Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

In what is supposed to be a fallow (nonschool, non-Christmas) time for new releases I find myself inundated with stuff I want to listen to. Maybe this just means I'm catching up. Or maybe the industry throws out the marginal stuff in fallow times, and marginal is just what we needed. More goodies next month.


ARTHUR BLYTHE: Lenox Avenue Breakdown (Columbia) I prefer this to, say, Blythe's more conventionally "free" Bush Baby (on Adelphi) because--thanks to Jack DeJohnette, Guillermo Franco, and the lilt of Blythe's theme vamps--its passion for popular rhythms enables it to say something about them. The sinuous Latin groove of "Down San Diego Way" wends through three of the four tracks. But while the California opener is unfailingly sunny, the groove runs into two-way traffic on the title tune and suffers further cross-comment on the bluesy "Slidin' Through" before disappearing into "Odessa." Just as Steely Dan's lyrics (and chord changes, I suppose) work against the surface mellowness of the music, so the strength of the groove here is challenged and transformed by solo voices and alien rhythms without ever being defeated, much less exploited for its "accessibility." And if we're interested, all this conflict helps us understand why music like Bush Baby exists. A

DAVID BOWIE: Lodger (RCA Victor) I used to think Bowie was middlebrow, but now I'd prefer to call him post-middlebrow--a habitue of prematurely abandoned modernist space. Musically, these fragments of anomie don't seem felt, and lyrically they don't seem thought through. But that's part of their charm--the way they confound categories of sensibility and sophistication is so frustrating it's satisfying, at least if you have your doubts about the categories. Less actually than the impact of the record as a whole. But one must acknowledge that Eno's lessons seem finally to have been absorbed. A MINUS [Later]

THE DOOBIE BROTHERS: Minute by Minute (Warner Bros.) Tight playing combines with moderately intricate rhythms and harmonies for sexy, dancey pop music of undeniable craft (at least on side one). And as we all know, they could be doing a lot worse. B MINUS [Later: B]

EARTH, WIND & FIRE: I Am (Columbia) Sexy, dancey pop music of undeniable craft, and it doesn't let up. But as we all know, they could be doing a lot better. B

DAVE EDMUNDS: Repeat When Necessary (Swan Song) This sounds like a Rockpile album while Nick Lowe's doesn't because Lowe loves rock and roll for everything it implies as culture while Edmunds loves it for everything it is as music. There is a richness of reference here that leaves Edmunds's rockabilly phase far behind--five of the songs are imaginative genre pieces from two pubberies that appear to specialize in pub-rock revivalism, new ones by Parker and Costello add that contemporary touch, and the zesty remake of "Home in My Hand" cuts Brinsley Schwarz's. But what defines the music is Edmunds's willingness to defer to the overdrive of the two other guys in the band, unsung guitarist Billy Bremner and pitiless drummer Terry Williams. In unity there is power. A MINUS

THE GIBSON BROTHERS: Cuba (Island) Though brother Chris's vocals get wearing--his hoarse shout sounds like the version of male soul the entire Eurodisco network tries to simulate--the title track is still a killer and the rest of the side hangs tough. As does "Better Do It Salsa!" leading off side two. And then . . . B PLUS [Later]

ARLO GUTHRIE: Outlasting the Blues (Warner Bros.) These reflections on God, love, and death are substantial and obviously earned, but too often they're just not acute. The problem isn't his religious overview, either--think of T-Bone Burnett. Guthrie simply goes soft aesthetically at crucial moments, and although most of the material is creditable enough, only once--on "Epilogue," Guthrie's "Under Ben Bulben"--is the enormous emotional potential of the project realized. B

KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND: Do You Wanna Go Party (T.K.) The slight shifts in rhythmic and compositional strategy are dubious. But this band is like the Ramones--the hooks sneak up on you. What can I say? Not only do I love the title cut, but I find myself humming everything else on the record--the slow one, the cover version, the one in Spanish. B PLUS

JERRY LEE LEWIS: Jerry Lee Lewis (Elektra) In which Bones Howe and some crack studio pros (Hal Elaine, Charlie Burton) spend four days getting a hot album out of the Killer, his first since the 1973 London sessions (and more consistent, too). Think of it as autumnal rock and roll--undiminished tempos under fadeaway phrasing. Best tune: Bob Dylan's "Rita Mae," the simple rock and roll ditty Dylan's always wanted to write. B PLUS [Later]

NICK LOWE: Labour of Lust (Columbia) The title is more than a (great) joke--this album is consciously carnal, replete with girls who come in doses, tits that won't quit, lumps in the pocket, and extensions that aren't Alexander Bell's invention. With Rockpile backing, it's also more straight-ahead than Pure Pop. This is nice--my favourite line is "I don't think it's funny no more"--but it does nothing to stop Lowe from falling into cliches like "Without Love," which ought to be funny and isn't. But then again on the other hand that's probably the point. A

JAY MCSHANN: The Big Apple Bash (Atlantic) Those who want blues from the 12th Street and Vine will enjoy McShann's album with T-Bone Walker (on Classic Jazz). This is something else--Kansas City jazz rendered by an instrumental ensemble that never gets bigger than the mid-'70s Rolling Stones. And although I'm no aficionado of the horn chart, I enjoy the interplay of instrumental colors on standards by Waller, Basie, Ellington, and McShann. B PLUS

PLATINUM HOOK (Motown) Taken though I am with the nominal ingenuity of such pomp-rock tyros as Trillion and Tycoon, this disco concoction wins first prize in the latest name-that-band sweepstakes. Talk about your money and your mouth. But in the future perhaps an even more direct approach is indicated. Possibilities: Rack Jobber, Airplay, AOR, A&R, Executive Vice President for Promotion and Marketing. D PLUS

THE RESIDENTS: Duck Stab/Buster & Glen (Ralph) Much to my annoyance, I not only find myself nyaahing along to these weird, misanthropic, exuberantly absurdist post-art-rock fragments, I find myself giggling. Just the thing to divert precocious but obnoxious ten-year-olds--the kind of thing Frank Zappa might be doing if he hadn't left his brains at the bank in 1971. A MINUS [Later]

CARLY SIMON: Spy (Elektra) This advocate of the fuck-around-and-fib-about-it school of post-monogamy ("Morality is what I can do and still live with myself," she revealed to her publicist recently) dedicates her latest to Ana´s Nin, and for once I think she's selling herself short--at her best she's sharper than Ana´s Nin. If she'd been able to maintain the shrewd, ironic, vengeful-to-loving-to-bemused pace of the first three songs, she might actually have made a case for her ethical theories. But after that she mostly seems confused. Ana´s would be proud. B MINUS

SQUEEZE: Cool for Cats (A&M) Power poppers (remember them?) suck this stuff up, and I understand why--not only does its songcraft surpass that of the band's debut, but it also isn't quite as sophomoric. It's sophomoric enough, though, and like so many such records makes you wonder where the power is. Not in the vision, that's for sure. And not in the beat. Great song: "Up the Junction." B

RACHEL SWEET: Fool Around (Stiff/Columbia) Two compositions by (ousted?) svengali Liam Sternberg have been replaced on the U.S. release by prime, straightforward rockers. This makes sense. Like Tanya Tucker, Sweet thrives on simple material, and while Sternberg's songs are catchy and thoughtful, their fussy, uncolloquial moments don't suit Sweet's hot-teen persona: Deborah Harry might sound charmingly klutzy on the rhythmically overwrought "Cuckoo Clock" or "Suspended Animation" ("I could wait for any duration"), but Sweet just sounds like she's following instructions. Unfortunately, both these songs were left on the LP, while natural Sweet stuff like "Just My Style" and "Truckstop Queen" (on Stiff's Akron anthology) were omitted. This doesn't make sense. B PLUS [Later]

WAR: The Music Band (MCA) Fond as I might become of "Corns and Callouses" (in which "Dr. Shoals" is asked to fix souls) I think fading groove bands are ill-advised to spend most of an album singing about the joys of career. Better to brighten the groove, so the career can continue. C

TAMMY WYNETTE: Just Tammy (Epic) This is schlock with conviction, the essential country music parade. But what makes a great country album for urban speedsters like me is lyrics that are worth listening to, maybe even thinking about, and these begin and end with the opening cut, "They Call It Making Love." B MINUS

NEIL YOUNG: Rust Never Sleeps (Reprise) For the decade's greatest rock and roller to come out with his greatest album in 1979 is no miracle in itself--the Stones made Exile as grizzled veterans. The miracle is that Young doesn't sound much more grizzled now than he already did in 1969; he's wiser but not wearier, victor so far over the slow burnout his title warns of. The album's music, like its aura of space-age primitivism, seems familiar, but while the melodies work because they're as simple and fresh as his melodies have always been, the offhand complexity of the lyrics is unprecedented in Young's work: "Pocahantas" makes "Cortez the Killer" seem like a tract, "Sedan Delivery" turns "Tonight's the Night" on its head, and the Johnny Rotten tribute apotheosizes rock-and-roll-is-here-to-stay. Inspirational Bumper Sticker: "Welfare mothers make better lovers." A PLUS

FRANK ZAPPA: Sheik Yerbouti (Zappa) If this be social "satire," how come its sole targets are ordinary citizens whose weirdnesses happen to diverge from those of the anal compulsive at the control board? Or are we to read his new fixation on buggery as an indication of approval? Makes you wonder whether his primo guitar solo on "Yo' Mama" and those as-unique-as-they-used-to-be rhythms and textures are as arid spiritually as he is. As if there were any question after all these years. C [Later]

Additional Consumer News

Small-hole vs. large-hole is a significant dichotomy for prisoners of technology like myself, so you can blame the Anglophilia of this month's singles report on the temporary loss of what BIC (a British concern, too) told me was a 45 changer when I bought it. Anyway, in addition to good but surprisingly nonaddictive stuff from X-Ray Spex (one new song for three bucks on EMI) and the Clash (four for four on CBS) my faves are three. "Fairytale in the Supermarket" by the Raincoats (Rough Trade) took me as long as Kleenex, whom they resemble, and was worth the wait--girl groups rule okay. "Sleeping Gas" by The Teardrop Explodes, a pick at Bleecker Bob's, was recorded a year-and-a-half ago and still manages to sound like a more sinuous version of Chairs Missing or a less discoid version of "Warm Leatherette." And the sleeper is "Ain't That a Shame" (BJ1), an original composition by Brian James of the golden Damned, and obviously where the hook from their much bruited pop breakthrough is hiding. . . .

Corey Daye's "Green Light" b/w/ "Pow Wow" (New York International) is the nearest thing to a knockout disco disc I've heard in months, but consumers should note that what sounds like an excellent new LP by the same artiste opens with the same two cuts. Runner-up is Teena Marie's "I'm a Sucker for Your Love" b/w its instrumental self (Motown), a cute piece of Rick James funk that is definitely the best of their (her?) album and will cost you 50 cents a minute discounted. Fern Kinney's remake of King Floyd's "Groove Me" (T.K.) also rings my bell, although not like Anita Ward, and I enjoy Ish's Euro-gone-funky "Don't Stop" (T.K.). "Shake Your Boom Boom" is produced by the legendary Luther Dixon and features the legendary Hank Ballard and the Midnighters (London), who on this evidence have no reason to give up. And Disco Circus's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (Columbia) is very funny. . . .

MCA's Very Best of Loretta and Conway (note billing order) doesn't project mid-range emotions as powerfully as George and Tammy's best-of, perhaps because L&C have never been hooked. But it does offer 14 virtually dudless tracks and four compelling ones--two shamelessly pathetic (with much recitative) and two blatantly comic. Classic: "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly."

Village Voice, July 30, 1979


July 2, 1979 Sept. 3, 1979