Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2004-02-10

2004-02-10

Abyssinia Infinite: Zion Roots (Network, 2003) Bill Laswell designs a neo-traditionalist vehicle for his wife Gigi ("Gela," "Aba Alam Lemena") **

African Head Charge: Shrunken Head (On-U Sound, 2003) Two decades of mind expansion compressed onto one dub-up ("Run Come See," "No, Don't Follow Fashion") **

Andre Afram Asmar: Race to the Bottom (Mush, 2003) Ambient Arabized dub ethnotechno, for chilling out without altogether forgetting you have a body ("Scientism," "Rajamatshitan") *

A3: Power in the Blood (One Little Indian, 2003) Roots-rocking U.K. socialists access techno and Hubert Selby Jr. ("Woody Guthrie," "Strobe Life," "U Don't Dans 2 Tekno Anymore") ***

Basement Jaxx: Kish Kash (Astralwerks, 2003) Is that blood the big-time vocalists smear on the tracks, or ichor? ("Lucky Star," "Cish Cash," "Right Here's the Spot") ***

Floxy Bee: Ajulo (Tman, 2003) "African gospel" indigenous-charismatic style, which sounds nothing like Western hymnody and everything like Nigeria ("Iba Re Eledumare," "Jesus, I Love You") ***

Black Eyed Peas: Elephunk (A&M, 2003) In which the unbelievably dull El Lay alt-rappers fabricate the brightest actual pop album of 2003. They remain unbelievable, but in pop that's just one more aesthetic nuance. Titles like "Let's Get Retarded," "Shut Up," and the guitar-driven "Anxiety" are what you'd hope except cleaner--tremendous ups every one. You can bet new member Fergie, a showbiz lifer who also put in a tour as JC Chasez's girlfriend, lured her pal Justin down for "Where Is the Love," an actual hit that actually called out "the CIA." Terrorists, the song claims. Rhymes with "The Bloods and the Crips and the KKK." A-

J.C. Chasez: Schizophrenic (Jive, 2004) None of Justin Timberlake's slyly seductive charm for this diva with balls--he's on the hunt for some serious pus-say. Eight of the first 10 tracks are sex-obsessed, with three promising to "love you all night strong." Only guys who entertain too many females in hotel rooms or spend too much time at worldsex.com believe this is what ladies long to hear. Just when you think Chasez will never get his head out of his ass, however, you find out why it's called Schizophrenic. For the final five tracks, the 'N Sync grad is convincingly sweet, pretty, and needy, notably in the most famous words he'll ever write: "'Cause when I'm all alone/I lie awake and masturbate/I love to hear the sounds you make/Baby here I come." This ain't Timbaland or the Neptunes--the musical highlight is a Basement Jaxx track hooked by what sounds like an electric tympani. But the electronic dance-rock gets the pop job done. If it won't lure the average hottie into bed, it also won't make her reach for the remote or drive her off the dancefloor. [Blender: 3]
"Shake It," "Come to Me" Choice Cuts

Dizzee Rascal: Boy in Da Corner (XL, 2004) The first thing to understand about Dizzee is that his fundamental appeal is musical, and the second is that there's very little music there. Break down a track and often you'll find only an electro beat--at most three or four sparse elements, rarely long on sustain or tune. Yet as someone who mocked the minimal means of U.K. garage and considered the Streets barely music at all, I was captivated by Dizzee's sound the moment I heard the import. His adolescent gulps and yowls are street-Brit with a Jamaican liquidity, as lean, eccentric, and arresting as the beats. The voice also lends a comic, claustrophobic vulnerability to rhymes whose brilliance varies, though their winning youthfulness does not. Whether he can grow as a lyricist as he struggles to comprehend his success is the old conundrum. The smarts he's got. The right advice will be hard to come by. A-

The Exploding Hearts: Guitar Romantics (Dirtnap, 2003) Should have stayed, but they had to go ("Sleeping Aides and Razorblades," "Rumours in Town") *

The Fiery Furnaces: Gallowsbird's Bark (Rough Trade, 2003) Most Intriguing Use of Roots Riffs in an Eclectic Context Nobody Comprehends (Including Them) ("Worry Worry," "Up in the North") **

Four Tet: Rounds (Domino, 2003) Charming, civilized, childish, Kieran Hebden imagines an aural space in which electronic malfunction is cute rather than annoying or ominous. Keys and strings go their own merry way toward the same pretty, toylike goal, and though the drums grumble sometimes, they can be counted on to help their friends the glitches in a pinch. The computer as music box--which is what guys like Hebden think it is, after all. A-

Terry Hall & Mushtaq: The Hour of Two Lights (Astralwerks, 2003) Dud

R. Kelly: Chocolate Factory (Jive, 2003) "Ignition--Remix" Choice Cuts

R. Kelly & Jay-Z: The Best of Both Worlds (Jive/Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2002) Jay all unrepentant swagger, R. his wheedling yes-man ("The Best of Both Worlds," "P***y") **

Kings of Leon: Youth & Young Manhood (RCA, 2003) Dud

Little Brother: The Listening (ABB, 2003) Dud

The Locust: Plague Soundscapes (Anti-, 2003) Dud

Massive Attack: 100th Window (Virgin, 2003) Dud

John Mellencamp: Trouble No More (Columbia, 2003) Dud

Ramiro Musotto: Sudaka (Fast Horse, 2003) Gaby Kerpel fans take note--yet another cosmopolitan Argentinean, this one a São Paulo-based percussionist, doing the ethnotechno dance with yet another cache of field recordings. Difference is, Musotto shows no interest in conventional songs as he fuses berimbau, cuíca, Pro Tools, and such to a children's chorus, a bottle man's cry, authorized secret recordings of a warrior tribe, and several helpings of Candomblé. Most percussion records are too abstract, just like most techno records. These beats and textures are the lingüiça in the feijoada. A-

Me'shell Ndegéocello: Comfort Woman (Maverick, 2003) Dud

The Notwist: Different Cars and Trains (Domino, 2003) Dud

The Notwist: Neon Golden (City Slang/Virgin, 2004) Not a fraud. That much I'll grant this evolving German unit's career album. There are tunes, and they're nicely melded to a wide assortment of putatively nonmusical sounds. Not pretentious either, though to say anything kinder about Markus Archer's command of English is to make hope a vice. Also, not cold--lukewarm at least. But then what? Not dynamic? Not exciting? Not much fun? Young people who think Kraftwerk were more important than the Ramones are free to satisfy their craving for the neu with this retreat into simplicity. But even Radiohead and Mouse on Mars contain more chaos. And the chaos is still out there. B-

The Polyphonic Spree: The Beginning Stages of . . . (Hollywood/Good, 2003) Dud

The Rapture: Echoes (Strummer/Universal, 2003) "House of Jealous Lovers" so dominates that it takes a while to glom onto the other uptempo numbers, which means most of them. With headman Luke Jenner flaunting his tortured-romance shtick--a clarion Ian Curtis-Robert Smith hybrid only not really depressed, because he gets off on pretending to be--this is mannerist DOR more accomplished and less sentimental than its sources. Title tune flows out of great hit so naturally you hardly notice the segue, and dig the synthesized train horn that adjoins the saxophone noises on "I Need Your Love." I wish they'd make a pass at Killing Joke's "Change" or Medium Medium's "Hungry So Angry." But more likely Jenner is on the hunt for a hit ballad even as I write. A-

Tokyo Sex Destruction: Le Red soul Program (10 Points Program) (Dim Mak, 2003) Only in a city as white as Barcelona could a John Sinclair tribute band sound so garage ("Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide," "You Gotta Do It") *

The Vitamen: Mujer (Vitamen, 2003) "Stupid fucking job," the lyric goes ("SFJ," "Black Babies") *

Rufus Wainwright: Want One (DreamWorks, 2003) Repays hard listening at modest interest ("Oh What a World," "Natasha") *

Z-Man: Dope or Dog Food (Refill/Hiero Imperium, 2004) "Born free, hungry, ugly with no money," Z-Man lives the hip hop fantasy. His life is one long after-party--every night he gets wasted and has sex with someone he doesn't know. His favorite high is Cisco, the orange-colored fortified wine a/k/a "liquid crack," and his honeys could populate a Benetton ad if you airbrushed their zits. His tone of voice is slapstick, his homemade beats all freaky jocularity. But is he ever not having fun. His bacchanals invariably deteriorate into gruesome details, and after the after-party comes the aftermath: cockroaches in his glass and crabs in his pubes, arms broken in drunken car crashes, insomnia that won't quit, and then there's the STDs. This is a rapper who hocks loogies when he spits and believes in God like he believes in Santa Claus. And now--unless you have something better for his ass, which you don't--pass the Cisco. A-

Down in the Basement (Old Hat, 2003) Here be 24 of the 50,000 78s collected by fun-loving Joe Bussard, portrayed by co-compiler Marshall Wyatt as a crusty old sweetheart who'll make you mix tapes for 50 cents a song until the RIAA hits him with a writ. The same share-the-wealth openness lifts the selections, which are upful even when bemoaning life's travails. Unfamiliar arrangements of famous songs leaven the obscurities, and stars like Gene Autry and Bill Broonzy pitch in. The country breakdowns that lead it off and take it on out could convert Nas (or me). And the concept has room for the hot jazz bands of Luis Russell and Fess Williams. It's hard to imagine Harry Smith declaring either folk music. Bussard could care less. A-

Hot Women (Kein & Aber, 2003) R. Crumb collects 24 international 78s, 24 big butts, and 24 smiles (Hamsa Khalafe and Ali Atia, "Ballali Madja"; Aïcha Relizania, "Khraïfi") **

Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Warming by the Devil's Fire (Columbia/Legacy, 2003) W.C. Handy, "Beale Street Blues"; Mildred Jones, "Mr. Thrill" Choice Cuts

The Rough Guide to the Music of Egypt (World Music Network, 2003) The field is vast, vast--Cairo has been the cultural capital of the Middle East since the dawn of recording. And though the compiler is Yalla: Hitlist Egypt's David Lodge, the logic is unusually impenetrable: neither of Yalla's hard youth styles, no Faudel or Umm Kulthum, two tracks each for current superstars Angham and Amr Diab, plenty of classicists and also plenty of Nubians. Yet keynoted by Angham's irresistible "Leih Sebtaha," which dates all the way back to 2001, its intense, tradition-steeped politesse holds it together as it leaps not just decades but generations. A-

Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot (Archeophone, 2003) Because David Wondrich's sourcebook cracks so wise, and because pre-electrical recordings are so tinny, you'll get happier reading about this music than listening to it. But there's a third reason: although most of these 27 1897-1925 selections are groundbreaking, the conventions they're tethered to are boulders they scarcely budge. Listening to early Armstrong is like reading Yeats--they're both so vivid and immediate you don't care how dated they are. Listening to Vess Ossman or Arthur Pryor (major innovators, as the book makes clearer than the notes) is more like reading Edwin Arlington Robinson. So take this as a hell of a history lesson. Play it half a dozen times and you'll adjust to its aural coordinates, but even then you may enjoy its quaintness more than its raunch or roll. Two great exceptions: Bert Williams's "Nobody," a barely sung set piece that gains inevitability until it stands there a masterwork, and Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues," in which a black vaudevillian and her black band revolutionize the record industry and have a ball doing it. B+

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