Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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ARTO LINDSAY
Prize
Righteous Babe

When Ryuichi Sakamoto and friends induced Arto Lindsay to cut the all-samba O Corpo Sutil/The Subtle Body in 1994, it seemed a fitting one-off. DNA's yowling vocalist and splatter guitarist started singing gentle Brazilian song-poetry in Manhattan clubs in the early '80s, and had soon conceived Lusophone lyricism as a building block of the avant-funk he constructed with Peter Scherer in the Ambitious Lovers. Why shouldn't he devote an album to the stuff?

But with 1996's supernally pop-friendly Mundo Civilizado, one became two, and 1997's cerebral Noon Chill made it three. So despite that Knitting Factory Works guitar record and the other weirdnesses that will certainly follow, take Prize as a signal that this is how Lindsay's core music is going to sound for a while. Needless to say, the approach has evolved. Where O Corpo Sutil was all collaborations and covers, Prize is dominated by songs he wrote himself, some in Portuguese; the drum 'n' bass effects and Bahia percussion that surfaced on Mundo Civilizado are now s.o.p., playing the disruptive role that guitar noise did in the Ambitious Lovers, and there's actual guitar noise as well. This is no longer a cross-cultural gesture. It's a musical style.

Prize is no match for Mundo Civilizado, where spot-on junglism and stealth takeovers of uncoverable Prince and Al Green songs render Lindsay's pomo samba, as Green told him to put it, "Simply Beautiful." But those embarrassed by the smell of jasmine or the luxurious passivity of inspired head may actually prefer the new one, because it's more rocklike. Not that it's harsh--samba never is, and while the young Arto was a primal screamer, his whispered singing has been synthesizing smart and pretty for almost 20 years. But Prize forthrightly foregrounds its own unprettiness--sort of the way his latest artist-with-money sponsor, Ani DiFranco, used to play up her big nose just to stick her beauty in your face. Because Lindsay's lyrics go for a density-cum-pretension Brazilian masters like Caetano Veloso are cool enough to downplay, it sticks in the mind less as song than as sound. From Olivia Tremor Control to Limp Bizkit, I can think of plenty of rock bands whose sonic identity should only be so strong and distinct.

Spin, Jan. 2000