Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

Hello goodbye. Hope we see each other around next month somewhere.


ASIA (Geffen) The art-rock Foreigner is a find--rare that a big new group is bad enough to sink your teeth into any more. John Wetton and Steve Howe added excitement to contexts as pretentious as King Crimson and Yes, but this is just pompous--schlock in the grand manner, with synthesizers John Williams would love. And after listening to two lyrics about why they like their girlfriends, three about "surviving," and four about why they don't like their girlfriends, I'm ready for brain salad surgery. Inspirational Verse: "So many lines/You've heard them all/A lie is every one/From men who never understand your personality." C MINUS

JOE "KING" CARRASCO & THE CROWNS: Synapse Gap (Mundo Total) (MCA) A man of simple beliefs, I count as good any album comprising twelve unprepossessing tunes I can hum after half a dozen plays, and my cheer increases when half of them pique my simple aesthetic sense. I hear Joe "King" is overreaching--defying the three-minute rule, polymultitracking, gimmicking around. But as far as I'm concerned nothing drags, nothing protrudes, and the Zorba solo and reggae number could come off a Sam the Sham album. In short, the main reason I prefer the debut is that it came first. A MINUS

JOHNNY CASH/JERRY LEE LEWIS/CARL PERKINS: The Survivors (Columbia) Survivors of what, pray tell. Oh--of whom. We get it. We know you all were trying, too--especially Big Jawn, whose concert it was. So we regret to inform you that you sound dissipated anyway, which has an odd effect on the gospel tunes and makes for the most magnificently thrown-away "Whole Lotta Shakin'" of Jerry Lee's intensely nonchalant career. B MINUS

CHEAP TRICK: One on One (Epic) Yeah, I'd written them off too--until I heard "If You Want My Love" once and immediately made it twice, after which it went on automatic replay in my head for forty-eight hours. The most eloquently eclectic Beatle tribute ever recorded, it sets the tone of this one-of-a-kind arena-rock band's raw, ersatz tug of war, and though Rick Nielsen's Lennonesque tunes and Robin Zander's McCartneyesque screams do grate (and not against each other), I'll take it cut for cut over Paul's sweet, authentic one. Inspirational Sex Rant: "I wanna live in your body." B PLUS [Later: B]

CH3: Fear of Life (Posh Boy) Clash fans--or rather, The Clash fans--rejoice: All your favorite chords are born again here. My guess is that it's a little too neat--too pop, too heavy metal, too defined--for hardcore purists, but these hooks come the way I like them: one recitative/mechanical handclap/girl response/sound of breaking glass/etc. per hyperdriven two-minute song. Too bad "Mannequin" and "I Got a Gun," both on their equally manic and derivative EP, aren't included, thus stretching this specially priced but suspiciously unclocked album to customary hardcore length. Approximate time: 22:30. A MINUS [Later: B+]

CIRCLE JERKS: Wild in the Streets (Faulty Products) Having concluded that their Group Sex EP was one of the cutest little hardcore tantrums extant, I waited for this earsore to kick in and blamed length when it didn't. But the real reason is that boring old professional problem, material. As Tom Paxton could tell them, political commentary is no substitute for good tunes, even when your best are rarely more than three notes long. And if the whine is your natural voice you're better off complaining about teenomie anyway. Time: 25:17. C PLUS [Later]

THE DB'S: Repercussion (Albion) A man of simple tastes, I'm thrown into a tizzy when I find myself uninterested in playing an album comprising twelve tunes I can hum after a dozen plays. I think it's because they're so prepossessing they short-circuit my simple aesthetic sense. I was thrown off for weeks, to take one example, by the soul horns that open the lead cut. They sounded fussy. Soul horns. On a pop record. Overreaching. B PLUS

THE GUN CLUB: Fire of Love (Ruby) Mix slide guitar with loose talk about sex, death, and, er, Negroes, and pass yourselves off as the Rolling Stones of the nuevo wavo. Wish I could claim absence of merit, but in fact it has its tunelessly hooky allure. No matter how seriously Jeffrey Lee Pierce pretends not to take it, though, I'll take it less seriously than that--and more. B

HÜSKER DÜ: Land Speed Record (New Alliance) Like a good Eno ambient, this raving nonstop live one provides just enough surface detail--recombinant noise guitar, voices tailing off like skyrockets, slogans such as "data control," "do the bee," and "ultracore"--to function as mood rather than trance music, though admittedly not for the same kind of mood. Guaranteed to assuage the nervous tension of co-op conversion, labor strife, bad orgasm, World War III, and other modern urban annoyances. In other words: aarrghhh! Time: 26:16. B PLUS

IMAGINATION: Body Talk (MCA) Possessed of a sweet, undemanding falsetto, not unlike those of second-string Miracle Billy Griffin and second-string Temptation Damon Harris, black Englishman Leee John knows better than to be expressionistic--this music is just as sweet and just as undemanding, anchored by simple keyboard hooks and drum patterns and never venturing beyond a croon in tempo, volume, or message. Even those entranced by his trio's current dance hit, "Just an Illusion," might as well buy the album--the formula actually gathers charm over a whole side. B PLUS

DAVID JOHANSEN: Live It Up (Blue Sky) The inspired deployment of taste, always Johansen's specialty, is why his solo career has flourished live even when it's floundered on record. By kidding around with such florid models as Eric Burdon and Levi Stubbs, he can make a populist commitment that never seems cowardly, condescending, or corny--and bring off an in-concert LP (featuring six cuts he's never recorded in his present incarnation) that conveys all his good humor, deep feeling, and entertainment value. A MINUS

MATERIAL: Memory Serves (Elektra/Musician) Although Laswell, Beinhorn, Maher & Friends obviously love the harsh, expensive intelligence of preschlock jazz- (and art-) rock, their great ideas generate no necessity. Rewarding, but not tempting, much less exalting. B PLUS [Later]

RAY PARKER JR.: The Other Woman (Arista) Blessed with a one-track mind in a 24r-track world, Parker really lays it on, providing all the basic vocal and instrumental parts on an unannounced concept album about "romance," i.e., s-e-x with all the fixings. Even when he proposes marriage it's only because the lady's stuff is so good he wants his name on it, which is obviously in character. In "It's Our Own Affair," Ray swears his partner to secrecy, so I'm not sure exactly how many positions he knows, but I'm sure he's got them all written down for the follow-up, and I can't disapprove because I'm laughing too hard. Talk about a groove. B PLUS [Later: A-]

OTIS REDDING: Recorded Live: Previously Unreleased Performances (Atlantic) Eight cuts from the engagement that produced In Person at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go, recorded in April 1966, twenty months before he died, and unreleased until late 1978. Only two of three new titles are attached to new songs, including an "A Hard Day's Night" that's apparently a warm-up for the "Day Tripper" on Live in Europe. Sounds good anyway, atonal horns and all, but it's docked a notch for making one wonder why almost all the classic studio stuff is currently unavailable. B MINUS

PATRICE RUSHEN: Straight from the Heart (Elektra) Hard to believe this nouveau ingenue was once a full-time jazz pianist--forgetting "Forget Me Nots," the whole first side could be one dancy vamp, and since in pop you're supposed to write the tunes beforehand you have to wonder how she fared when she had to make them up on the spot. Did a lot of vamping, I suspect. Granted, there's real songcraft on side two, if nouveau ingenues are your idea of real. I prefer side one. C PLUS

PETE SHELLEY: Homosapien (Arista) By replacing the three heaviest losers on the English LP with three catchy little numbers, American Arista has come up with what might be the most interesting case of great-song-plus since Billy Swan's I Can Help. Shelley's voice is definitely harder to take wobbling around this discofied electropop than outshrieking the Buzzcocks' guitars, but the one-man groove suits his marginally solipsistic homophile romanticism quite neatly. B PLUS

THE TEMPTATIONS: Reunion (Gordy) Motown has put a lot into this event, with Berry, Smokey, and even Rick pitching in on new songs, but since most of the leads remain with Dennis Edwards, who led the Tempts into the nightclubs, it's possible to forget that David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks are back. Edwards demonstrates his professionalism by not breaking into giggles during "I've Never Been to Me," but when he proclaims loyalty to the "punk funk" on James's entry, the best-sung George Clinton rip ever, I simply don't believe him. B MINUS

RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON: Shoot Out the Lights (Hannibal) News of the wife's solitary return to England brings this relationship-in-crisis album home--including the husband's "bearded lady" warning in "The Wall of Death," ostensibly a synthesis of his thanatotic urge and lowlife tic. If poor Richard's merely "A Man in Need," I'm an ayatollah, but I have to give him credit--these are powerfully double-edged metaphors for the marriage struggle, and "Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?" is as damning an answer song as Linda could wish. A

TOM VERLAINE: Words from the Front (Warner Bros.) Verlaine's ever-resourceful guitar has always been more richly endowed with mood and effect than with the hook riffs that make him a great rock-and-roller, and here for the first time things get too atmospheric. "Postcard From Waterloo" is a classic, but the strangulated vocals and expressionistic structures suggest that he really should get out more. B PLUS

XTC: English Settlement (Virgin/Epic) With voices (filters, chants, wimp cool) and melodies (chants, modes, arts cool) ever more abstract, I figured Colin Moulding had finally conquered Andy Partridge and turned this putative pop band into Yes for the '80s. But it's more like good Argent, really, with the idealism less philosophical than political--melt the guns, urban renewal as bondage, o! that generation gap. And fortunately, the melodies aren't so much abstract as reserved, with the most outgoing stolen from Vivaldi or somebody by none other than Andy Partridge. B PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Thelonious Monk has been my favorite musician since I encountered him on a double bill with John Coltrane at the Jazz Gallery in 1960 (and you thought that TV and the Heads at CB's was the Golden Age). Except during--I blush--the late '60s, I've played his records continually ever since, but I've never found so much there as in the months since his death. The way he attends to structure and fools around with time, the way his improvisations hew to his wonderful and barely hummable melodies, and the way he hashes standards all appeal to the rock critic in me, and this is the historical moment for all you ennui victims out there to try something new. My most-played Monk albums remain Blue Note's Complete Genius (catchy tunes) and Milestone's Brilliance (mind-bending arrangements), but Milestone's new Theloniosu Monk Memorial Album is an ideal introduction, not least because it isn't a best-of--incredibly, Orrin Keepnews's personal selection is really just a sampler, and my only regret is that his notes don't indicate all the current Milestone twofers on which the same extraordinary soloists might be found. . . .

The Coasters' Young Blood, a double album in Atlantic's new Deluxe series, is an encouraging indication that the most negligent label in the industry is finally doing something with its catalogue, which includes hours of out-of-print soul (see Otis Redding above) and r&b treasures. Kevin Eggers has put together the finest compilation on the group to date, even unearthing their long-lost CBS session with Leiber & Stoller from the late '60s. I could carp about how "Wait a Minute," "Bad Detective," and who knows what else might have been squeezed on, but all 24 cuts here sound amazingly fresh, clean, and funny a quarter century down the line. A must. . . .

The best English single I've heard since the Anti-Nowhere League is also the best black 12-inch I've heard since the Peech Boys, which is to say you can't check it out at Danceteria or 99: the Front Line Orchestra's "Don't Turn Your Back on Me" (RFC import). Hardly revolutionary, but a great pop amalgam: hooky guitar lines and percussion breaks, sandpaper-mezzo call and novelty bass response.

Village Voice, July 6, 1982


June 1, 1982 Aug. 10, 1982