Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-09-11


Bob Dylan: Tempest (Columbia, 2012) Although his voice is crumbling audibly and his band is too often static, Dylan remains one of our more thoughtful wordslingers in the ever-changing trad mode he's made his own. Still, the meme that this album is a major statement where Together Through Life was a holding action bespeaks the unseen hand of the autohype machine and the superstitious fears that attend 70th birthdays. Although the four trad relationship numbers that open build nicely on Together Through Life's strategy and groove, the closers aim higher with dubious-to-disgraceful results. For all its well-borrowed tune and well-digested details, nobody's putting the 14-minute Titanic ballad on repeat, and the seven-minute John Lennon dirge says nothing at half speed just like the naysayers neigh. That leaves four tracks, and how much you admire this record will depend on how redolent you find two of them: the quiet jeremiad "Scarlet Town" and the quieter love-triangle cut-'em-up "Tin Angel." I say they'd be better faster, possibly. As for "Early Roman Kings," a black-comedy dis of the rich and richer, and "Pay in Blood," folk-music death metal via sanguinary imagery and microphone placement, you gotta love 'em. B+

Pet Shop Boys: Elysium (Astralwerks, 2012) The music may well seem too restrained, presumably because Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe figured that on an album where 11 songs find 11 different ways to mock, rue, ponder, and accept their professional mortality, the entitled glee of their full-on disco productions is off the table. Even the explicit "Your Early Stuff" and the valedictory "Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin" keep a lid on it, the better to fit in with the ones that go "Look at me, the absentee," "Say it's not so/That you'd rather lose me," "Our love is dead/But the dead don't go away," and everything else except the pounding "A Face Like That," which also boasts the only lyric that doesn't follow the program. Whether metaphysical ("Everything means something") or bitchy ("There's got to be a future/Or the world will end today"), they're at peace with the fate of their fame and their retirement accounts. And the understated beats suit their elysian equanimity. A-

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