Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1983-07-26


Marshall Crenshaw: Field Day (Warner Bros., 1983) With Steve Lillywhite doctoring Crenshaw's efficient trio until it booms and echoes like cannons in a cathedral, the production doesn't prove Marshall isn't retro, though he isn't. It proves that no matter how genuine your commitment to the present, you can look pretty stupid adjusting to fashion--as usual, production brouhaha is a smokescreen for the betrayal of impossibly ecstatic expectation. Think of Talking Heads 77, New York Dolls, Exile on Main Street, or (for you oldsters) Moby Grape, all in fact a little botched aurally, all classics. Since the problem here isn't mess but overdefinition, a more precise comparison might be Give 'Em Enough Rope, but with a crucial difference: The Clash had better songs than its follow-up, while this follow-up has better songs than the debut. The man has grown up with a bang--though his relationships are suddenly touched with disaster, he vows to try till he dies. And you know what? Lillywhite's drum sound reinforces Crenshaw's surprising new depth--both his sense of doom and his will to overcome it. A+

Def Leppard: Pyromania (Mercury, 1983) Fuckin' right there's a difference between new heavy metal and old heavy metal. The new stuff is about five silly beats-per-minute faster. And the new lead singers sound not only "free" and white, but also more or less twenty-one. C

Dave Edmunds: Information (Columbia, 1983) Not since the onset of a career always marked by consistent taste and uncertain utility has Edmunds strayed so far from the trad, and though his perfidy/courage is characteristically marginal, it's still a mistake. The two Jeff Lynne-produced tracks have given him the hit he needs, but where 1971's echoey "I Hear You Knockin'" was a departure, 1983's teched-up "Slipping Away" is an accommodation to marketing trends the Edmunds of Rockpile bucked. And as a symptom of his faltering commitment, the songs he's selected for side two are quite humdrum, which isn't characteristic at all. B-

A Flock of Seagulls: Listen (Jive, 1983) If you think I enjoy enjoying this epitome of new-wave commercialism, this pap beloved of no one but MTV-addled suburbanites (not even NME, ever!)--well, you're right. I'm not just being campy, either, except insofar as camp means the luxury of surrender to stupidity--in this case to sheer, sensationalistic aural pleasure, whooshes and zooms and sustains and computerized ostinatos and English boys whining about their spaced-out, financially secure lot, all held aloft on tunes Mr. Spock could dance to. There are too many slow ones on number two, so I don't play both sides indiscriminately like I do with the debut. But hell, "What Am I Supposed to Do" even has a decent lyric. B+

Garland Jeffreys: Guts for Love (Epic, 1983) Jeffreys's odd weakness for rock without roll is the ruination of this overproduced, undercomposed anachronism--even the reggae grooves are tinged with synthesized AOR melodrama, and the dance numbers do not jump jump. C+

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Album (MCA, 1983) It's one of Jett's virtues that unlike so many rock traditionalists she doesn't let her sense of humor undercut her commitment--"Fake Friends" (cf. "Back Stabbers") and "The French Song" (cf. "Triad") are the real stuff. It's also one of her virtues that unlike so many other rock traditionalists she does have a sense of humor. Even makes fun of the Stones--they called "Starfucker" "Star Star," she covers it as "Star Star" (cassette-only until retailers pressured MCA into taking it off, still available as twelve-inch B-side), then dubs her own "Scumbag" "Coney Island Whitefish." And if you don't see what's so funny about her tuneless "Everyday People" (the twelve-inch in question), I guarantee Sylvester Stewart is laughing all the way to his next label. No joke: her nagging love-is-pain clichés. B+

Syl Johnson: Ms. Fine Brown Frame (Boardwalk, 1982) Johnson has the rep and pedigree of a down-home treasure, but like so many of his fellow workers both renowned (Johnnie Taylor) and obscure (O.V. Wright), he's rarely better than his material if almost never worse. Having released bluesy soul records out of sweet home Chicago since the dissolution of his '70s label, where his final album was a dismal piece of out-of-it disco, Johnson here constructs his best collection since 1975's Total Explosion and his best side ever on the firm foundation of the title track, a superb piece of out-of-it disco. And may well have something equally interesting to show us in another seven years. B+

Journey: Frontiers (Columbia, 1983) Just a reminder, for all who believe the jig is really up this time, of how much worse things might be: this top ten album could be outselling Pyromania, or Flashdance, or even Thriller. Worse still, Steve Perry could run for the Senate as a moderate Republican from, say, Nebraska, where his oratory would garner excellent press--and then, having shed his video-game interests, ram the tape tax through. D+

Kajagoogoo: White Feathers (EMI America, 1983) Anglophile album buyers are nothing if not fickle, and this well-named bit of fluff is just forgettable enough to get caught in the backlash. No, it's not entirely fair--the single's cute, as are the little fuguey bits. Boo hoo. C+

Kraut: An Adjustment to Society (Cabbage, 1982) New York's most likely hardcore boys keep the hooks coming for a whole side of enlightened rant--not twenty yet and they've figured out that past and future are real categories, always a tough lesson for rock-and-rollers. Overdisc, despite a terrific antiwar closer, they settle for blurred distinctions. B

Men Without Hats: Rhythm of Youth (Backstreet, 1983) "Who are you listening to--Jethro Tull?" someone asked over the phone, and that's new music for you. What makes it new is how ruthlessly it goes for the one-shot, which sometimes means the good song--"The Safety Dance," available as a twelve-inch. As for the rest, well, Ivan Doroschuk seems smarter than anybody in A Flock of Seagulls. And Ian Anderson seemed smarter than anybody in the Ohio Express. C+

Mighty Diamonds: The Roots Is There (Shanachie, 1982) The amazing thing about reggae of a certain quality--in which an affecting singer like Donald Shaw joins ace session players--is that no matter how sedulously it restates platitudes about roots and girls and Jah, its small graces eventually get its equally sedulous melodies across. But why should anyone who doesn't credit the platitudes give them that long? B

Mtume: Juicy Fruit (Epic, 1983) How deeply these clever funk lifts and come-hither ululations penetrate your mind-body continuum depends on how deeply you're into big-league fucking, which for these folks seems to involve a confusion between candy and fruit. I like both, prefer the latter, and wouldn't advise going to bed with anyone who doesn't know which is which. B

The Police: Synchronicity (A&M, 1983) I prefer my musical watersheds juicier than this latest installment in their snazzy pop saga, and my rock middlebrows zanier, or at least nicer. If only the single of the summer was a little more ambiguous, so we could hear it as a poem of mistrust to the Pope or the Secretary of State; instead, Sting wears his sexual resentment on his chord changes like a closet "American Woman" fan, reserving the ambiguity for his Jungian conundrums, which I'm sure deserve no better. Best lyrics: Stew's "Miss Gradenko" and Andy's "Mother." Juiciest chord changes: the single of the summer. B+

Pylon: Chomp (DB, 1983) The only band named after a Faulkner novel, and that's what I like about the South. Though I honor their collective front, and believe in my heart that Curtis Crowe is the great musician here, I know for damn sure that the one who makes me murmur "Oh yeah, that one" five seconds into each of these twelve tracks is Randall Bewley. And suspect the reason I can say no more is Vanessa Briscoe, who looks a lot earthier than she turns out to be. A-

Simple Minds: New Gold Dreams (81-82-83-84) (A&M, 1983) With more effort than hedonism should ever require, I make out three or maybe four full-fledged melodies on this self-important, mysteriously prestigious essay in romantic escape. Though the textures are richer than in ordinary Anglodisco, they arouse nary a spiritual frisson in your faithful synesthetician. Auteur Jim Kerr is Bowie sans stance, Ferry sans pop, Morrison sans rock and roll. He says simple, I say empty and we both go home. C+

Soft Cell: The Art of Falling Apart (Sire, 1983) Marc Almond's compassionately bitchy exposés of bedsitter hedonism and suburban futility risk bathos when they eschew burlesque. I'm sure his faithless U.S. audience would find the non-LP B side "It's a Mugs Game," in which Marc pukes on his shoes, more edifying than the mock?-tragic "Baby Doll" or a bedhopper's lament like "Numbers." And David Ball's synthesized Hendrix on the bonus twelve-inch isn't funny enough to compensate. B-

Donna Summer: She Works Hard for the Money (Mercury, 1983) In which schlocky Michael Omartian replaces magic man Quincy Jones and Summer is born again. You know why? Because Omartian believes in Jesus, that's why. The result is the best Christian rock this side of T-Bone Burnett, and not just because it's suitable for Danceteria, although that helps. After all, can T-Bone claim to have introduced the concept of agape to the secular audience? B+

UB40: 1980-83 (A&M, 1983) Only Bunny Wailer's inventions have anything on the deep consistency of this integrated English world-class reggae. And if Ali Campbell's sufferating vocal leads are tamer than the outcries of such rootsmen as Winston Rodney and Keith Porter, they certainly don't lack for soul or expressive reach, except perhaps on the upful side, where the fast-talking Astro comes to the rescue before any serious tedium is done. Repeating only three tunes from their U.K. best-of, eschewing long-winded dub, this overdue U.S.-debut compilation is where to get hooked. A-

Flashdance (Casablanca, 1983) Ten different singers collaborate with half a dozen producers to collapse a myriad of pop polarities onto one all-inclusive rock-disco concept soundtrack. Tenors and contraltos, guitars and synthesizers, lust and love, ballads and DOR--all are equal as these mostly undistinguished, mostly quite functional artistes proceed through their mostly undistinguished, mostly quite functional material. Concept: the overinsistent beat, which signifies how compulsively they seek a good time that retains shreds of both meaning and ecstatic release. B-

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