Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-01-10


Gorillaz: The Singles Collection 2001-2011 (Virgin, 2011) Their synthbeat-meets-comix concept got over as pop because it found a mildly playful and pleasurable way to enact well-meaning self-effacement, which was how Damon Albarn disarmed the world well before designing a virtual band for the era of electronic interpersonal multi-tasking between unknowable avatars. As far as he's concerned, that isn't humanity sitting up "On Melancholy Hill"--it's a manatee, who got there by means only a cartoonist could grasp. Note, however, that he invokes real-life humanity in an all too traditional way: via such living persons of African descent as Bobby Womack, Neneh Cherry, De La Soul, and the affably virtuosic Del the Funky Homosapien. A-

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx: We're New Here (XL, 2011) The Richard Russell-produced original of the revolutionary-poet-turned-brokedown-crack-addict's first studio album in 16 years strove respectfully to put a good face on--who exactly? The "survivor"? The "outsider"? The "revolutionary"? The hip-hop godfather? The colorful old black guy? Granting that the moving force was Russell, my Honorable Mention stands: "The premise isn't 'I'm new here,' it's 'I'm not dead,' and he strains mightily to get 28 spare minutes out of it." A year later Scott-Heron was in fact dead, and a year after that came this radical remix, which to my mind respects Scott-Heron more truthfully by chopping him to bits. This Scott-Heron is a drug fiend of considerable perversity and tremendous intelligence who's gonna be dead soon. Jamie xx hears in his last testament an irreversible disintegration that he translates into heavily sampled minimalist electro marked indelibly by Scott-Heron's weariness, arrogance, and wit. In part it's just a young man's bad dream about mortality, and of interest as such. But the snatches of Scott-Heron's voice, cracked for sure but deeper than night nonetheless, delivers it from callow generalization and foregone conclusion. A-

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