Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2007-11-26


New York Dolls: One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This (RoadRunner, 2006) David Johansen is no longer 24, so this reunion album surprises by revealing the dirty little secret beneath the '70s Dolls' playful pansexuality: religious emotion. Sure they're still into slapstick and noise. But even the orgiastic "We're All in Love" and the comic "Dance Like a Monkey" have metaphysical dimensions. "Dancing on the Lip of a Volcano" is explicitly pagan; "Take a Good Look at My Good Looks" begins "Spirit slumbers in nature and awakens in mind" before asking "So what if this old world is just artifice?" Everywhere Johansen mourns mortality and celebrates contingency in the most searching lyrics of the year--lyrics deepened by how much fun the band is having. A+

Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (Interscope, 2006) Their mean age up to 48 with thirtysomething troublemaker Jim O'Rourke gone, indie's gray eminences make a light, simple, terse, almost pop album. Granted, the guitar hook on, for instance, "Do You Believe in Rapture?" wouldn't sound so lovely if they and all their progeny hadn't long since adjusted our harmonic expectations. But who better to play to our expanded capacity for tuneful beauty? The vocal star is Kim Gordon, breathlessly girlish at 53 as she and her husband evoke visions of dalliance, displacement, recrimination, and salvation that never become unequivocally literal. A

Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (Anti-, 2007) One of the rare entertainers to actively support the civil rights movement, gospel-pop-soul matron Mavis Staples honors the music of that movement with these re-created freedom songs. Of documentary value throughout, they're most moving when Staples embellishes them with personal memories, such as her one-young-woman integration of a washateria in Forrest, Mississippi. On her own new "With My Own Eyes," the updated "99 1/2," and producer Ry Cooder's "I'll Be Rested," she doesn't merely revive rousing old songs--she brings their moral passion into the present. As usual, Cooder's refab authenticity can get annoying--he distresses the arrangements with anachronistic guitar stabs like he's antiquing a bureau. But because African-American rhythms come easier to him than Cuban clave, his timing is spot on. More proof that God loves this project: He or She even grants Ry's klutzy son Joachim some tasty loops. A-

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