Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide

Lil Wayne Kills, the Kills "Boom" and Al Green "Lays It Down"

Commercially and artistically, June was Lil Wayne Month -- later for Coldplay and poor EMI. Since Lil Wayne is far more than the sum of his corporate dealings, you will find four Lil Wayne reviews below (with Da Drought 3 already featured in March). I could have added others, but according to my grapevine this is the major stuff -- not counting the downloadable six-minute single "Whip It," which hit the Web running less than a week after Tha Carter III was in the stores.


Atmosphere: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Sh*t Gold (Rhymesayers Entertainment) Rapper Slug and beatmaster Ant both change direction on this classy package (a bound book -- download that, suckers). Ant's shift is less auspicious: no samples. But the "Shoulda Known" synth groan is his catchiest hook in years, and most of the music he coaxes out of his Twin Cities g-s-d-etc. cohort is distinguished enough, especially given his partner's progress. Slug has always made more of self-examination than most cult celebs who work that shtick, and he shows them how on tracks like the well-named "Me." But he's even sharper empathizing with smaller-time losers. True, two of his angst victims are waitresses, the club-circuit version of the cab drivers who've been giving journalists man-on-the-street copy for generations -- how about slaves of telemarketing, or data entry? Nevertheless, the lost lives and loves he sketches are so painfully familiar they feel like truth. And Ant's homey beats enhance the illusion. B PLUS

Be Your Own Pet: Get Awkward (Universal/Ecstatic Peace) They grow up so fast. Once a punky brat, Jemima Pearl now sounds like a punk broad -- like she might join the Donnas if that was a better job. But listen through the bigger voice and louder mix and you'll hear someone who's thinking all the time. Not about tunes -- that's Jonah's department, which he's getting better at. About consequences. Then it's on to "Food Fight!" and "Zombie Graveyard Party!" "Next year she'll be 21, look out world she wants to have fun," she shouts. Only actually, it's this year. June 20, in fact. Uh-oh. A MINUS

Blitzen Trapper: Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow Ltd) From Portland -- no, silly, not the Maine one -- this third-time's-a-charm indie band gets through 13 songs in 34 minutes with no apparent rush, yet comes off frantic anyway. Their sprung rhythms and imploding guitars suggest the Band as much as Pavement only because the lyrics that break free of the clatter sing the praises of pastoral seclusion. So Portland. In all its urban greenery, or is it green urbanity? A MINUS

Al Green: Lay It Down (Blue Note) Between producer ?uestlove's command of tradition, including cannier drums than Green has had since Al Jackson Jr. was taken from us, and the 62-year-old singer's skillfully tended chops, this sounded fine straight off. But the formula seemed slightly pat, and I didn't hear a "Call Me," much less a "Love and Happiness." So I put it away, came back, immersed, and noticed two things. 1) The first four or five tracks work as songs, the instant minor classic the one that clarifies a basic principle: "Your love is just for me/It's just for me/It's just for me, for me, for me/It's just for me." 2) No Jesus, which some count a failing, but not secular me. Except for the finale -- "Write this down if you can/I'm a cold, hard-working man," so I did -- here is that rare thing, a credible album entirely devoted to connubial bliss. True, Green spends more time supplicating than celebrating, and probably fabricated the whole scenario. But he knows his subject, and he doesn't need Jesus to lay it down. A MINUS

Honeyhoney: Loose Boots (Ironworks Music) Five cannily crafted, forthrightly sexy songs by L.A. male-female duo. Guitarist Ben Jaffe is the serious talent, vox Suzanne Santo the reason to care. She sounds both footloose and ready to take her clothes off -- suffused with regret and desire at 22. A MINUS

The Kills: Midnight Boom (Domino) Arithmetic notwithstanding, this combo of adult delinquent chick singer and guitar-wielding male enabler was always more Cramps or Yeah Yeah Yeahs than White Stripes. Outgrowing art-garage blues worship, they cop tunes, big up their sound, and spank basic rock beats. As vision, still somewhere between narrow and ignant. Yet not a boho archetype for nothing. Next time you're in a really bad mood, feel its power. A MINUS

Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (Cash Money/Universal/Motown) From the start you know this is no mixtape because it's clearer and more forceful. Every track attends to detail, with fun tricks like the chipmunk-chorused "Mr. Carter"'s sudden descent into screwed-and-chopped before Jay-Z comes in. But from the start Wayne worries about his image like a pop star, swearing he got shot for two songs running as if 50 was still worth a few bucks. Soon come the auto-T-Pained "Lollipop" follow-up "Got Money" and the soft slow jam "Comfortable," as pro forma as his laziest thug jobs back when he was little. So it's call the doctor -- "Dr. Carter" himself, a rap-ologist complete with post-Yiddish "acchh" who will soon lose two impatient patients to their fakeness and his own do-as-I-say malpractice, followed by the space-tripping "Phone Home" and the N.W.A.-copping cop love of "Mrs. Officer." On "Let the Beat Build," Kanye compensates for "Comfortable" with an off-the-cuff fusion of grandiose and primitive. Also mixtape-worthy is the bonus disc, previously known as the download-only The Leak EP. Like the man says in the self-explanatory "I'm Me": "I know the game is crazy, it's more crazy than it's ever been/I'm married to that crazy bitch, call me Kevin Federline." A MINUS

Lil Wayne: The Drought Is Over 2: The Carter 3 Sessions (mixtape4u.com) Title and label approximate. I prefer the other version of this ad hoc collection in my possession even though it slices the ends off tracks -- it's louder, with hotter unmatched songs. But I'm reviewing this because it's obtainable online even with mixtape4u.com now drawing a blank. Look above Wayne's name on the cover image for "The Empire," words that repeat in annoying voiceover ad infinitum; note also the Arabic three as opposed to the Roman numeral of the official release, which shares only a more casual "La La La" with this supposed leak. Skip it and you never hear the actually believable love plaint "What He Does," the in-their-face Beatles rip "Help," the celestially drugged-out "I Feel Like Dying," or, for instance, "I Know the Future": "Like a circle of knives/I got the sharpest flow around." Granted, maybe it's the jaggedest flow around, or the underground stream that slices through rock to move mountains. But superlatives apply. Snicker-snack, snicker-snack, he can't contain himself, the rare modern pop artist who says he's in it for money but always gives up the love rather than vice versa. A MINUS

Honorable Mention

  • Silver Jews: Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City) Philosophical fictions and fantasias by a stolid-sounding guy who wishes everyone would play his songs ("San Francisco B.C.," "Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer").
  • N.E.R.D.: Seeing Sounds (Interscope) Beats of course, songs usually, singing barely -- especially sincere-type singing ("Anti Matter," "Everyone Nose [All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom]").
  • RZA as Bobby Digital: Digi Snacks (Koch) Snacks meaning tasty bites and tastier beats that don't add up to a full meal ("O Day/Party People," "Put Your Guns Down").
  • Be Your Own Pet: Get Damaged (XL) One keeper satire, one displaced outburst and one minor threat, all declared too violent for full-length by bad ex-teens' megacorp ("Becky").
  • The Long Blondes: Couples (Rough Trade) Civilized sex -- the dark side ("Guilt," "I'm Going to Hell").
  • Dr. John: City That Care Forgot (429) "My friends scuffling with contractors," he notes with nice specificity, and he has much worse Katrina stories to tell ("Say Whut?" "My People Need a Second Line").
  • Dresden Dolls: No, Virginia . . . (RoadRunner) Notes for a musical about a doubly theatrical drama queen -- an arty show with laughs and heart ("Night Reconnaissance," "Dear Jenny").
  • Architecture in Helsinki: Places Like This (Polyvinyl) Art-rockers get silly -- that is, come to terms with their existential condition ("Same Old Innocence," "Red Turned White").
  • El-P: I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Def Jux) Still the past master of the acerbic beat ("Up All Night," "Tasmanian Pain Coaster").
  • The Ting Tings: We Started Nothing (Columbia) Cheap dance-pop for post-post-postpunk people ("That's Not My Name," "Great DJ").
  • Walter Becker: Circus Money (5 Over 12) His cynicism turned melancholy, rich rock star warns, "Better not get cozy with your trophy life" ("Circus Money," "God's Eye View").
  • Cadence Weapon: Afterparty Babies (Anti-) Second-generation Alberta rapper (savor that phrase) knows a lot about, well, rapping -- and avant-electro beats ("Tattoos [And What They Really Feel Like]," "In Search of the Youth Crew").
  • Lil Wayne: Lil Weezy-ana Vol. 1 (Purloined Datadisc) Better Weezy talking tough for his crew than Weezy's crew talking tough for the world ("David Banner," "Amen").
  • Electrelane: No Shouts No Calls (Too Pure) Instrumental raveup queens sing, softening their feminist austerity considerably ("To the East," "Between the Wolf and the Dog").
  • Craig David: Trust Me (Reprise) Credible neosoul man glances nervously back toward 2step, saying hi with "Let's Dance" ("6 of 1 Thing," "Friday Night").

Choice Cuts

  • John Hiatt, "Old Days," "Our Time" (Same Old Man, New West)
  • Karen O & the Million Dollar Bashers, "Highway 61 Revisited"; Mira Billotte, "As I Went Out One Morning"; The Hold Steady, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"; Yo La Tengo, "Fourth Time Around" (I'm Not There, Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax)
  • Rolling Stones, "Champagne & Reefer" (Shine a Light, Virgin)
  • The Flaming Lips, "(Just Like) Starting Over"; Green Day, "Working Class Hero"; Jack's Mannequin featuring Mick Fleetwood, "God"; Youssou N'Dour, "Jealous Guy" (Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, Warner Bros.)
  • Usher, "Trading Places," "Best Thing" (Here I Stand, LaFace/Zomba)

Dud of the Month

Lil Wayne: We the Best (RBC) Exemplifying the pitfalls of the mixtape hustle is this item, which I bought blind from Amazon earlier in the year; it has now disappeared there, while mixtape king and sometime Weezy packager DJ Khaled's different CD of the same name remains on sale. Biggest problem with this one is, it isn't a Lil Wayne record. With four features and some cameos, he clocks fewer minutes on these 25 tracks than not just New Orleans rap daddy Birdman but Atlanta's carrot-nosed Young Jeezy and two of the dullest thugs in the lying business: college-educated Miami brutalist Rick Ross and elephant in the Bronx Fat Joe. Were Wayne to toss off "I am a professional/I will cut your testicles," he'd sound wicked sharp; when Fat Joe recites the line, of which he's plainly very proud, even the opera sample can't dispel the impression that he's hoping to find employment as a veterinarian's assistant. While everybody else's criminal boasts are delivered in bench-press mode, Wayne can't stop dancing. Sure he'll entertain at "The Crack House," but: "This is the crack house welcome to the crack house/Man I'm talking more parties than a frat house/This is the problem, this is not music/I hope you find it, 'cause he about to lose it." C MINUS

More Duds

  • American Music Club: The Golden Age (Merge)
  • Ray Davies: Working Man's Café (New West)
  • Raheem DeVaughn: Love Behind the Melody (Jive/Zomba)
  • Gillie Da Kid: The Best of the GDK Mixtapes (Babygrande)
  • The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes (Interscope)
  • Ringo Starr: Liverpool 8 (Capitol)
  • Frankie Valli: Romancing the '60s (Universal/Motown)

MSN Music, July 2008


June 2008 August 2008