Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1982-12-28


Toni Basil: Word of Mouth (Chrysalis, 1982) The only woman ever to offer to take it up the ass on top 40 radio (close your eyes and really concentrate on "Mickey" if you don't believe me) tops that trick by making four words out of "Don't want nobody" and then playing the double negative both ways. If like me you think it's kind of neat for a bizzer who's pushing 40 (helped out on The TAMI Show in 1965) to come on as a dirty teen dream, you'll enjoy the cunning of her modestly futuristic El Lay pop-rock. But if like me you've never fathomed the appeal of (David Essex's) "Rock On" and treasure other versions of "Be Stiff" and "Little Red Book," you won't mistake her for Blondie or Nick Lowe. B+

Chic: Tongue in Chic (Atlantic, 1982) This is their groove album. Maybe their throwaway album as well, yet I enjoy it fine, because I get from Chic what devotees of Memphis soul used to get from Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Which group you prefer is partly a matter of which rhythms feel like life to you, of course, so I'll add that like New York these are pretty swift. I'll also add that their in-concert theme song makes me wonder what the live album might be like. A-

George Clinton: Computer Games (Capitol, 1982) Nothing on this mature work of art will tear the roof off any mothersucker--Dr. Funkenstein's earthshaking jams are past. But that's hardly to suggest that he's lost his sense of rhythm or hermeneutics. In other words, if your ears say you've heard some of these grooves before, don't tell your ass about it and your mind'll never be the wiser. Clinton has deepened in the wake of his failure to turn the planet upside-down, and this is his most flawless album, paced and orchestrated without a dead spot and thought through like a mothersucker. Even the earthshaking jams of the past are accounted for, and in two or three different ways. Man's best friend spelled backwards is? And why would anyone want to spell it backwards? A

Bootsy Collins: The One Giveth, the Count Taketh Away (Warner Bros., 1982) Not the one to give, but who's counting? B+

John Cougar: American Fool (Riva, 1982) The breakthrough fluke of the year has it all over his predecessors in REO Speedwagon--Bob Seger, Cougar's current role model, has been dreaming of riffs with this much melodic crunch ever since Night Moves, and when I don't think about whys and wherefores they satisfy my mainstream cravings. But the guy is a phony on the face of it, and not in a fun way--anybody with the gall to tell teen America that once you pass sixteen "the thrill of living is gone" has been slogging toward stardom for so long he never noticed what happened to Shaun Cassidy. B

Culture Club: Kissing to Be Clever (Epic/Virgin, 1982) A lot of new English bands I wish were even worse than they are--every time Haircut 100 or Depeche Mode finds a riff or a groove it means they may last longer than the fifteen months allotted by the march of fashion. This new English band I wish were better, because for all their fashionability I think their hearts are in the right place--they look so weird because that's the way they feel. They do come up with catchy tunes, too. But their bland Caribbean rhythms move no muscles, and their confrontations with racial issues are rarely more than a phrase deep. B

Defunkt: Thermonuclear Sweat (Hannibal, 1982) At twenty-eight, Joseph Bowie comes on as spoiled and stunted as the most solipsistic hardcore teen, so it says worlds for the power of his rhythm section and the imagination of his guitarists that he can't ruin his own music. More Ornette than Contortions this time, he even shows off his good breeding by funkifying a Charlie Parker tune. On the other hand, his "For the Love of Money" sounds like slumming, especially from a guy who couldn't outsing Kenny Gamble in the shower. B+

The Dream Syndicate: The Days of Wine and Roses (Ruby, 1982) Punctuated as well as buoyed by drummer Dennis Duck, Karl Precoda shapes a guitar master's trick bag of basic chords and ungodly electric accidents into drones that won't quit, so abrasively tuneful I get off on this album strictly as a groove--the way I get off on perfectly mindless funk like, say, the Gap Band singles. But Steve Wynn's take on the usual world-weary table topics is gratifying matter-of-fact and no more, and music like this--music where the fun is in the no-fun--feels incomplete when it stops there. B+

Merle Haggard: Going Where the Lonely Go (Epic, 1982) Country legend or no, Haggard has no more business doing an album about broken relationships than Public Image Ltd. As a result, material that might be touching from a more austere singer is barely credible, and the three songs that open side two--one by Merle and Jimmy Dickens, one by Merle's off-and-on wife Leona Williams, and one by the austere Willie Nelson--ooze with the kind of moist self-pity ordinarily encountered only in leaders of the men's liberation movement. C+

Merle Haggard and George Jones: A Taste of Yesterday's Wine (Epic, 1982) What might have been a historic get-together overplays both the good-old-boy camaraderie and the cry-in-your-beer sentimentality of country's male-bonding mode. Willie Nelson's keynote tune becomes completely bathetic, and that the nostalgia and mutual self-congratulation it presages are even bearable is one more proof of Jones's genius. B-

Michael Jackson: Thriller (Epic, 1982) The best-selling album of the millennium was clearly a hits-plus-filler job from the beginning--what we couldn't know is how brilliantly every hit but "P.Y.T." would thrive on mass exposure and public pleasure. The inexhaustible "Beat It" broadcasts Eddie Van Halen wielding his might in the service of the antimacho that is his secret vice. "The Girl Is Mine" got interracial love on the radio and proved cuter than "Michelle." "Wanna Be Startin' Something" starts something every time an air or floor jock starts it up. "Billie Jean" is Michael's clearest statement to date on sexuality and stardom. And "Thriller" is the rare song that's improved by its video, which fleshes out the not-quite-a-joke scariness of "the funk of 40,000 years" for (Michael and) his (white) fans. A

David Lasley: Missin' Twenty Grand (EMI America, 1982) Great falsettos like Smokey Robinson and Clyde McPhatter flow uphill, while lesser ones like Maurice Gibb and Russell Thompkins settle for the formal panache and expressive limitation of acknowledged artifice. Lasley certainly doesn't flow, but he doesn't settle, either--his struggle toward full emotional range sounds forced at first, but then willed, which is different. Playing head voice for homosexual angst rather than love-man tenderness or androgynous affect, he sets his colloquial confessions to pristine studio soul backup completely appropriate in a concept album about a white guy in love with black music. But at times it does seem forced. B+

Liliput: Liliput (Rough Trade, 1982) Formerly Kleenex has kept the faith even though only the lead cuts pack the goofy punch of "Split"'s massed whistles and saxophones, or the chaotic rallying cry "Eisiger Wind"--not to mention "U," or "You," or "Ain't You." Where the Slits aspire to Mango and the Raincoats to ECM and the Au Pairs to Grunt, these women clearly belong with the rest of Rough Trade's amateur anarchohumanists; they're the best thing to happen to Switzerland since John Berger. In another context I might disapprove of the clumsy white funk toward which their instrumental atmosphere has evolved, or fret about just what their references to ichor, stilts, and kicking heels mean. But this music combines the spirit of a kindergarten rhythm band with the sophistication of a wartime art school, just like the real Cabaret Voltaire. B+

Men at Work: Business as Usual (Columbia, 1982) They call Australia Oz because it's about as exotic as Kansas upside down, and these five sturdy-sounding, fragile-down-under blokes make the most of it. Ten thousand miles from the heart of darkness they're free to project honest, ordinary, low-level Anglo-Saxon anxiety, with enough transpositions of key and meter to establish that they've thought about it some. Call the music auxiliary Police, with more players and fewer dynamics. The words aspire to a bland compassion that sings its origins in the vaguely rebellious "Be Good Johnny," about a schoolboy who "only like[s] dreaming," and justifies its universalism by finding Australians everywhere from Brussels to Bombay. B+

Missing Persons: Spring Session M (Capitol, 1982) By combining me-first ideology with kewpie-doll vocals, spokesperson Dale Bozzio makes it sound as if she caught on to the autonomy fad kind of late. By combining cold studio gloss-and-kick with surefire electronic hooks, musicmeister Terry Bozzio makes it sound as if he caught on to the new-wave fad kind of late. Another perfect marriage. C+

Prince: 1999 (Warner Bros., 1982) Like every black pop auteur, Prince commands his own personal groove, and by stretching his flat funk forcebeat onto two discs worth of deeply useful dance tracks he makes his most convincing political statement to date--about race, the one subject where his instincts always serve him reliably. I mean, you don't hang on his every word in re sex or the end of the world, now do you? A-

Lionel Richie: Lionel Richie (Motown, 1982) At least Jeffrey Osborne wants to sing like Peabo Bryson or somebody; no sooner does Richie split off from his unnecessarily successful funk group than he starts making like Andy Williams. Not that this comes as a surprise to those who know the funk group. But there are better ways to integrate this great nation of ours. C+

Ricky Skaggs: Highways and Heartaches (Epic, 1982) If Skaggs has come up with the best country album of the year, as he probably has, it's because despite his abandonment of bluegrass purism he's still a bluegrass purist at heart. Which means his commitment is more to the style than to the songs. Which means that above all his success is proof positive of the pusillanimity of the competition. B+

Alfonia Tims and His Flying Tigers: Future Funk/Uncut! (ROIR, 1982) Tims' guitar, uncommonly lyrical in a style where chop and slash has become a convention makes the funk-here-ska-there modality-somewhere else excursions seem comfortable enough. But not only can't he sing, he can barely chant, and the dull sound that plagues ROIR tapes deadens any compensatory bass-and-drums thrust. B-

Cris Williamson: Blue Rider (Olivia, 1982) Proving that lesbians are normal folks with normal hopes, normal regrets, even normal string arrangements--just like you, me, and Nicolette Larson. Next question. C

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