Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-08-23


Fountains of Wayne: Sky Full of Holes (Yep Roc, 2011) This leads mean, devastatingly so. The family who own "The Summer Place" is tragic and/or pathetic while "Richie and Ruben" and their "bar called Living Hell" are comic and/or repugnant, but both portraits feed off a dismay with the affluent professional world genius hookmeisters are privy to. Eventually the album warms up--"A Road Song," from a tour bus out of Green Bay, is the most touching love song yet from guys who've written more than you think, and "Workingman's Hands" dares Alan Jackson to cover it. What's missing is any sense of why these four songs are on the same album. Genius hookmeisters can do what they please, but here the genius has holes like the sky of the title, which were put there by a 21-gun salute it shouldn't have taken me 12 plays to notice. A-

Stephin Merritt: Obscurities (Merge, 2011) Nine seven-inches etc. plus five previously unreleaseds including three remnants of an abandoned musical obviously add up to an intentional hodgepodge. Still, I wonder whether the intention was to backload. I got dubious tracks four through eight, beginning with a faux Patsy Cline song that some find vrai and sounds like merde to me, only to be swept off my feet by Merritt thoughtfully intoning some little green men's "Song From Venus." Then there's the paranoid-robotic "When I'm Not Looking, You're Not There." It's just made for an arrangement that, according to Merritt, takes "random chord tones in random octaves, and hocket[s] them between dozens of instruments." A-

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