Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

Crotchety didacticism prevents me from putting my most played album of the year, Pere Ubu's Dub Housing, in the Pick Hit box this month. But as I've now mentioned Ubu four months running I figure I'm in danger of oversell (buy it buy it buy it buy it . . . ), and I couldn't resist making my little point--that there's Good Disco and Bad Disco, children, just like in All Other Musical Genres--in so graphic a manner. At some level the distinction has to do with the spectre of Europe, but it's not all that easy to suss out. Let's just say that unlike my colleague Mr. Goldstein I am not encouraged by the notion of an American pop music that embraces French chanson (typesetter: do not omit itals). Okay, cheries?


THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: Enlightened Rogues (Capricorn) The heartening sense of overall conviction here doesn't extend to many specifics, with the surprising exception of Gregg's roughly detailed vocals. But Ronnie Van Zant himself couldn't breathe life into these songs, most of which Dickey Betts was saving up for the third Great Southern album--now never to be heard, which is one good thing. C PLUS [Later]

THE BIZARROS (Mercury) This catches Nick Nicholis's vocals halfway down the road to a proper stylization, and his lyrics sound like he's been reading trash rather than talking it. But he also helps shape the music here, and the music is great. Few bands demonstrate more thorough command of basic hook-and-drone, especially Velvets-like because the tempos are never breakneck. Didn't take me long to get to like every tune on the record, as well as most of Jerry Parkins's guitar parts. B PLUS

ORNETTE COLEMAN: Body Meta (Artists House) Hidden in Coleman's dense electric music are angles deep enough to dive into and sharp enough to cut your throat. This isn't quite as dense or consistent as Dancing in Your Head--"Fou Amour" does wander. But "Voice Poetry" is as funky as James Chance if not Brown. And "Home Grown" is as funky as Robert Johnson. A MINUS [Later]

CRAZY HORSE: Full Moon (RCA Victor) I know I've called Neil Young's backup boys the greatest hard rock band in America except the Ramones, and I know Neil Young plays guitar on five cuts here. But I mean when Neil Young was singing. Singing Neil Young songs. C PLUS

JACK DEJOHNETTE: New Directions (ECM) Because this date by the former Miles Davis drummer features the protean Lester Bowie in a relatively muted frame of mind, comparisons are made to In a Silent Way. But guitarist John Abercrombie is more like an anti-intellectual Bill Evans (bassist Eddie Gomez's mentor, by the way) than like John McLaughlin. And DeJohnette's heads don't match Davis's and Zawinul's on Silent Way any more than DeJohnette himself matches Tony Williams. For all that, a lot warmer than most of what this label seems to think is jazz, especially on side two. B PLUS

THE DELLS: New Beginnings (ABC) I've never been a big fan of vocal groups as such--just can't get too interested in virtuoso harmonies expended on mediocre songs. And like most vocal-group LPs, this is slow going at times. But it's quite impressive anyway. Instead of resigning themselves to the oldies circuit--four of the five Dells have been together for 25 years, so they definitely quality--they've sought out new songs from a variety of sources, including two George Clinton-produced Parliaments classics. Wish they didn't figure it was modern to put only four on a side, though. B [Later]

BOB DYLAN: Bob Dylan at Budokan (Columbia) I believe this double LP was made available so our hero could boast of being outclassed by Cheap Trick, who had the self-control to release but a single disc from this location. Although it's amazing how many of the 22 songs--12 also available on one of the other two live albums Dylan has released since 1974--hold up under slipshod treatment. Lyrics and poster are included. C PLUS [Later]

ROBERT GORDON: Rock Billy Boogie (RCA Victor) Gordon's nouveau rockabilly has always been a mite slick and a mite fast, and this is his best album because he's no longer hiding it--his blown notes are just blown notes, not stigmata of authenticity. Credit Chris Spedding's unnaturally adaptable guitar, which drives the music more aptly than Link Wray's raw protohippie licks, authentic though they may have been. I mean, half the time Gordon actually sounds as though he belongs there. Blows some notes, though. B

HORSLIPS: The Man Who Built America (DJM) In the past these rock pros from the Emerald Isle specialized in Gaelic folk motifs--pretty awful, but awful in their own way. This time they go for more generalized shamrock: organ doodles and half-baked harmonies haunt a concept album about Irish (note roots) immigrants who think quite a lot about the colleens (not called that, of course) left behind. D PLUS

IRAKERE: Irakere (Columbia) Latin jazz for real, from Cuba. They're hot, they have amazing chops, and they've absorbed four continents' worth of music--who else would back an African "mass" (explosive) with a Mozart adagio (unintegrated)? Next time I hope they get to record in a studio rather than a concert. A MINUS [Later]

MADLEEN KANE: Cheri (Warner Bros.) Hey, psst, wanna hate a disco singer? Got one for ya. This is a white American girl gone Yurrupean, and she doesn't end up like Donna Summer, believe me. Ex-model, blonde of course, comes on all dewy-eyed then sings these lies about her passions. You catch yourself dancing to it and you wanna puke. Plus on the other side you can't even dance to it--it's like if Cheryl Ladd recorded Edith Piaf tributes, which she might yet, all topped off with a paean to "retro," which in case you didn't know means nostalgia with a will to power. C MINUS [Later]

MCFADDEN & WHITEHEAD (Philadelphia International) The anthemic power of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" made me think these guys were ready to take over, but all it meant was that every year or two they write a great song. The disco disc has gone gold, and is recommended. B MINUS

TOM PAXTON: Heroes (Vanguard) As dinky musically as any other electric folk session, but most of the songs escape the sentimental self-righteousness you expect from this old-timer. They're funny when they mean to be, which is often. And two very impressive farewells, to Phil Ochs and Stephen Biko, aren't funny at all. B

PEACHES & HERB: 2 Hot! (Polydor) Anyone who believes all black pop is "disco," nothing more and nothing less, should analyze the outfront vocals and submerged grooves of this enthusiastically lascivious Freddie Perren trifle, which broke because disco DJs are willing to program whatever's danceable, not because AM DJs are willing to program whatever's listenable. And it is very listenable--though unfortunately never anything more exciting. B [Later: B+]

PERE UBU: Dub Housing (Chrysalis) Because I trust the way Ubu's visionary humor and crackpot commitment rocks out and/or hooks in for the sheer pleasure of it, I'm willing to go with their excursions into musique concrete, and on this record they get me somewhere. The death of Peter Laughner may well have deprived America of its greatest punk band, but the subsequent ascendancy of synth wizard Allen Ravenstine has defined a survival-prone community capable of bridging the '60s and the '80s without acting as if the '70s never happened. Their form is eccentric ye thighly compelling, their freedom informed by necessity. Weirdness as a way of life. A [Later]

SNEAKERS: In the Red (Car) This specially priced 33-rpm 12-incher contains six songs and three fragments totaling 19 minutes, but it's not an album, exactly. Might be if mastermind Chris Stamey (Alex Chilton vet whose group is now called the dB's) would add the best songs from his various seven-inchers (including the six-song 33-rpm one) my faves are "The Summer Sun" and "If and When". On the other hand, "What I Dig" and "Decline and Fall," which lead off the two sides here, would make a terrific single. Sprung harmony fans, Big Star cultists and other '60s revisionists can make further inquiries. B MINUS

GINO SOCCIO: Outliine (Warner Bros./RFC) The record of the year on the disco circuit earns its title by rejecting the washes of strings and brass outsiders associate with the form for a consciously minimalist exploration of mechanical dance rhythm, devoid of even the appearance of melody or meaningfulness. This is great in theory, and maybe on the circuit; but it comes out of my speakers dry and cold. B MINUS

DONNA SUMMER: Bad Girls (Casablanca) You tend to suspect anyone who releases three double-LPs in eighteen months of delusions of Chicago, but Donna is here to stay and this is her best album. The first two sides, four songs per, never let up--the voice breaks and the guitars moan over a bass-drum thump in what amounts to empty-headed girl-group rock and roll brought cannily up-to-date. Giorgio Moroder makes his Europercussion play on side four, which is nice too, but side three drags embarrassingly--as always when she Slows It Down a Little, Summer exposes her ambition to telescope Diana Ross's two decades into five years. In other words, the rock and roll that surfaces here is just a stop along the way to a totally bleh total performance. But me, I still have a lot of fun with my Supremes records. A MINUS [Later]

WITCH QUEEN (Roadshow) Here Gino Soccio's disco goes pop, with the help of the Muscle Shoals boys and three jumpy, skillfully extended blasts from the riff-song past--Redbone's "Witch Queen," Free's "All Right Now," and T. Rex's "Bang a Gong." I hear complaints, but this isn't anywhere near Muzaky enough to desecrate material so unpretentious. On the other hand, it does run on, and except for Barry Beckett's chunky piano break on "Bang a Gong" adds little to the originals. B [Later]

RON WOOD: Gimme Some Neck (Columbia) Ron sounds more Dylany on his new Dylan ditty than Dylan has in a while, and he sounds even better on a song about getting saved (which Dylan didn't write, praise the Lord). He's also induced Roy Thomas Baker to let him and the boys off with a mix as dirty as their rock and roll. But this is a man who should never sing two songs in a row. And he should stay away from lyrics about the perfidy of woman. B MINUS [Later]

Additional Consumer News

A mediocre month for albums has sent me cringing back to my 45 paraphernalia, with great results. Three special faves, all daily plays around my house, feature female voices. The Pretenders' "Stop Your Subbing"/"The Wait" (Real import), produced by Nick Lowe, is a classic Spectoresque girl-group tribute on the irresistible A side and a modernist interpretation of the same sensibility on the B. The band is working with Sire and sounds major to me. "Ain't You"/"Hedi's Head" (Rough Trade import) is by four Swiss women called Kleenex who play stop-and-go rhythmic games on simple chant lyrics. It got to me on various dancefloors before a follow-up in England. Joy Ryder & Avis Davis's "No More Nukes" (Monongo) is a genuine rock and roll protest song ("Do you wanna have an army?/No I wanna have a party") not least because it pokes fun at its own efficacy. I also like the raw bite of the flip, "Nasty Secretary." . . .

Favorite new single with male voice only (an exasperated-sounding early-Mark-P. phrasealike) (and there are women playing behind) is the Mekons' "Where Were You?" (Fast import). Runner-up: "Pop Muzik"/"M Factor," by M (MCA import), slicked-up B-52s-sounding new wave that's a big hit in England. . . .

Robert Quine Fan Club specials: "The Kid With the Replaceable Head"/"I'm Your Man" by the much-missed Richard Hell and his much-missed Voidoids (Radar import) and Lester Bangs's "Let It Blurt" (Spy), which I actually play and actually consider a rather visionary record, even though it was cut before Lester learned to sing (out of the mouths of . . . ). . . .

Disco disc of the month is the Gibson Brothers' "Cuba" (Mango), salsa fusion that's completely compelling in both vocal and instrumental versions. Runners-up: Anita Ward's "Ring My Bell" (T.K.), yet another girl-group extension; Patrick Hernandez's "Born to Be Alive" (Columbia), a male-vocal-group extension complete with Mr. Bass Man; and Rosebud's "Money"/"Have a Cigar" (Warner Bros.), which isn't the order of sides in the discos, where the Pink Floyd remake is getting lots of play (I have hopes for the album on this one). . . .

Atlantic has instituted a Disco Oldies series that is the best consumer news from that quarter in a while: 10 discs, $4.98 list (which means $2.49-$2.99 in the shops), most of them genuinely two-sided. Most welcome by me: Cerrone's "Cerrone's Paradise"/"Love in 'C' Minor" (the B side of his "Supernature" is lousy, though); two by the Trammps (although all of the four songs available are also on their best-of, albeit in pop lengths except for "Disco Inferno"); and the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" ("Hot Stuff" on the B). . . .

More antinuke music: Ernie Hawkins's "Harrisburg Radiation Blues" (Wildebeest), your basic Elmore James rip, and "It's a Meltdown," which the Citizen Kafka Singers put to the tune of "That's Amore" (Beet).

Village Voice, May 28, 1979


Apr. 30, 1979 July 2, 1979