Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-02-24


D'Angelo: Brown Sugar (EMI, 1995) After getting religion about a precursor of songless r&b, I thought I'd revisit its modern wellspring, and wasn't surprised to have warmed to it--D'Angelo's concentration is formidable, his groove complex yet primal. But because it's bass-driven rather than voice-led, Brown Sugar is less subtle than Al Green Is Love, and less sociable too: D'Angelo, who was leading a great band throughthese songs by 2000, laid down all the instruments on four tracks and on two others brought in only co-producer Bob Power's guitar, which loosens things up nicely, though not like the string section on "Cruisin'"--a tune that originated with a pretty darn good songwriter named Smokey. A-

Al Green: Al Green Is Love (Hi/The Right Stuff, 1975) I never got with this album, which in the wake of the late-'74 grits-and-suicide incident kicked off Green's quick commercial decline with its only pop hit, the catchy, slight "L-O-V-E (Love)." That one sounds like it was waiting in the can for just such a disaster, and though eventually the post-paranoid "Rhymes" and the Afro-percussive "Love Ritual" caught my ear on compilations, the two other conventional songs here did not. Then I spun David Toop's midnight-soul concoction Sugar and Poison late this Valentine's Day and finally registered a genius piece I'd played 20 times before: the fluttering, vocalese "I Didn't Know," which makes eight minutes of impossible poetry from lines like "I didn't know that you feel like you do/Feel like you feel when you feel like you feel." Along with Sly's "Just Like a Baby," "I Didn't Know" is the linchpin of Sugar and Poison, and also the Rosetta stone of this album, which explores four or five other versions of the same idea. "Love Ritual." "The Love Sermon." It's all L-O-V-E. You got a problem with that? A

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