Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2006-01-24


Yo La Tengo: Prisoners of Love: A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs 1985-2003 (Matador, 2005) Since Yo La Tengo's discographical accomplishments begin with their mastery of their own song titles, I assumed and fervently hoped that this best-of would boast a neat table indicating recording date and provenance of original release, but instead the booklet comprises readable, fact-impaired essays by two bosom buddies. Those scamps. Research indicates that of the 26 songs on the first two discs, no more than three come from any of their four best albums; that either disc plays as smoothly as any of said four and as deeply as any but I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One; and that the "outtakes and rarities" add-on consistently recalls those moments on said four that you forgive and even enjoy because they're on their best albums. These aren't. [Recyclables]

Neil Young: Greatest Hits (Reprise, 2004) This flunks any reasonable redundancy test big-time--almost everything on it is from an album worth owning. Note, however. that 11 of the 16 tracks are 1971 or earlier, and also that there isn't a second that doesn't fit beautifully, "Heart of Gold" and "Harvest Moon" included. At the very least, an excellent conversion tool. [Recyclables]

Memphis Celebrates 50 Years of Rock 'n' Roll (BMG Strategic Marketing Group, 2004) See: Recyclables.

The Sound of the City: Memphis (EMI, 2002) Compiler Charlie Gillett is one of the rare guys who can make a virtue of getting dragged by obviosity. Although NYC, L.A., and Chicago proved too various to fold into accompanying musical cityscapes, he goes to town on a radio-ready two-CD mixtape that includes six songs with Memphis in their titles and three artists with Memphis in their names. It's got thematic segues, novelty instrumentals, stuff the historian-DJ plays wayfaring strangers in his living room, and known great songs now passed from the collective memory: "Tongue Tied Jill," "Trapped by a Thing Called Love," "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home," the amazing "Third Rate Romance," more. Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King check in with early crudities; "Dixie Fried" packs thematic punch. And though some selections are only curiosities--Dan Penn must be one hell of a nice guy--the whole thing moves, slight dips being part of the ride. [Recyclables]

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