Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-10-07


The Plastic People of the Universe: Magical Nights (Munster, 2010) Half of Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned, that crucial early salvo in the former Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, is scattered through these two discs. That one still sounds glorious on its own. But it's no more likely to be reissued separately than Take a Look at Those Cakes. The long-gone live reunion album 1997, so guitar-heavy you can hear it dreaming of arena-rock glory, has only nine of these 31 selections. And although I miss the Leading Horses finale "Osip," this captures the band more persuasively than either of the six post-Bondy albums I've heard. The mood is eerie and sardonic, and the unchronological song order tracks like a Tarantino movie. Unobliged now to penetrate their considerable political significance, which got too Catholic anyway, I'm free to immerse in the bearlike vocals, jazzlike saxophone, unstinting drive, and gloomy harmonic devices of my favorite prog band. Can and Faust are noodling wimps by comparison. A

Our Dreams Are Our Weapons: From the Kasbah/Tunis to Tahrir Square/Cairo and Back (Network, 2011) At first this bifurcated selection of eight liberation songs from Tunisia and six from Egypt sounds noble and no more. Although the 14 tracks vary considerably, all are on the respectable side except for one Tunisian rap, which was recorded well before the revolt got the rapper imprisoned. But soon the Tunisian sequence hits home: uplifting neotrad opener to songpoem with crowd chatter to haunting rap to marchlike hymn right through a rock anthem that swept all the way to Tahrir Square. Unfortunately, after a Nubian opener the Egyptians' contributions don't connect as deep. The two oud-and-percussion features by two Coptic brothers are too many, and the saved-for-last "The Challenge," by Tunisian oud-and-zither brothers with their own album on this very label, strives a little too solemnly to, as the notes put it, "build a bridge between Orient and Occident." A matter of taste, of course--tragic sacrifices and momentous changes merit some solemnity. But I'd love to hear just one beat from the rappers I know damn well were taking their A game to the Cairo streets. B+

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