Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

I hope I'm not doing Persian Gulf a disservice by making their EP the first Pick Hit ever in that configuration. Changing the Weather is certainly my favorite record of the month, with seven fine cuts out of eight, but it's an unvirtuosic, unprepossessing little thing that no doubt had such a strong impact on me partly because it entered my life with absolutely no hoohah. Don't expect to be bowled over, okay? As for my Must to Avoid [Chequered Past], I just wanted to remind everyone that worse things can happen to Sex Pistols than PIL.


BEAT STREET (Atlantic) I wish Grandmaster Melle Mel hadn't bothered with the plot summary (I also wish he'd stop saying "Huh!" all the time), and I wish Jake Holmes hadn't bothered with the "love theme" (he can do the sequel, Bleecker Street). But executive producer Arthur Baker (with the help of executive producer Harry Belafonte, I'm sure) has done his best to drown the dreck in electrohop, with Bambaataa and the System fashioning gratifyingly sharp tracks. In addition, Rubén Blades proves that romance isn't dead, just Jake Holmes. And Sharrock returns. [Original grade: B plus] B

BLACK FLAG: My War (SST) Depleted by the kind of corporate strife I thought these guys were too cynical to fall for (which may be why they did), Henry Rollins's adrenalin gives out. The consequent depression is so monumental that even Greg Ginn succumbs, adding only one classic to his catalogue of noise solos ("The Swinging Man") and grinding out brain-damaged cousins of luded power chords behind the three dirges that waste side two. But things do start off manically enough, with the title tune (refrain: "You're one of them") and five minutes of Henry explaining why he smiles so much (which I never noticed). B MINUS

BREAKIN' (Polydor) Only students of secondhand black need sample this de facto El Lay hip hop sampler. Ollie and Jerry's title hit can be purchased separately, as can Carol Lynn Townes's "99½" should that strike your fancy. And you'll never notice side two until "Ain't Nobody"--not when Chaka starts singing, but when the keyboard intro comes on. I mean, El Lay hip hop is nothing but keyboard intros. B MINUS

CHEQUERED PAST (EMI) Breeding tells, right? So cross Steve Jones (ex-Pistol), Tony Sales (ex-Ig), Nigel Harrison (ex-Blondie), and Clem Burke (ditto), each sired by a great band, and what do you get? Fast heavy metal, of course, a little too classy for satanism or even blatant sexism, but who cares when what we get from the Nietzsche Sales reads on the cover is "Only the Strong (Will Survive)" in "A World Gone Wild." The secret, as in most bands great and ghastly, is the man with the concept: singer and songwriter Michael Des Barres (ex-Silverhead), whose "daddy was an aristocrat," and who's been ruining rock and roll in a vain attempt to prove that that makes him special for close to a decade. Breeding tells. C MINUS

CHOPS (Atlantic) The great playing here isn't by Chops, four horn players harmonizing smarmily behind a singing keyb man designated Funki. The stars are Sugarhill escapees Doug Wimbish, Dennis Chambers, and Keith LeBlanc, who put more power, personality, and invention (and chops) into bass, drums, and more drums than the supposed front men do into their supposed front instruments. But who can't make the front man disappear. C PLUS

SHEILA E.: In the Glamorous Life (Warner Bros.) With its breathy singsong, dancy hooks, electrotreated steals, pseudo-random white dissonance, and generally thrown-away air, this gyroscopic Prince spinoff reminds me more than a little of the first Tom Tom Club. Definitely not for kiddies, though. Teenyboppers maybe. B PLUS

EDDY GRANT: Going for Broke (Portrait) Though it pains me to put it in black and white, Grant is half hack, and pop gambles are by their very nature never as all-or-nothing as his brave title pretends. The dance cuts don't walk on sunshine, the rockers sow no special feel for that beat, and as a ballad singer he's such a born belter it's amazing he brings off even the charming "Blue Wave." C PLUS

BILLY IDOL: Rebel Yell (Chrysalis) Videos have been the making of this born poser's career and the unmaking of his music. Not that they've changed how hard and hooky it is, much less turned off the unwitting many who find sexism sexy. But if you've got no taste for the sound of the sneer, the visuals definitely aren't fantasy enough. C

JERMAINE JACKSON (Arista) An educational contrast for those who scorn the synthetic sheen of Thriller and Victory, this label debut by the Jackson who's a Gordy is so generic it seems cloned. Not that the fast poppers aren't fun in their mechanical way. But Jermaine's singing is devoid of idiosyncrasy. His short-lived "new-wave" bent surfaces as the nagging predictability of the catchy-catchy-catchy hooks/beats/riffs. And the songwriting is farmed out to such El Lay stalwarts as Michael Omartian and Andy Goldmark except on two cuts, one of them the utterly sincere, utterly bathetic "Oh Mother." Oh brother. B MINUS

THE JACKSONS: Victory (Epic) Victim of a truly perverse heightened expectation syndrome, this expert pop record is certainly in a league with Destiny and Triumph, now remembered as unjustly ignored black-music milestones by many of those who unjustly ignored them. What it lacks is Michael at the pitch of gulping syncopation we've learned to love so well, although I do think his two turns suffer the worst backlash of all--better a Stones throwaway than a Wings throwaway, and better the high-strung delicacy of "Be Not Always" than the mundane sensitivity of, say, "If You're Ever in My Arms Again." As for the Other Bros., this showcases them more vividly than the tour of the same name--there can never be too many crafty tunes about wanting a body or saving the world. B PLUS

TOMMY KEENE: Places That Are Gone (Dolphin) Though I'm sure I wouldn't be niggling if every composition on this EP had the electric lyricism and admonitory dolor of "Back to Zero Now," Keene's keen Beatle extrapolation falls just on the other side of what a modern man must hope for. He always seems either sad or resentful, which does spell nostalgia to me. B PLUS

DAVID LASLEY: Raindance (EMI America) The artiest love man since Eugene Record wasn't the next Dylan, Lasley adds a wonderful rap for "queers" and a terrible street-talk verité playlet called "Euripides Meets the Shangri-Las" to his straightforward sha-la-la lyrics and Brill Building grooves, with fellow Detroiter Don Was throwing in Linn drums and such. His falsetto has gained color and heft, too. B PLUS

HUGH MASEKELA: Techno Bush (Jive Afrika) Like Malcolm McLaren with a birthright, Masekela has given up the dull demijazz of his U.S. period and returned to Africa, where he cops riffs and rhythms, calypso raps and organ jive and of course trumpet parts, as cannily as the cleverest imperialist, then serves them up in a highly palatable English-language fusion. Beyond a few leftover dull spots my only cavil is the lyric of the demihit, "Don't Go Lose It Baby"--shouldn't crow so about being a "winner" in a country where the deck is stacked like it is in Botswana. [Original grade: A minus] B PLUS

DICK MCCORMACK: Live at the 1983 Vermont Midsummer Festival (Rooster) His most recent offering doesn't show off this Vermonter's durable songwriting (and collecting) like 1981's acerbically folkloric "Who Ever Said It Would Be Easy?" disc--something in a live crowd must bring out the easy wisdom in him. But he almost compensates with jokes, one of which is a drawn-out tale of Jack & Allen & Neil & Clams that's irresistible the first three or four times through and another of which will give you an idea of his style of state chauvinism: "How many Vermonters does it take to screw in a lightbulb? It takes five--one to screw it in and four to complain how much better the old one was." B

THE NEVILLE BROTHERS: Neville-ization (Black Top) Every once in a while an album comes up from New Orleans that captures the seemingly timeless spirit of the place as if by magic. But it's fun to figure out the tricks. The novelty of the Mardi Gras Indians made the Meters doubly infectious on The Wild Tchoupitoulas. Subtly hyped-up arrangements nudged Professor Longhair on Atlantic's live double. And here the secret isn't just the ever more exquisitely articulated harmonies of the city's definitive band, but also the unpressured live setting that instead of positing pop potential (the Capitol album) or archival integrity (the A&M) presents them as the lounge-act-gone-to-heaven they are. How often does an improvisation improve a classic original like Aaron's "Tell It Like It Is"? How many bands can get away with both "Caravan" and an antinuke ditty? If only they thought it was okay for women to wear pants. A MINUS

PERSIAN GULF: Changing the Weather (Raven) Except maybe for Rank and File (who are bitterer) and Springsteen & Co. (who are grander), I can't think of an American band whose account of the world is more unflinchingly on. Conscious rather than correct, without a hint of hardcore's parricidal/misogynistic hysteria, these seven songs are constricted and expansive, sour and ebullient all at once. Hal Shows understands his own anarchic/apocalyptic impulses, and his Lennonesque rhythm guitar provides the extra momentum he needs to stay on top of things. A

THE POINTER SISTERS: Break Out (Planet) It's supposed to be tragic that these long-running pros have walked away from America's rich musical heritage in pursuit of the pop buck, but as someone who's always had his doubts about their historical depth, I think the electrodance they settle on here suits them fine. Certainly Richard Perry has assigned songs that throw the new style in your face--titles like "Automatic" and "Neutron Dance" and "Dance Electric" may offend those who wish they still dressed like the Savoy. All jobs well done, I say. B PLUS

PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.: This Is What You Want . . . This Is What You Get (Elektra) The howls of outrage greeting this album come from smart optimists who just realized they'd been had. In fact it's no more cynical than The Flowers of Romance, and since it does maintain a groove as well as glinting sardonically on occasion, it's also more fun to listen to. But that's not to say it's fun to listen to. Where Second Edition throbs and The Flowers of Romance thuds, this shrieks, with some of history's ugliest and most useless horn parts--including the one that ruins "This Is Not a Love Song"--leading the way. C PLUS

THE TIME: Ice Cream Castle (Warner Bros.) This is certainly the most "conceptual" of the three Morris Day showcases, but "Jungle Love" certainly digs as deep a pocket as "Cool" or "The Walk," and the two spoken-word tracks are outrageous, weird, and waggish enough to hold up against Morris's dubious (mock?) confessional ballads on What Time Is It? They may well devolve into a comedy act, but for now it's just as well that the holes in the player Day plays (is?) gape as wide as possible. B PLUS

THE WIND: Guest of the Staphs (Cheft) From Bayside and/or Florida, they traveled south and/or north to record with the ubiquitous but stationary Mitch Easter, who never before has gotten so close to this kind of dense intensity--the extra drumbeats, the guitars that fall apart and then right themselves, the aggressive timing. It suffers the usual limitations of homage and formal exercise--you never really notice what the songs are about even though it's part of the game to write smart lyrics and sing medium clear. But especially on "Delaware 89763," which sounds like it could have been recorded at the Star Club long about 1966, they make you hear Carolina Beatlism for the romantic fantasy it is--from the Beatlemania-manqué of the Spongetones to the artsy-poo of Let's Active themselves. [Original grade: A minus] B PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Swamped by an overwhelming, not to mention confusing, spate of domestic r&b reissues, on which more eventually, I can unequivocally recommend the unmistakably superb, unmistakably lightweight, and unmistakably well-named The Official Record Album of the Olympics (Rhino) to all Coasters fans--that is, to all rock and roll fans with a taste for jokes. As for Murray Hill's Cadillacs set, aimed at the same audience and probably more "enduring," well, eventually.

Village Voice, Aug. 28, 1984


July 24, 1984 Sept. 25, 1984