Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

Some confusion surrounding the Pick Hit this month--as you will note, the Sonny Rollins album depicted on this page is not the one I like best. But news of Rollins' lawsuit gave me serious qualms about recommending the record so unequivocally. In fact, I considered not writing about it at all, but finally concluded that the music was just too precious to let pass. So I compromised. The Must to Avoid also gave me pause, but that concert in Miami tipped the balance.


ANY OLD TIME STRING BAND (Arhoolie) The somewhat creaky musicianship of this all-woman quintet doesn't bother me, but if you have trouble putting your voice on a note and keeping it there, it's a mistake to let on that you care. Song finds: "Home in Pasadena" and (from old-time hero Bing Crosby) "C-U-B-A." C PLUS

ASHFORD & SIMPSON: Is It Still Good to Ya (Warner Bros.) As performers, these bigtime songwriter-producers always struck me as a mite classy--by which I mean rich, among other things. Their eccentric elegance only made their ad for the end of the rainbow more insidious, and so I preferred the showbiz vulgarity of Elton John or James Brown, or the lost-in-a-goldmind inconsistency of Stevie Wonder or John Lennon. Three strained, uneven albums did little to change my mind, but 1977's Send It was forthright enough to put a crimp in my bias, and this one rips it to shreds. Here, my friends, is what comfort and idiosyncrasy are for: adulthood. This couple just hits a groove right off and explores it with an internalized virtuosity that seems completely natural. Their music brims with confidence and rewards memory. And it celebrates love and sex over 30 with a compassion and sensuality that make the smartest disco and cabaret sound shallow. A MINUS [Later]

DEBBY BOONE: Midstream (Warner Bros.) Does the title mean she'd rather drown than get hit by a truck in the MOR? Or that she's changing horses midrecord from Joe Brooks (get the pun?) to Brooks (get it now?) Arthur? Arthur's side offers classy material (this year Allee Willis, maybe next Janis Ian!), while Joe's is junk almost as jingly as "You Light Up My Life." I prefer Joe's. I'd also prefer to get hit by a truck. D PLUS

DAVE EDMUNDS: Tracks on Wax 4 (Swan Song) Edmunds has evolved from a one-man session (he played everything but bass on his solo debut) to the spirit of Rockpile, the hardest-driving traditional rock band in the world: Edmunds and Billy Bremner on guitar, coleader Nick Lowe on bass, and the indefatigable Terry Williams on drums. Live, everyone but Williams trades vocals, but this is Edmunds showcase, and he does it proud. On Get It, which featured the same musicians on some tracks, his studiousness weakened great material, but this time he sings up to the main force of a band and proves all those clichés about getting that feeling together on the road. Here to stay. A MINUS [Later]

BRYAN FERRY: The Bride Stripped Bare (Atlantic) Maybe the smoke in Bryan's eyes has finally reached his heart; the apparent sincerity of some of the singing here makes those five-minute moments when he lingers ponderously over a key lyric easier to take. The Los Angeles musicians don't hurt either--the conjunction of his style of stylization (feigned detachment) makes for interesting expressive tension. And Waddy Wachtel is as apt a sound-effects man as Phil Manzanera ever was. B PLUS

TOMMY HOEHN: Losing You to Sleep (Power Play) In which the concentrated energy of Memphis power pop--the upside-down Beatles VI style pioneered by Alex Chilton's Big Star--defines itself as a regional sound, albeit one that has been confined almost entirely to the studio. This romantically inclined sample includes a Chilton-Hoehn song, but it sounds feckless played back-to-back with the Scruffs' album on Power Play (where this record originated as well). B [Later]

ELTON JOHN: A Single Man (MCA) Like the homophilophile I am, I'm rooting for Elton, but though this isn't as lugubrious as Blue Moves, it comes close, and the flat banalities of new lyricist Gary Osborne make Bernie Taupin's intricate ones sound like Cole Porter. Personal to Reg Dwight: Rock and roll those blues away. C

KONGAS: Africanism (Polydor) This Cerrone-Don Ray concept group is the most convincing rock-disco fusion to date. The 15:21-minute A side sustains the propulsion of "Gimme Some Lovin'" for twelve-and-a-half minutes longer than Spencer Davis and Stevie Winwood did, proving (despite one dumb pseudo-seduction interlude) that Stevie's organ roll did more to keep the song going than his famous vocal. B PLUS

KONGAS: Anikana-o (Salsoul) Here we have the best tracks by a 1974 version of the Kongas remixed and lengthened according to current disco usages. As any good Africanist would hope, the music depends more on congas and less on traps--the A side comprises some sixteen minutes of multipercussive dance music that moves steadily after a slow start. The B side is marred by a silly Eurorock voice going on about what ever happened to his world. Africanism, that's what. Inspirational Verse: "In the jungle of my mind/Jungle Jim is a man/Gentle as a lamb/In a traffic jam." B [Later]

NICOLETTE LARSON: Nicolette (Warner Bros.) I've liked this woman on record with Neil Young and on stage with Commander Cody, but her solo debut is the worst kind of backup-chick garbage, pure El Lay from its folk-pop production to its Sam Cooke desecration and J.D. Souther capper. Even the jumping Marvin Gaye remake fits the pattern--Angelenos in need of a little mobility always import it from Detroit. C MINUS

KATE & ANNA MCGARRIGLE: Pronto Monto (Warner Bros.) The bland-out of this quiet but piquant duo is being blamed on producer David Nichtern's all-too-steady hand. And sure, I'd prefer tempos that deviated more than five degrees from dead ahead and tasty licks that didn't whisper flavor enhancer. But I also expect that these tough, smart women consented readily enough to his devices, especially as their own songwriting now aspires to a sweet directness that Nichtern himself is better at (compare his "Just Another Broken Heart" to Anna's "Oh My Heart" or Kate's "Come Back Baby"). And I'll trade you Ann's "Bundle of Sorrow, Bundle of Joy" for the next Emmylou Harris album sound unheard. B PLUS [Later]

CARL PERKINS: Ol' Blue Suede's Back (Jet) Perkins was never an Elvis or a Jerry Lee or even a Gene Vincent, and Ricky Nelson, for instance, put more good rock and roll on record. Young Blue Suede's Original Golden Hits is still in catalogue on Sun, and (for completeness freaks) his entire Sun output is available on three Charly imports. Excepting "That's Alright Mama," nothing on this Nashville we-can-too-rock-'n'-roll session conveys the verve and discovery of even his optional '50s stuff. Inspirational Verse (from the only Perkins original on the album): "People finally know there's nothin' wrong/With a womp-bom-a-loo-mom rockin' song." Maybe that's the problem, Carl. C PLUS [Later]

THE REZILLOS: Can't Stand the Rezillos (Sire) A bright but somewhat amelodic punk novelty album that probably grows hooks on stage. Programmable: "Flying Saucer Attack" and "No," which kick things off. B

SONNY ROLLINS: Don't Stop the Carnival (Milestone) I've always felt that Rollins's Caribbean airs and easy expansiveness were well-suited to his fusionoid recording ideas of recent years, but the only album that has broken through for me is Nucleus. Even on this double-LP it's the relatively mournful standard, "Autumn Nocturne" and the relatively austere Donald Byrd (!) theme, "President Hayes," that tempt me past the dancey magic of the title cut, a tune Rollins has been playing for 15 years. And a good thing, too--the meat of the album is sustaining if not exquisite, jazz food that anyone can digest. A MINUS

SONNY ROLLINS: There Will Never Be Another You (ABC/Impulse) But this much knottier 1965 session is the Rollins I keep going back to. The man is expansive here, too--casually interpolating rapt modal runs into his thoughtful thematic improvisations on the 16-minute title tour de force, for instance--but the context is more angular, with continual commentary by Billy Higgins (who shares the drumming with Mickey Roker) that erases the memory of Tony Williams's work on Don't Stop the Carnival. Also knotty is the question of who owns this music--Rollins has claimed in court that ABC had no right to release it. A

LEON RUSSELL: Americana (Paradise) I never quite got Leon's point back in the days of mad dogs and superstars, so you'll forgive me for having allowed his very first Kim Fowley collaboration to slip off the charts (from a high of 110 in Record World) before it reached my turntable. Turns out to be notable as a real con artists' summit--there's a tribute to "Elvis and Marilyn" that is now being distributed in verse form, a soap opera called "Housewife" that panders so ecumenically it's been covered by Wayne Newton, and a song to Leon's agent, Jesus. No doubt it was Jesus wo directed Leon to help Freedom Productions launch a new era in live rock by headlining a $22.50-$100 buffet concert in an 1800-seat theater in Miami. But who advised the Byrds to open? C MINUS [Later]

SNAIL: Snail (Cream) Just what you've always wanted--a hard rock band with a name that makes Crawler sound like REO Speedwagon. C PLUS

STAPLE SINGERS: Unlock Your Mind (Warner Bros.) If this labor of love by Jerry Wexler isn't the best album the Staples have recorded in this decade, it's certainly the most consistent. Respects itself, you might say. But whether the problem is the songs or the way Mavis relates to them, only one cut--"Handwriting on the Wall"--would stand tall on the 1973 Stax best-of I picked up for two bucks in a cut-out bin last month. B [Later]

STARCASTLE: Real to Reel (Epic) Given the fluttering keyboards, weedy vocals, and fantasy-fiction medievalism favored by these Midwestern up-and-comers, you'd figure this was just round four of dips to disc, but it's worse than that. That title means something; in the great tradition of heartland eclecticism (or is it rootlessness?) (not exploitation, surely?) they're adding power-rock and pop-melody moves to the art-rock casserole. With hooks, yet. Lord save us. C

STYX: Pieces of Eight (A&M) Wanna know why Starcastle is heavying it up? 'Cause they wanna go platinum, like Styx. Fortunately, Starcastle hasn't gotten to the cathedral organ yet. C MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Chairs Missing, Wire's second album, will not be picked up by Capitol and is worth seeking out as a Harvest import. The title epitomizes the band's spare surrealism of the commonplace--stringently punk-minimal yet serviceable rock and roll. Genuinely Inspirational Verse: "Oi am the floi/Oi am the floi/Floi in the ointment." The five-album Stiff release has met with a pass at Arista, which means Stiff will either go independent here or find a new distribution deal. In neither case will the Mickey Jupp and Wreckless Eric LPs be available at domestic prices until February, and that's something to get pissed at Clive about. Jupp is a modestly literate pub-rock vet who did one superb side with Nick Lowe and Rockpile and one ambitious one with Gary Brooker; W.E. has put together two sides of goony pop in the great tradition of "Go the Whole Wide World" (and I didn't like his 10-incher either). I'm more moderately impressed by import LPs from the Adverts (pure punk) and the Rich Kids (punk trying to be something else) and disappointed with the Penetration album. . . .

As much as I admire the current singles by X-Ray Spex ("Identity") and Johnny Rotten ("Public Image," by Public Image, Ltd.), as much as I'd like to hear an album from either artist, the single that's really gotten me off this month is a novelty. Consider the pun you might have with a title like "Bangkok," the B side of Alex Chilton's "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" (on Fun). Other laff riots: the Flying Lizards' twitty version of "Summertime Blues" (Virgin import), Devo's "Be Stiff"/"Social Fools" (Stiff import--they're healthy in small doses), and Now's "I'm Eating Off a Fashion Plate Now" (punk for rich people, and cheap--$1.50 postpaid from Out of Print Records), and Ray Campi's "Teenage Boogie" (a Radar import, hongry rockabilly from a Real Failed Rockabilly Hero who's made a lot of bad records and ain't no teenager). . . .

Does it strike everybody funny that one of the first LPs to go up to the disgraceful $8.98 list was a live Steve Martin comedy album? The production costs must have been astronomical on that one.

Village Voice, Nov. 27, 1978


Oct. 30, 1978 Dec. 25, 1978