Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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***

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III
Social Studies
Hannibal

The best political songs combine passionate commitment and analytic command, laced with streaks of black humor, as in prime Mekons or Gil Scott-Heron. Liberal detachment can sound just as smug as the self-righteousness so many protest singers run aground on. So if this collection of the occasional songs Loudon Wainwright III occasionally composes for NPR enjoys the advantage of his perpetual cleverness, it suffers the disadvantage of his perpetual bemusement. Not that most of them aren't effective once, or even twice. But today's news dates tomorrow, nobody's jokes are surefire, boomer self-mockery equals boomer self-regard, and God help us there's a stupid Y2K single. Basically, anyone who believed for more than a night that "Bill was way too cool to be true" is too resigned to the capitalist order to get beyond the quiet desperation Loudon's people have wallowed in since his dad worked for Life. Most complex achievements: "Tonya's Twirls," about class and gender, gentility and beauty; and "Pretty Good Day," in which the artiste gets up in the morning.

Rolling Stone, 1999