Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

To hell with the intro, except to say that your Consumer Guider is still mired happily in 1978--so happily that he chose two Pick Hits instead of belaboring the obvious with a Must to Avoid this month.


CHARLIE AINLEY: Bang Your Door (Nemporer) The title cut is the raunchiest fuck-me song in years, and the funniest: when Charlie bellows, "I don't want you to fix my bed," the Misdemeanors chirp back, "I'm not." It just doesn't quit, and nothing else here comes up to it. But the overall level of rancor, humor, and genre experiment is gratifyingly high for what is basically an English r&b album. Bang on. B PLUS

BLUES BROTHERS: Briefcase Full of Blues (Atlantic) The studio-superstar backup band isn't exactly long on personality, but it rocks, and the range and choice of songs, almost every one an underrecorded classic, proves how well Belushi and Ackroyd kow and love black music. Belushi goes out of his way--earnestly, even awkwardly--to identify the original artists, which cancels out the Rasta jokes on "Groove Me." However. If Belushi told those jokes to supply his fans with their ration of dope humor, then shame on him. But if he was just nervous about treading in the voiceprints of Junior Wells and King Floyd, he had reason--he's not as convincing as most white blues singers, much less Junior Wells or King Floyd. Is this a top-ten album because people actually want to listen to it? Inspirational Patter: "I'd suggest you buy as many blues albums as you can." C PLUS [Later]

DAVID BOWIE: Stage (RCA Victor) If James Brown is the only rock and roller who deserves more than one concert album, then the Bowie to ban is David Live, which caught the artiste at his voiceless nadir, mird in bullshit pessimism and arena-rock pandering. Stage kicks off with some well-chosen Bowie oldies before moving into refreshingly one-dimensional versions of his best songs since 1975, including the key Eno collaborations, which were often overly subtle to begin with. For fans only, of course. I'm one. B PLUS [Later]

JERRY BUTLER: Nothing Says I Love You Like I Love You (Philadelphia International) This is indeed the Ice Man's best LP since he last recorded with Gamble-Huff in 1970--seductive, substantial, felt. But only the dance cut, "Cooling Out," with Leon Huff heating up on piano toward the close, is really worth playing for people you don't care about going to bed with. It was released in September as a disco single, and is definitely worth the search. B [Later]

JOE "KING" CARRASCO AND EL MOLINO: Tex-Mex Rock-Roll (Lisa) Like the western swing it rocks and rolls, Tex-Mex is an acquired taste--often a little lightweight, but say that in the wrong bar in Austin and things might get heavy. Anyway, this is the real stuff, more striking than anything on Augie Meyers's dependable Texas Re-Cord Company label mostly because Carrasco writes songs of no special significance that might just as well have originated on the Rio Grande 100 years ago. Favorite titles: "Jalapeno con Big Red" and "Rock Esta Noche." B PLUS

ALBERT COLLINS: Ice Pickin' (Alligator) Like Otis Rush, Collins has always been one of those well-respected bluesmen whose records (I remember--barely--LPs on Imperial and Blue Thumb) left agnostics unconvinced. But this is the most exciting blues album of 1978, a year that also offered notable new work by Son Seals, Koko Taylor, Johnny Shines, Robert Jr. Lockwood, McKinley Mitchell, Clifton Chenier, Walter Horton, Gatemouth Brown, John Lee Hooker, and Rush himself. (You guessed it--the form is dead as a doornail.) Collins's guitar is clean, percussive, vehement, breaking into unlikely rivulets on the trademark shuffle climaxes, and while his voice is thin his delivery is savvy and humorous. So are his words--unlike most of his colleagues, he seems to know a lot more about sharing life with another person than "Honey Hush." A MINUS [Later]

DIRE STRAITS (Warner Bros.) Despite initial misgivings, I've found this thoughtful and sexy, and ultimately irresistible. The decisive touch is how Mark Knopfler counterpoints his own vocals on guitar--only a musician with a real structural knack could sound like two people that way. But there's a streak of philistine ideology here that speaks for too many white r&b players these days--most of them can't be bothered articulating it, that's all. In "In the Gallery," an honest sculptor has his bareback rider, coal miner, and skating ballerina rejected by the "trendy boys," "phonies," and "fakes" who (literally) conspire together and "decide who gets the breaks." Those who find this rather simplistic should now ask themselves whether Knopfler's beloved Sultans of Swing--not to mention Dire Straits--have more in common with that sculptor than he suspects. B PLUS [Later]

DR. HOOK: Pleasure and Pain (Capitol) A roguish willingness to stoop to any piece of hitbound schlock has always been part of this band's charm. But that doesn't make an album of schlock charming. C

ERIC DOLPHY: The Berlin Concerts (Inner City) Two astonishing sides and two more than adequate ones, all recorded in 1961. "Hi-Fly" is a feature for flute, an instrument not even Dolphy can induce me to get passionate about, and "When Lights Are Low" is playful to the point of waggishness. But the 19-minute version of Tadd Dameron's "Hot House," with Dolphy on alto and Benny Bailey on trumpet, is a fluent, unselfconscious synthesis of bebop and "free jazz" that sounds entirely up-to-the-minute in 1979. And the bravura exchanges on "I'll Remember April" will make your favorite guitar hero seem a slowhand indeed. A

FUNKADELIC: One Nation Under a Groove (Warner Bros.) I can't figure out why some Funkateers profess themselves unmoved by this one. The 12-incher does come up a little short on guitar, but a generous Hendrix fix is thoughtfully provided on a seventeen minute, seven-inch third side, and the title cut is as tough and intricate as goodfooting ever gets. Plus: "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" and "Into You," two manifestos that bite close to the bone, and "The Doo Doo Chasers," a scatological call-and-response cum responsive-reading whose shameless obviousness doesn't detract from fun or funk. Fried ice cream is a reality! Or: Think! It ain't illegal yet! A

GRATEFUL DEAD: Shakedown Street (Arista) "I Need a Miracle" is the first anthem any of these rabble-rousing necromancers has written in years. On the title tune, however, Jerry once again warns against "too much too fast," and this album definitely ain't the miracle they need. C

JEBADIAH: Rock 'n' Soul (Epic) At last, a record designed to end those party-pooping disputes over whether to dance to disco or the Stones. Yes, record-buyers, Michael Zager has discofied six Stones classics, and I beg him to check with Santa Esmeralda (or hire the Hollyridge Strings) before trying anything like it again. Advice to partygivers: settle those arguments with the "Miss You" disco disc. Personal to Ralph Abernathy: Boycott "Brown Sugar." E

BONNIE KOLOC: Wild and Recluse (Epic) I still like Koloc's individualism--anybody who can sing Willie Dixon's "I Need More" like a B-movie schoolmarm who's sexy when she takes off her glasses is jake with me. But despite her ear for songs and her willingness to experiment (a wino provides running commentary on side two) she does drag. Maybe she should try contact lenses. B MINUS [Later]

NO NEW YORK (Antilles) Especially with Adele Bertei on organ, the Contortions can be a great band, extending Ornette Coleman's Dancing in Your Head into real rock and roll territory, and it's exciting to be able to hear them minus James Chance's stupid stage shtick. (Maybe they'll become a studio group, like Steely Dan.) But the rest of this four-band compilation has the taint of marginal avant-gardism: interesting in occasional doses, but not as significant as it pretends to be. Arto Lindsay's hysterical blooze singing holds DNA together--wish they were on side one with the Contortions. I like the relentless music of Mars's "Helen Fordsdale" (the words are incomprehensible even with a lyric sheet, which if the lyric sheet is any indication is just as well) and the paranoid poetry of "Puerto Rican Ghost." And although in the wake of Chance's theme song, "I Can't Stand Myself," I've begun to tolerate Lydia Lunch droning "The leaves are always dead" etc., she credits herself with too much maturity by publishing as Infantunes. Abortunes would be more like it. B [Later: B+]

PARLIAMENT: Motor-Booty Affair (Casablanca) In which George Clinton & Co. make a kiddie record that features the return of the Chipmunks as "three slithering idiots" doing their thing underwater. Irresistible at its most inspired--aqua-deejay Wiggles the Worm is my favorite Clinton fantasy ever--and always danceable. A MINUS [Later]

LOU REED: Lou Reed Live: Take No Prisoners (Arista) Partly because your humble servant is attacked by name (along with John Rockwell) on what is essentially a comedy record--by calling me a "toe freak" does Lou mean to imply that he himself is too (shall we say) uptight to enjoy sucking toe?--a few colleagues have rushed in with Don Rickles analogies, but that's not fair. Lenny Bruce is the obvious influence. Me, I don't play my greatest comedy albums, not even the real Lenny Bruce ones, as much as I do Rock n Roll Animal. I've heard Lou do two very different concerts during his Arista period that I'd love to check out again--Palladium November '76 and Bottom Line May '77. I'm sorry this isn't either. And I thank Lou for pronouncing my name right. C PLUS [Later]

SAD CAFE: Misplaced Ideals (A&M) In which the decade's most paradoxical, characteristic, and disgusting pop-music synthesis--combining hard rock's compulsive riff energy with MOR's smooth determination to displease no one--is achieved without recourse to jazz rhythms or semiclassical decoration. Misplaced ideals my ass--they threw them down the deepest hole they could find. C MINUS

GIL SCOTT-HERON/BRIAN JACKSON: Secrets (Arista) Scott-Heron stokes the protest-music flame more generously than any son of Woody, and in sheer agitprop terms "Angel Dust," one of those black-radio hits that somehow never crossed over, is his triumph--haunting music of genuine political usefulness. Of course, it would be hard to imagine the Arista promo team busting its butt to get "Third World Revolution" on the air as a follow-up, even if it had a hook, but I'll settle for a tribulations-of-stardom song with an educational refrain: "Do you really want to be in show bizness?" B PLUS

SHOES: Black Vinyl Shoes (PVC) Recorded by elves on a TEAC four-track in a living room in Zion, Illinois, this offers fifteen hooky, bittersweet reflections on sexual strategy among the under-twenty-fives. Clever melodic contours plus vocals faded and echoed so far back they take on the mystery of synthesized guitars equal a natural for pop obsessives. A MINUS

JACK TEMPCHIN (Arista) In which the successful L.A. songwriter and former (putative) Funky King becomes a Schmeagle for our time--in the course of four terrific songs he loses his keys, misplaces his car, doesn't get laid, and spends 15 days under the hood. That's the trick, Jack--tell enough jokes on yourself and your self-pity becomes tolerable. B

Additional Consumer News

Because I was living in Pazz & Jop Year 1978 until shortly before my Consumer Guide deadline, I'm behind on imports (hold on, Poly and Johnny, I'm coming). But I love Pere Ubu's Dub Housing, on Chrysalis. Having to obtain recordings of American artists from overseas is one very unpleasant aspect of the bebop analogy, but Dub Housing has already kicked the first Official Pazz & Jop '78 Revision--not only is it abrasive and visionary and eccentric and hard-rocking itself, but it sent me back to The Modern Dance, which I liked fine originally and like more now, around 20th place worth. Wotta year. John Lydon's Public Image LP sent me back to the Sex Pistols, too, but they still sound okay. Except for the title cut, and despite the hilarious but basically for-cultists-only throwaway on which someone chants "We only wanted to be loved" in a Monty Python punk squeak for eight minutes, it's half rant and half ripoff. Also, it won't be an import long--Warners is releasing it here. . . .

The third Verve Billie Holiday twofer, All or Nothing at All, features especially inspired accompaniment (Ben Webster and Benny Carter stand out amid the standouts) for my favorite Holiday period, when her physical equipment had begun to deteriorate, forcing her to rely on sheer artistry. I don't think there's any other record of hers I find so impressive. . . .

Listomaniacs should be informed that the type gremlin lost a correction--Willie Nelson's numbers last week should have read 108 (11).

Village Voice, Jan. 29, 1979


Dec. 25, 1978 Feb. 26, 1979