Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1983-11-29


King Sunny Ade and His African Beats: Ajoo (Makossa, 1983) Since his import-if-you-can-find-it The Message is still my favorite Adé, not to mention my first, I thought it wise to check out the five LPs Adé released in Nigeria between Mango albums. They sounded pretty good, but since "universal language" is as parochial a concept as any other one-world idealism, I wasn't too surprised to discover limits to my appetite for a conservative, consciously recycled music I half understand. Makossa, a Brooklyn label which has manufactured and distributed African records since 1967, has now released this Nigerian Adé in a cleaner, brighter pressing. I know several neoconnnoisseurs who consider Ajoo his best since the first Nigerian Adé they heard, Check "E"; I'd say second-best since The Message (the first shipment of which arrived in the States warped) because I prefer Bobby, featuring an elegiacally lyrical side called "Late Olabinjo Benson." One indication of Ajoo's quality is that Adé recut "Ewele" and "Tolongo" (as well as Maa Jo's title tune) for Synchro System, but that's not necessarily a consumer plus. "Gbeyogbeyo," however, would make Vangelis turn green if he weren't so badly discolored already. A-

King Sunny Ade and His African Beats: Synchro System (Mango, 1983) Top-billed keyboard player Martin Meissonnier has definite ideas about how to produce his client for the non-African market. By emphasizing discrete melodies and heating up the mix, he variegates Adé's flow, which is how art works in the U.S.A. Since the impact of overviews like Juju Music is unrepeatable, the switch came none too soon. This more conventionally unified album may not seem quite as arresting as the debut, but that's mainly because it arrived second. There's no clearer way to hear the talking drums and choral singing that make juju music what it is. A-

John Anderson: All the People Are Talkin' (Warner Bros., 1983) Anderson's slur manages to suggest comedy, sex, and rock and roll successively and sometimes simultaneously, and his fifth album in three years is his finest yet--the first to surround great hits with uniformly high-grade filler. Or maybe it's the first to make the filler sound hitbound--his defiant "Haunted House" surprised Warners by stiffing before his defiant "Black Sheep" took off. Suggested follow-ups: the hapfully plaintive "Look What Followed Me Home" and the undefiant public service announcement, "Let Somebody Else Drive." A-

Big Boys: Lullabies Help the Brain Grow (Moment, 1983) If this exemplary hardcore unit can't quite break their LP into the general-interest zone, I begin to wonder whether the new punks are ever going to reach anyone with a full head of hair. The Big Boys are far from monolithic, cutting the blur with ballad tempos and funk rhythms and even horns. Randy Turner's mock my-voice-is-changing squeal has an old (white) blues singer's authority. And their unmistakable heart in no way softens the ranting fury that's the signature of the style. But without a guitar ace (Bad Brains) or a songwriter (Descendents) or both (Black Flag), they cross over only at their best--about six cuts out of fourteen here, including the two slowest. B

T-Bone Burnett: Proof Through the Night (Warner Bros., 1983) Since I've never measured America's decline by the willingness of its female citizens to take their clothes off, some of Burnett's allegories fail to touch me as I know they should. But I'm a sucker for a humble man with a proud guitar. B+

Bob Dylan: Infidels (Columbia, 1983) All the wonted care Dylan has put into this album shows--musically, "License to Kill" is the only dud. His distaste for the daughters of Satan has gained complexity of tone--neither dismissive nor vituperative, he addresses women with a solicitousness that's strangely chilling, as if he knows what a self-serving hypocrite he's being, but only subliminally. At times I even feel sorry for him, just as he intends. Nevertheless, this man has turned into a hateful crackpot. Worse than his equation of Jews with Zionists with the Likud or his utterly muddled disquisition on international labor is the ital Hasidism that inspires no less than three superstitious attacks on space travel. God knows (and I use that phrase advisedly) how far off the deep end he'll go if John Glenn becomes president. B-

Gang of Four: Hard (Warner Bros., 1983) This record is damn near dead on its feet, but I don't think the missing ingredient is Hugo Burnham's human chops so much as his humane spirit. The sick-soul-of-success lyrics are part of it--even their most received new-left truisms always had a sloganeering hookiness about them. What really makes the difference, though, is the detachment of Jon King's delivery. If I didn't know better, I'd wonder whether now he really wants to turn into Phil Oakey. And actually, I don't know better. B

Gap Band: Gap Band V: Jammin' (Total Experience, 1983) Like Cameo and Rick James before them, these old pros blew their sure shots on the breakthrough--this drops no bombs. But once again the follow-up album compensates for never getting up by never letting up--the uptempo stuff steadfastly maintains their hand-stamped party groove, and like Cameo (forget Rick James), they've figured out what to do with the slow ones. That Stevie Wonder move is a no-fail--just ask George Benson, or Eddie Murphy. B+

The Golden Palominos: The Golden Palominos (Celluloid/OAO, 1983) This cacophonous avant-funk expedition was masterminded by master drummer Anton Fier for Bill Laswell's label (and basses, and on one cut scratching), and it's their pulse that keeps it going. But as an incorrigible content freak, I regard it as an excellent source of Arto Lindsay, who sings or plays on six out of seven cuts and helped compose five. It's not as funny or demented as the best DNA, but it's funny and demented enough that unless you liked DNA you probably won't consider Lindsay much of a singer or player. I never put it on at bedtime myself. A-

Joe Jackson: Mike's Murder Soundtrack (A&M, 1983) What a pro. The song side spices up his patented mild satire with more Latin rhythms, a Booker T. Winwood organ part, and the semiclassic "Laundromat Monday." And on the instrumental side, watch out Dave Grusin--Joe was once musical director of the Portsmouth Playboy Club. C+

Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Doppelganger (Sire/ZE, 1983) Counting his previous (and best) album some kind of sellout because it's held together by a dance groove, the Kid here returns to the musical comedy stage for yet another original-cast recording. As usual, the book exists only in his head, and the putative plot precis does little to clarify just what these songs are about. And I really want to know--the more closely I analyze the apparently surface wit of the Kid's lyrical-musical synthesis-pastiche, the more I wish I could see the show. A-

Cyndi Lauper: She's So Unusual (Portrait, 1983) Initially, this blue angel won my heart by covering the two most profound pop songs of the past five years, "Money Changes Everything" and "When You Were Mine." Now, with "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" the official pep song of the daughters of Ms. and Pepsi-Cola and "Time After Time" throbbing hearts by the millions, I've softened my strictures about her Betty Boop bimboism--if a kook who's loved, respected, and taken seriously by her sisters fools boys into believing she can be fooled with, more power to her. First side's an eternal classic. Second sneaks by on the one where she kisses me and the one where she diddles herself. A

Local Boys: Moments of Madness (Island, 1983) A studio group fabricated by superproducer Glyn Johns around the unbankable Andy Fairweather Low, they're really international men, but the conceit suits Andy somehow. His aphoristic colloquialism and cracked, unassumingly intense vocals carry everything on the record except the lovely, Lofgrenish "Angels Falls," which belongs entirely to the second banana (and sometime Who keyb man) Tim Gorman, and the overblown, Springsteenish "Shoot Out on the Highway," which must be somebody's idea of AOR. A-

MC5: Babes in Arms (ROIR, 1983) Despite all the rare mixes and original versions adduced in the notes, the only great track totally unfamiliar to this proud (and lucky) owner of the 5's three albums is a cover of Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything." The rest of the obscure stuff merely augments a superbly paced compilation. The raw songcraft and new-thing chaos of Detroit's other great protopunk band were further ahead of their time than it seemed five years ago. And drummer Dennis Thompson was a motherfucker. A-

Ricky Skaggs: Don't Cheat in Our Hometown (Sugar Hill/Epic, 1983) Nothing if not an astute traditionalist, Skaggs understands that what makes country music go is the tension between heaven and hell. But where most great country singers come off mealy-mouthed in the virtuous mode, Skaggs makes it sound as if he only sins because he knows he's supposed to. This may mean he's not a great country singer. B+

UB40: Labour of Love (A&M, 1983) Slightly annoyed at Ali Campbell's low pain threshold, I was about to dismiss these classic covers as a reggae Pin Ups when I noticed Astro's toasts and the U-Threes' backups saving the two Harder They Come remakes. A week or two thereafter it hit me once again that reggae tunes can take a long, long time to hook in. And by then, guess who I was suffering along with. A-

Bunny Wailer: Roots Radics Rockers Reggae (Shanachie, 1983) This expanded version of Solomonic's 1979 In I Father's House isn't primo Bunny. Even the nicely dubwise "Rockers" is flatter than side one of Rock 'n' Groove; what's more, the sacramental Tribute and the upful Hook Line 'n Sinker have me waiting on his soon-come live album. Nevertheless, this is a worthy sample of the unjudgmental preachments and reliable rhythms of Jamaica's solidest solo artist, and if you buy it maybe there'll be more. B+

X: More Fun in the New World (Elektra, 1983) Aimed at the no-future generation, X's passionate reconstruction of musical (and marital) tradition is salutory, and this is their most accomplished album. Both the songwriting and Billy Zoom's guitar reach new heights of junk virtuosity, and "Breathless" is a stroke. But they're too complacent in their tumult. Their righteous anti-Brit chauvinism prevents them from seeing that in its way Culture Club, say, is at least as satisfying and generous-spirited as the Big Boys. And their unabashed beatnik identifications not only stinks slightly of retro but misses the point of rock bohemianism, which is that a proudly nonavant band like this ought to risk a little of its precious authenticity in an all-out effort to make converts. A-

Yaz: You and Me Both (Sire, 1983) Alf Moyet may not have as "good" a voice as Annie Lennox, but she's more fun to spend half an hour with--cut her and she bleeds, etc. A bit of an old romantic, though, which really isn't that much better than the new kind. B

Best of Studio One (Heartbeat, 1983) Never an aficionado of medium-tempo vocal groups, second-level soul men, or for that matter '60s reggae, I don't find this loving first-U.S.-release compilation of Coxsone Dodd tracks especially transcendent. "Oh Mr. D.C." and "Row Fisherman Row" are the finest Sugar Minott and Wailing Souls ever to come my way, and the Termites "My Last Love" is a sure shot ina one-shot style. But the Heptones ain't the Mighty Diamonds, Dennis Brown ain't Perry Como, and Alton Ellis ain't Tyrone Davis, a second-level soul man if ever there was one. And so it goes. B+

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