Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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***

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III
Album I
Collectors' Choice

***1/2

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III
Album II
Collectors' Choice

One of rock's great writers, father of singers Rufus and Martha, was initially billed as a "New Dylan"

Loudon Wainwright III may have thought he was being funny on the acoustic-guitar-accompanied Atlantic albums that kicked off his career in 1970 and '71. But, on the first especially, the tumble of imagery, boyishly high register and vocal tics he hadn't yet deftly clowned up made him easy to mistake for a hypersensitive song-poet emoting what he mocked as "drift-dreamed ditties." Some of Album I is unbearable. Yet half its songs retain a vitality that verges on the miraculous after 35 years--try "Uptown," with its triumphant "Watch me, baby, hail a cab," or the reluctantly vegetarian "Bruno's Place": "I don't eat meat/it's bad for my feet." And by Album II Wainwright is well on his way to perfecting the themes and modes he's mined ever since: the sexual desperation of "Motel Blues," the parental reflections of "Be Careful, There's a Baby in the House" or the gloriously depressive mini-triptych that turns on "Suicide Song": "Hang yourself by the neck/What the hell, what the hell, what the heck." Art or shtick? Clowns know there's not always that much difference.

Blender, June 2006