Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2016-01-29


Bob Dylan: 1965-1966: The Best of the Cutting Edge (Columbia, 2015) Scoff at Bootleg Series hype though you may (and should), you'll want to check and recheck Vol. 12's outtakes from his most amped-up period, only to conclude that the standard versions rool every goddamn time pre-Blonde on Blonde, when slowing it down a little turned out to have its downside ("Visions of Johanna," "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat") *

The Rolling Stones: Brussels Affair (Live 1973) (Rolling Stones, 2015) The rare arena-rock recording that does justice to the subgenre's power dwarfs their 1971 Marquee Club vault-pull while making a case for the excision of "Midnight Rambler" and "Brown Sugar" from their A list ("Happy," "Starfucker") **

The Velvet Underground: The Complete Matrix Tapes (UMe, 2015) Four hour-plus CDs, 42 tracks, 20 discrete songs, zero new material, $29.95 list, and when "Venus in Furs" followed "The Black Angel's Death Song" mid-Set One I decided I could happily live out my allotted years without ever hearing either again. But I was wrong. Sonically these four discs comprise the classic Velvets' strongest live recordings. The performances are lively, varied, and engaged, and there's a perverse pleasure in hearing Lou Reed keep the poetry prosaic and crack wise about his bummers before tiny crowds in a San Francisco more post-utopian than it was ready to admit. Although the Velvets had been playing Marty Balin's club off and on for a month, they seem more assured the second night, Thanksgiving 1969. Set Three ends with a "Sister Ray" played as a 37-minute urban slow jam no less hypnotic than a Grateful Dead blues-and-bluegrass trip. Set Four ends with "Sweet Jane." A-

Jon Savage's 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded (Ace, 2015) There's not much flow to this chronologically arranged 48-song soundtrack of the year the '60s became the '60s, which was also the year Sex Pistols' biographer and Teenage theorist Savage turned 13 while glued to pirate radio in London. But there wasn't much flow to turning on the radio anywhere that year--just wonderment, exhilaration, the "Kicks" Paul Revere and the Raiders claimed were "getting harder to find." That may be why they didn't make Savage's cut, but the main reason was the competition--there are only two number ones here, but beyond a few instrumentals most of the 20 or so singles Yank me didn't recall are pretty kicky, including a spooky Seeds B-side, a Kim Fowley freak-out, and an R&B hit joking about the draft. My sole cavil is why in hell opt for the B-side of Joe Tex's magnificent "I Believe I'm Gonna Make It," in which an R&B draftee ain't no joke: "I raised up and got me two more enemies"? Note, however, that my sentimental fave here isn't on the condensed version Ace provided Spotify: Norma Tanega's loopy hippie fable "Walkin' My Cat Named Dog." Find it on YouTube, like, now. Or better still, buy this thing. A-

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