Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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***1/2

AMY RIGBY
Middlescence
Koch

No way was Amy Rigby gonna top her 1996 solo debut, Diary of a Mod Housewife. Autobiographical heartbreak fueling Nashville-style songcraft and alternative-school vocals, Mod Housewife was a de facto concept album that held in suspension all the emotions that surge around a dying marriage: with painful specificity, it was irritable, tender, sarcastic, bereft, confused, regretful, fed up, defiant, hopeful, and horny, among other things. Middlescence is the next chapter, showcasing songs that were waiting to be written about a newly single mom facing both middle age and the first day of the rest of her life.

But last time Rigby's life was at stake. All that hangs in the balance here is the artistic pride of a woman who deserves to be famous, or at least self-supporting. So the wan samba "Laboratory of Love" belongs on the cutting-room floor, and not every single line sounds inevitable. Still, her territory is her own--a make-out session derailed by laundry on the bed is the kind of detail only Rigby has ever sung about. Asking one lover for a pat on the back and another to sleep on the couch, reliving an attempted gang-bang or longing for a pickup, celebrating life on unemployment in 1983 and wishing she wasn't still scouting the thrift shops in 1998, she stands in for all the talented American women who aren't quite getting by.

If Elliot Easton's folk-rock production doesn't render this turf as new musically as it is lyrically, that's poetic justice: after all, these facts of life are old as the hills and common as dirt. Yet it's so unexplored that if Middlescence were Rigby's debut its flaws would barely be noticed. They matter here mainly because she does deserve to be famous, and as she explains in the furious "Raising the Bar," this is not a moment when the honestly ambitious can afford ever to falter.

Rolling Stone, Oct. 1, 1998