Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

I suppose this is as good a place as any to mention that punk is passť, if not dead. You can read about the new password in Bomp or Trouser Press; you can even ask some a&r person who reads the English trades. Power pop, it's called, meaning hard rock leavened by melody and a certain pop frivolity, and aspiring tastemakers like Greg Shaw of Bomp have been pushing it for years. And it is a natural evolutionary direction for punk--in fact, much of the best punk (but not all of it) was there to begin with. But it tends toward the inane--see Artful Dodger and the Real Kids, below--and my two favorite records of a thin month suggest an alternate direction: poser punk. Say it loud, I'm smart and I'm proud. Stephen, Rupert, and Billy have given up pretensions because they didn't sell. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor of the New Artiness with Wire and Pere Ubu. They require effort--but they're worth it.


ARTFUL DODGER: Babes on Broadway (Columbia) OK, two nice albums of power pop go virtually unnoticed, so you up the power, especially since you're running out of the cute tunes 'n' tricks that provide the pop. But then it isn't power pop any more--sounds almost like Angel, or Queen. Sounds pretty desperate, too. C PLUS [Later]

STEPHEN BISHOP: Careless (ABC) Bishop ain't bad for a pop singer-songwriter--his voice is three-quarters Simon and one-quarter Garfunkel and he's got as many brains and fewer pretensions than either. He commits no sins. Omits quite a few, though--even boasts that he's outgrown material like "I Feel So Miserable Without You, It's Almost Like Having You Here." Gee, remember pretensions?" C PLUS [Later]

DR. BUZZARD'S ORIGINAL SAVANNAH BAND: Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Meets King Penett (RCA Victor) A brilliant dud. Some of the lyrics read like Ishmael Reed--soft Ishamel Reed--but for all its skillful synthesis the music just doesn't kick in. Of course, that's what I once thought about their debut. People danced to that one, though. B [Later]

FOTOMAKER: Fotomaker (Atlantic) In which the label that has already brought us Firefall, Festival, Foreigner, Funkpot, Fishwife, Failure, and Fuckall sponsors yet another dupergroup made up of yet another batch of craft-obsessed rock dues-payers. Unfortunately, this one is faceless even by low-profile dupergroup standards. (Say, there's a name for a band--Faceless.) After all, Firefall did blend second-line graduates of Spirit and the Flying Burrito Brothers into their distinctively unexciting rock country-pop. And Fuckall did fuse second-line graduates of Chelsea and the Harlots of 42nd Street into their harmlessly obscene rock punk-pop. But second-line graduates of the Rascals and the Raspberries make only for depressingly mediocre rock abcxyz-pop. This is formally appropriate--titles like "Where Have You Been All My Life" and "Two Can Make It Work" would be altogether overwhelmed by hooks, melodies, or singing of the slightest originality or enthusiasm. Beat the rush--boycott now, before anyone has even heard of them. D PLUS

THE GODZ: The Godz (Millenium) "We're everything your parents ever warned you about," they warn. "We can't feel nothin', got no heart or soul," they boast. "The Godz are rock and roll machines," they admit. Talk about your throwbacks--these evolutionary mishaps are funnier than Blue Oyster Cult, and they're not trying. Don Brewer produced. C PLUS

STEVE GOODMAN: Say It in Private (Asylum) If a smart journeyman like Goodman were consistently great, he'd be a genius, not a smart journeyman, and on one side the songs just don't command interest. But side two is a tiny folkie tour de force, dryly reworking genre expectations so that we mourn Mayor Daley, sort of, bid a jolly farewell to our century, sort of, and know that Goodman's father is dead for real. B [Later]

RUPERT HOLMES: Pursuit of Happiness (Private Stock) Rupert remembers pretensions. As a much-covered pop singer-songwriter who narrated well-crafted musical soap operas, he earned neither popular nor critical acclaim. So now he's pursued fame by moving to an avowed singles label, jettisoning the narrative and steering betwen Jimmy Webb literacy at his best ("Less Is More!") and Paul Williams pap at his worst ("Speechless"). Will he become a household hook? Will he remember pretension? C [Later]

BILLY JOEL: The Stranger (Columbia) Billy remembers pretensions, too. Having hidden his egotism in metaphor as a young songpoet, he achieved success only when he uncloseted the spoiled brat behind those bulging eyes. But here the brat appears only once, in the nominally metaphorical guise of "the stranger." The rest of Billy has more or less grown up. He's now as likeable as your once-rebellious and still-tolerant uncle who has the quirk of believing that OPEC was designed to ruin his air-conditioning business. And despite the Chapinesque turns his voice takes when he tries to get raucous, he now makes a better Elton John than Leo Sayer does. B MINUS [Later]

DENNIS LINDE: Under the Eye (Monument) If Linde showed a shred of personality, this studio rockabilly put-together might be the catchy sleeper of the year. As it is, control-board adepts will no doubt find his triple-filtered singing and multitracked musicianship appropriate to his occasionally spacey themes. And I'll just reply that if either side lived up to its first two songs I wouldn't be niggling. B PLUS

BAT MCGRATH: The Spy (Amherst) Although he's a nice singer, McGrath is bound in by the mildly jazzy conventions of contemporary folk music. He's nothing special as a melodist, and works on record to standard folk-rock "backup." But, like he says, "Naples ain't just pretty, it's my home," and he's got some eye. His songs say more about how it is for all those formerly young guys with beards who chose to live in the country back around 1970 than all the paeans to homemade bread coming out of Vermont, Colorado, and Marin. This is as solid as his first, From the Blue Eagle; I'm grading it lower to register my musical qualms. But anyone who could use a song or two should pick up on this guy. B [Later]

MILLINGTON: Ladies on the Stage (United Artists) June and Jean Millington led Fanny, an all-female band that never made a good album but was always hot live. They're now responsible for this Vegasy non-nutritive sweetener. And where the hell is Alice de Buhr, anyway? D

PERE UBU: The Modern Dance (Blank) Ubu's music is nowhere near as willful as it sounds at first. Riffs emerge from the cacophony, David Thomas's shrieking suits the heterodox passion of the lyrics, and the synthesizer noise begins to cohere after a while. So even though there's too much Radio Ethiopia and not enough Redondo Beach, I'll be listening through the failed stuff--the highs are worth it. B PLUS [Later: A-]

IGGY POP AND JAMES WILLIAMSON: Kill City (Bomp) Unlike the Stooges' albums, this collection of doctored tapes from 1975 is never brought to a halt by some luded-out threnody. But it doesn't offer any necessities of life, either--no "I Wanna Be Your Dog" or "Search and Destroy," not even a "Gimme Some Skin" or "Here Comes Success" or "China Girl." Plus it sounds sludgy. B

THE REAL KIDS: The Real Kids (Red Star) These fellas worry about people thinking they're "fags"--honest, they admit it--so they reject punky posing for wholesome pro-girl rock 'n' roll, including a few good songs ("All Kindsa Girls," "Just Like Darts") and many banalities. See Rick Danko. B MINUS [Later]

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (RSO) So you've seen the movie--pretty good movie, right?--and decided that this is the disco album you're going to try. Well, I can't blame you. The Bee Gees side is pop music at a new peak of irresistible silliness, with the former Beatle clones singing like mechanical mice with an unnatural sense of rhythm. And the album climaxes on a par-tee even non-discoids can get into, beginning with the best of David Shire's "additional music," then switching almost imperceptibly to something tolerable by MFSB and revving into all 10:52 of the Trammps' magnificent "Disco Inferno." But I find the other two sides unlistenable, mostly because the rest of Shire's additions are real soundtrack-quality stuff--he even discofies Moussorgsky (see Emerson Lake & Palmer) without making a joke on it (compare Walter Murphy on side two). And there's one more problem. While you're deciding to buy this record, so is everyone you know. You're gonna get really sick of it. Maybe you should Surprise Your Friends and seek out Casablanca's Get Down and Boogie instead. B PLUS

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: It Begins Again (United Artists) Roy Thomas Baker has encouraged Dusty's breathiness and then had the good manners not to suffocate it in the orchestral mix, and I'm grateful; I could listen to her sing tracking charts when she exhales that way. But the sad truth is that Baker has given her only a couple of strong ballads, the fluky treasures from Chi Coltrane and Barry Manilow that open each side, plus maybe Lesley Gore and Ellen Weston's "Love Me by Name." And so the fast numbers, never her forte, sound like filler. Next time, Baker should look beyond the pop pros for material like, say, "Small Town Talk," "Makin' Love Don't Always Make Love Grow," "I Can't Stand the Rain." And he should make sure there's a next time. B [Later]

GEORGE THOROGOOD AND THE DESTROYERS (Rounder) What is it that a blues interpreter black or white is supposed to do? Something about making the song his (or hers, Bonnie)--the way Mick Jagger always does, even on his absurd version of "I Just Wanna Make Love to You." Thorogood claims only "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer." And if the rest sounds good when it comes on the radio, that says more about the radio than it does about the rest. B [Later]

TUFF DARTS: Tuff Darts (Sire) Maybe Robert Gordon left this band to escape resident sickie John DeSalvo, one of those guys who sounds like he deserves to get fixed by the knife-wielding lesbians he has nightmares about. The only way to make their record more depressing would be to add a hologram of Gordon's replacement, Tommy Frenzy, whose slick blond hair and metal teeth now set the band's android-delinquent "image." Then again, you could take away Jeff Salen's guitar. C

MUDDY WATERS: I'm Ready (Blue Sky) Not as ready as you were last time, Mud, but don't let it worry you--it's always harder to get hard again again. B PLUS [Later: B]

WIRE: Pink Flag (Harvest) The simultaneous rawness and detachment of this debut LP returns rock and roll irony to the (native) land of Mick Jagger, where it belongs. From a formal strategy almost identical to the Ramones, this band deducts most melody to arrive at music much grimmer and more frightening: Wire would sooner revamp "The Fat Lady of Limbourg" or "Some Kinda Love" than "Let's Dance" or "Surfin' Bird." Not that any of the twenty-one titles here have been heard before--that would ruin the overall effect of a punk suite comprising parts so singular that you can hardly imagine them in some other order. Inspirational Prose: "This is your correspondent, running out of tape, gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape." A MINUS [Later: A]

Additional Consumer News

I recently returned from northeastern Ohio laden with singles. The most irresistible was Devo's "Satisfaction"/"Sloppy," currently rare because of distribution problems but worth keeping an eye out for. I'm also a fan of the three autoproductions that preceded the Pere Ubu album recommended above. The first "30 Second Over Tokyo"/"Heart of Darkness," recorded befor elead singer Crocus Behemoth (now slimmed down into David Thomas) learned to sing high, falls into the slow and eerie category; the A side of "Street Waves"/"My Dark Ages" is on the LP, while the B side falls into the slow, eerie, and high category. "Final Solution"/"Cloud 49" is where to begin--fast ones with hooks back to back, wotta concept. Clone, which released the excellent From Akron LP last year, has just come out with four 45s, one a three-song EP by the Bizarros that once again documents their knack for injecting pop zest into Velvets-style material (though the sound still lacks some presence), and the other three by artists who are currently clustered around the art-rock-for-laughs of Tin Huey: Breakfast With the Hueys, the Waitresses' Short Stack and Harvey Gold's Experiments are not for punk classicists--or any kin dof classicist--but I'm fond of all of them and love "Squirm You Worm," the B side of Breakfast. Never before have I recommended a mostly instrumental single in an anglophile Beefheart mode, but never before have I heard one. (The best New York outlets for these records are Bleecker Bob's and Record People. Clone deals direct from Box 6014, Akron, Ohio 44312, and the surest mail source fo rall Cleveland-area records is Hideo's Discodrome, 12427 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44106). . . .

The only noteworthy New York independent 45 I've come across recently is the Stumblebunny EP, three likable novelties and a iraculous love song called "Tonight." Lousy sound, through. . . .

The best pure punk I've heard this month comes from California--I hope the form doesn't explode there and then deliquesce into the sea. The tune is a B side by the Randoms, on Dangerhouse, and it means what its title says: "Let's Get Rid of New York."

Village Voice, Mar. 27, 1978


Jan. 30, 1978 Apr. 24, 1978