Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2010-11-26


Shad: TSOL (Black Box/Decon, 2010) Why are Canadian rappers so clean? OK, I guess we know--they're Canadian. Still, this second-generation Rwandan Torontan stands a major chance of being confused with the fatally bland K-Os, and that's a shame for somebody who fairly bills himself as "Rakim--North Pole Edition." Seems like a genuine Christian, as in "Listening to Strange Fruit, Jeru, and Beirut/Trying to listen to Je-Sus is hard as fake boobs at times," and for what it's worth, I'm glad he knows how boobs feel, because it undercuts that goody-goody thing. This is especially true because I don't recall previously encountering a rap as pro-woman as the one that goes, "I talk to women/I just can't talk for women, that's for you." But now I'm making him sound like a goody-goody when on top of some serious political smarts he's both clever and funny: "I don't badmouth but I quickly/Put down a cat if he bit me/Like Roy's boy Siegfried./Welcome to the big leagues, where they pitch heat . . ." Yes, he nails those internal rhymes. Nobody's Rakim. But he earns the brag. A-

Tricky: Mixed Race (Domino, 2010) What Massive Attack's stealthiest weapon of ass destruction rightly claims is his most uptempo and clearly conceived album isn't therefore his most songful, though he'd probably disagree, out of habit if nothing else. That's still 2002's criminally neglected Blowback, available as I write used and domestic for under a buck or new and imported for 45 of 'em. The thematic attack here is pretty surgical, cutting most of the time to the gangsta life he's so glad he sidestepped as a youth. The individual pieces are well-defined by his muzzy standards. And the usual lineup of vocal guests you never heard of--in this case Kingston hard Terry Lynn, London patois-slinger Blackman, Tricky's reformed little brother Marlon, Bobby (from Primal Scream, you remember), and most prominently Irish-Italian belle Frankie Riley--certainly stick up for themselves. But things only get catchy when an Arabic speaker who turns out to be Rachid Taha's guitarist--not even backup singer!--grabs the album by the throat and is followed by Riley taking up a "big underground tune" from when Tricky was a teen. It goes "Shiny gun, shiny gun, shiny gun, right now." He can still remember some thug scaring him silly by singing it to him in a shop that happened to stand on disputed turf. A-

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