B+

Graham Parker: Another Grey Area (Arista, 1982) Mixed success isn't becoming to Parker, who can no longer blame his bad personality on unemployment. By replacing the Rumour with studio regulars, he's lost the edgy drive that used to help his bitterness cut through, and his revitalized melodic craft only takes him so far--if hooks don't justify kneejerk sentimentality, they don't justify jerkoff paranoia either. B

Dolly Parton: Heartbreak Express (RCA Victor, 1982) If Willie and Merle, her equals as country artists, can turn into premier pop singers, why can't Dolly? Maybe because she's justifiably smitten with her physical gifts. Just as she can't resist pushup bras, she can't resist oversinging, showing off every curve of a gorgeous voice that's still developing new ones. On the other hand, maybe it has to do with why she wears wigs, which if I'm not mistaken is because she doesn't really like her hair. B-

Simon & Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park (Warner Bros., 1982) In the great Woodstock tradition, this gift from a flower (or two) to a generation (or two) is also a corporate boondoggle--a classy way for Warner Bros. artist Simon to rerecord, rerelease, and resell the catalogue CBS is sitting on. Paul has forgotten Art enough to relax as a singer, which means that much of the S&G material has improved since 1971. But live doubles are live doubles, nostalgia is nostalgia, wimps are wimps, and who needs any of 'em? C+

Siouxsie and the Banshees: Once Upon a Time/The Singles (PVC, 1981) Like Jim Morrison, greatest of the pop posers, Siouxsie Pseud disguises the banality of her exoticism with psychedelic gimmicks most profitably consumed at their hookiest, and voila. Although two of the four unavailable-on-album 45s on this compilation go nowhere, most of these nightmare vignettes are diverting placebos, of a piece even though they span three years of putative artistic development. B+

Gary Stewart & Dean Dillon: Brotherly Love (RCA Victor, 1982) They have two good reasons to try to make buddyful music together--Gary's goin' down and Dean's comin' up--and they work at it manfully enough. But the disappointments begin with the jacket, where Gary sports a medallion (wore hippie beads in the good old days), and are symbolized by a slickly lascivious title hit that sums up the honky tonk as singles bar. B-

Trouble Funk: Drop the Bomb (Sugarhill, 1982) Title track's the baddest antinuke music yet, not least because it'll offend the pious even before the rhythms put them out of joint--which is not to suggest that "Let's Get Hot" is Trouble Funk's version of the nuclear freeze, although in a way it is. Actually, "Drop the Bomb," "Hey Fellas" (which--oh that direct, unironic street culture--uses "backstabbers" as a compliment), and the primal "Pump Me Up" are all hotter (or maybe cooler) than the overarranged "Let's Get Hot"--which is to suggest that when it's pumping, this rapid Chocolate City street funk is the death. A-

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