Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-04-12


Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music, 2011) A good bet to turn 70 before year's end, the patient craftsman surrounds a 96-second acoustic guitar moment with nine four-minute songs about eternity. The mood is melancholy. yet suffused with gratitude--for his wife's love first of all, but even more for God's gifts, with the Divinity Himself an actor in several lyrics and close by in most of the others. Fundamentally general and speculative language is always pinned down by a specific or two--a blizzard near Chicago, Jay-Z hawking Roc-a-Wear, a banker's pockets, a CAT scan and the Montauk Highway, gumbo in the pot and Dr. King shot, the form you have to fill out before you get into heaven. The music is the mild, irregular folk-rock he's explored for decades, graced with global colors that sound as natural as that guitar. I've had many disagreements with my homeboy Paulie, plus I'm an atheist. But here my main quarrel is the identity of the "fragment of song" whose title you can't quite recall as the Divinity Himself sets you "swimming in an ocean of love." Simon seems to think it's "Be-Bop-a-Lula." I vote for the competing "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," in part because I want God to keep creating a disturbance in my mind. A

TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Interscope, 2011) The rumor that this is their love album will come as news to the woman who let him go and the woman who thinks they're incompatible and maybe even the woman whose heart he's gonna keep when the world falls apart. Not to mention the mother robbed blind and the fish washed up on the shore and the blues that keeps him on the shelf and the megaquake that's a force of nature and maybe even the killer crane that's not a piece of malfunctioning construction equipment. Because these guys were lovers before this war, a ceaselessly shifting conflict that has dominated their entire artistic life, love has always been part of their coping mechanism. But it'll obviously never be as big for them as music. In this iteration, that music is a trifle gentler and several times encourages dancing on the floor you've been knocked to. But it remains set on complexity, contemplation, and the interactions of art-rock texture, pan-rock rhythm, and African falsetto. Beautiful, especially if you like your beauty grand. And beauty is good. But how about some jokes? Jokes help people get through wars too. A-

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