Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

This Consumer Guide introduces yet another broken precedent. In the beginning it was my position that long-playing records should play for a long time: 30 minutes, to be precise. It was my finger in the dike against the pernicious trend away from 12-cut albums. Obviously, the sea is upon us now; 12-cut albums are rarities, and among artists who are into songs 10 is considered a fair share. On most rock albums, the playing time still exceeds half an hour because the cuts are inflated with instrumentation, sometimes known as art. In the past, I made it my practice to penalize records under 30 minutes by docking them a notch, but I can see no reason to encourage ballooning arrangements against the dry, terse economy of country records like the Merle Haggard and Gary Stewart. As if docking a notch or anything else I do here makes the difference.

Not only is Stewart the Pick Hit, he is the only A record of a lousy month, although Steely Dan and Lynyrd Skynyrd both would have done as well if I hadn't written features on them. The Must to Avoid, on the other hand, was a real horse race, with 10CC winning out on the basis of overenthusiastic praise since the group's inception.


BLUE OYSTER CULT: On Your Feet or on Your Knees (Columbia) I can't imagine ever learning something new from this group again--its concept has worn out--but this live double-LP, proof that they've finally earned the right to release quickie product, is a fit testament. The packaging makes the ominoso heavy-metal joke which has always been the Cult's secret more explicit than it's ever been before, and if the music is humdrum as often as it is searing--well, this is really heavy metal, then, isn't it? B [Later: C+]

DAVID BOWIE: Young Americans (RCA Victor) This is an almost total failure. The only meaty lyric will belong to Bette Midler as soon as her next albums appears, the tunes are so uninspired that Lennon-McCartney's "Across the Universe" sounds like a melodic highlight, and although the amalgam of rock and Philly soul is so thin it's interesting, it overwhelms David's voice, which is even thinner. But after the total rip-off of the live double-LP and the total alienation of Diamond Dogs, I'm pleased Bowie has rediscovered enough generosity of spirit to risk failure. And a record that helps me remember how I once found him likable can't be all bad. C PLUS [Later: B-]

ERIC CLAPTON: There's One in Every Crowd (RSO) Here is the J.J. Cale record we were afraid Eric was going to make (ho-hum) when he signed up those Leon Russell sidemen (yawn) for 461 Ocean Boulevard. If that was a comeback (think I'll turn in) this must be a goforth. C [Later: C+]

THE GOLLIWOGS: Pre-Creedence (Fantasy) Anyone who tells you this accumulation of failed singles and unreleased tapes recaptures the fabulous rock and roll of yore must have spent 1966 in a garage trying to figure out the changes to "She's Not There." Tom Fogerty dominates, and back then the production was even duller than his singing and writing; John begins to sound like himself only on the two final cuts. D

MERLE HAGGARD: Presents His 30th Album (Capitol) The man has been making them for less than a decade, and 30 is too damn many. But there's an infidelity lyric here that is definitely one of his genius pieces--title is "Old Man From the Mountain"--and that one has brought me back to what turns out to be a more than listenable album again and again. B PLUS [Later]

EMMYLOU HARRIS: Pieces of the Sky (Reprise) Abetted by Brian Ahern, who would have been wise to add some Anne Murray schlock, Harris shows off a pristine earnestness that has nothing to do with what is most likable about country music and everything to do with what is most suspect in "folk." Presumably, Gram Parsons was tough enough to discourage this tendency or play against it, but as a solo mannerism it doesn't even ensure clear enunciation: I swear the chorus of the best song here sounds like it begins: "I will rub my asshole/In the bosom of Abraham." C PLUS

JERRY JORDAN: Phone Call From God (MCA) Jordan is a Christian comedian who makes jokes about arcane subjects like tithing. I like him. He's sharp, charitable, genuinely folksy, and without sanctimony, reminding me of all the best qualities of the people in the church where I grew up. And it's worth noting that I got a lot more pleasure from this than from the latest George Carlin. B

LED ZEPPELIN: Physical Graffiti (Swan Song) On record (not in concert) the power and mystery of this music is still undeniable. But for me it lacks differentiation, and I know that on the very rare occasions when I need it I'll put on "Black Dog" and "Rock & Roll." B [Later: B+]

BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS: Natty Dread (Island) Marley is a genius so difficult he tricked me into underrating each of his two previous American albums. But Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston were on those records, and I recall that each of them included at least one song that I loved instantly. This doesn't. Yet somehow I feel a need to hedge. B [Later: A]

BARBARA MASON: Love's the Thing (Buddah) Not all soul singers bloom with age; some of them just get older. Ten years ago, young and foolish Barbara was cooing "Yes I'm Ready" as if the male seduction fantasy were her own, and it probably was. Now she sounds petulant, calculating, self-centered, not brave or sensitive enough to have a go at sisterhood nor bright enough to risk autonomy. Her sole commitment: fighting over men with other women. And she doesn't even have the guile to sheathe her whine. D PLUS

NILSSON: Duit on Mon Dei (RCA Victor) I have a weakness for sardonic nonsense, but this man is definitely running out of ideas--even his haphazardness is getting predictable. Crazy like a fox I can sit still for, but not crazy like an audio salesman. B MINUS

THE O'JAYS: Survival (Philadelphia International) Except for the astonishing "Rich Get Richer," based on a text by Ferdinand Lundberg, this is the drabbest studio album this group has made since joining Gamble-Huff. Unfortunately, "Rich Get Richer" is not the single. Call your local deejay and find out what good it does you. C PLUS [Later]

PILOT (EMI) All those nostalgic for Hollies harmonies about the girl next door line up here. C PLUS [Later]

JOHN PRINE: Common Sense (Atlantic) Despite the singer's lax manner, these songs are anything but throwaways. Nor are they self-imitations. Prine customarily strives for coherence, but this time he has purposely (and painfully) abjured it. He seems to regret this at one point--during a more or less cogent lament for a dead friend--but the decision was obviously unavoidable. It results in the most genuinely miserable album in memory, for unlike Lou Reed or even James Taylor, Prine takes his misery to heart (e.g., "Way Down"). What's questionable is whether he's correct to interpret the world entirely in terms of his own uncommon state of mind, and despite music that deserves the term haunting--it sounds dead at first, but it keeps coming back--the temptation to relegate this to the obscurity it insists upon is understandable. Nevertheless, I expect to listen more. B PLUS [Later: A-]

MAGGIE AND TERRE ROCHE: Seductive Reasoning (Columbia) Female singing duos must function as mutual support groups; last time a women's sensibility this assured, relaxed, and reflective made it to vinyl was Joy of Cooking. These folkies manque are a little flat here, a little arch there, but in general the shoe fits; no ideological feminism, but plenty of consciousness. B PLUS

LEON RUSSELL: Will o' the Wisp (Shelter) Last time he played the arrogant layabout and pissed everyone off, so now that he's trying too hard should we feel sorry for him? He knows it's make-or-break, and he obviously wants to do new things. But he just doesn't have the chops, not even conceptually. C MINUS

SPARKS: Propaganda (Island) "Never turn your back on mother earth," they chant or gibber in a style unnatural enough to wither 95 per cent of human ears. I must be a natural man after all, because I can't endure the contradiction. D PLUS [Later: C-]

GARY STEWART: Out of Hand (RCA Victor) This is the best regular issue country LP I've heard in about five years. The wild urgency of Stewart's voice reminds me of both Hank Williams and Jerry Lee Lewis, communicating an unconstraint that feels genuinely liberating even when Stewart himself sounds miserable. Don't be misled by that mod look. This man has got to be a little crazy. A MINUS [Later]

10CC: The Original Soundtrack (Mercury) Is it supposed to be a parody to make your imitation movie mush more unbearable than any real thing, or just expert musicianship? And stretching your only decent melody (a nonsatirical love song) over six tedious minutes, is that a joke? And who is the butt of "Une Nuit A Paris," the dumb yank or the greedy frog? Cor, or do I mean blimey, most of this wouldn't last long enough to close Saturday night. D PLUS

ROBIN TROWER: For Earth Below (Chrysalis) Is he experienced? He's a retread, and the best thing I can say for him is that he makes me remember the verve, humor, and fluidity of the original. C MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Fans of rock criticism and other literature will be interested to learn that Pete Hamill's liner notes have been removed from Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks in favor of an abstract illustration. Many critics went out of their way to pan the notes while raving about the album--what a way to feel your power. I didn't hate them too much myself, figuring there's so much rock-and-roll-is-just-a-good-time in the air that it was time we returned to the Great Art scam. But I could imagine someone more credible than Hamill performing the con. . . .

Gary Giddins informs me (re my Steely Dan piece) that unlike Barney Kessel and Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell is not a white guitar player. He is black. Coulda fooled me. . . .

Quoted without comment from Cash Box: "Last week we were in error in reporting the amount of money paid by Capitol Records to Dr. Hook. Amount was five million yen, not dollars."

Village Voice, May 12, 1975

Postscript Notes:

One anomaly of this Consumer Guide is that the original was misalphabetized: it ran from Pilot to Robin Trower in the first two columns, then from Blue Oyster Cult to the O'Jays in the next three columns. It's been reordered above.


Apr. 7, 1975 June 16, 1975