Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

And just when I was getting ready to relegate the EP to the cutout bin of history, too. The UB40's a corporate experiment-as-holding action, the Chilton a tentative investment in a notorious risk, and the Big Black a fully realized indie showcase the way EP's were meant to be. And if none of them's a Pick Hit, it's because I had other points to make. And because I liked a compilation even better.


THE BEACH BOYS (Caribou) Would you get excited if the Four Lads released a comeback album with Boy George and Stevie Wonder songs on it? Bet they still harmonize pretty good, too. C

JEFF BECK: Flash (Epic) With his customary focus, loyalty, and consistency of taste, the mercurial guitarist plumbs a "new" idea copped from such innovators as Foreigner and Duran Duran--funk-metal fusion. Pitting Rod Stewart (on a convincing if utterly context-free "People Get Ready") and Arthur Baker (out to produce Foreigner and Duran Duran and apt to do a damn good job of it) against Wet Willie's vocalist and Cactus's drummer, he nevertheless turns in the best LP of his pathologically spotty career by countenancing Nile Rodgers's production on five tracks. So what do we have here? We have half a good Nile Rodgers album, more or less. B

SANDRA BERNHARD: I'm Your Woman (Mercury) Marianne Faithfull's survivor and Grace Jones's dominatrix both went up against Barry Reynolds's austere mechanics from strength, and better men wrote their best songs--John Lennon, Iggy Pop, Shel Silverstein, Melvin Van Peebles. The music here is Reynolds's ballgame, and if Bernhard's compulsively slippery irony is strength, I'm a great artist. I assume she gets to certain under-30 women because they find the twin escapes of dominance and submission wickedly seductive, and trust they're far enough from her fantasy star-world to take her as a metaphor for what's most oppressed and/or neurotic in themselves. I assume guys think she's more fun than reading the personals. C PLUS

BIG BLACK: Racer-X (Homestead) First two tracks are power packed if conventionally anarchic neo-no-wave hostility, though the guitar barrage keeps building. Second side is music to play loud when you feel like going out and stealing a pneumatic drill. Climax is a trash-compacted version of "The Big Payback"--James Brown, white-rage style. A MINUS

BIG YOUTH: A Luta Continua (Heartbeat) First side's the usual homiletics--broad-minded as ever, musicianly rather than dubwise, and nothing his fans need to know. But on side two he gets mad, savoring the phrase "shit-eating grin" on "K.K.K." and livelying up the tenacious militance of the title track with Afrobeat horns. This is what college radio ought to be for. B

ROSANNE CASH: Rhythm and Romance (Columbia) Nobody's going to mistake this one for a country record, not with Waddy Wachtel's hooks bobbing by like bull's eyes in a shooting gallery. But it's not just another compulsorily catchy stab at immortality either. Cash may have her eye on MTV, but she's a child of Nashville nevertheless--when she cheats she knows it's wrong even if she's got a right, and when she sings she hurts. A MINUS

ALEX CHILTON: Feudalist Tarts (Big Time) After ten years of falling-down flakedom only a cultist could love or even appreciate, Chilton looks around and straightens up. The bottlenecked "Lost My Job" comes close to such beacons of his lost decade as "Bangkok" and "Take Me Home and Make Me Like It." The precocious Memphis soul singer and the prescient American pop eccentric both get their chops into the Carla Thomas and Slim Harpo covers. And when he slips into Willie Turbinton's amazing "Thank You John"--that name is upper-cased and lower-cased simultaneously--he remembers that it isn't only too-much-too-soon white boys who get twisted around in this world. A MINUS

GEORGE CLINTON: Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends (Capitol) Some of his best jokes are rhythm parts, too, which isn't going to help the Thomas Dolby fans pick up on them. Oh well, they got their chance on Computer Games and Bit Fish and who bought those? The same tackheads who've always passed George their grift. So here he pulls Dolby in for real computer games, thus convincing Capitol that he's reached the proper pitch of commercial desperation, and then makes an antiwar record with dirty parts just like always--except that this time the antiwar stuff is very explicit. I wish it included something as ingratiating as "Atomic Dog" or "Quickie" or "Last Dance." But when he augments the drum machine with a flute solo and a middle-aged man gasping in the throes of sexual excitation, this tackhead-by-association can't resist. A MINUS

THE DEAD MILKMEN: Big Lizard in My Backyard (Fever) Their jokes can be obvious ("Tiny Town") or tasteless ("Takin' Retards to the Zoo") or backbitingly sophomoric ("Bitchin' Camaro") as well as wildly unexpected--up with swordfish, down with sole, fuck Charles Nelson Reilly. Either way, they're the young snots of the year hands down, and either way they'll make you laugh. Also, when you don't feel like listening to the words, their smart fringe hardcore will keep those nineteen tracks coming. A MINUS

THE DESCENDENTS: I Don't Want to Grow Up (New Alliance) They "don't even know how to sing," they excoriate themselves as perverts for wanting sex, and when they fall in love they try to write Beatles songs. Chances are you'll find them awkward, but I'm tremendously encouraged that they can fall in love at all. Anyway, their Beatles songs are pretty catchy. B PLUS

JIMMY G. AND THE TACKHEADS: Federation of Tackheads (Capitol) Those who bewail George Clinton's drum-program conversion should get a load of the rhythm chip he has working on this collaboration with former Slave laborer and master of his own Aurra Steve Washington--not to mention Mr. G., a kid brother George hopes to save from a life of petty crime and presidential aspiration. The industrial-strength whomp of these willfully simple-minded tracks makes the big beat of the notorious "Hydraulic Pump" sound like something Trick James might cross over on. One nice thing about simple-minded--when it hits you you feel all right. B PLUS

GO GO CRANKIN' (4th & Broadway) If one measure of George Clinton is that he's spun off the finest franchises since Colonel Sanders, another is that he's inspired such staunch nonimitators: New York's rappers and the happy feet mob of Chocolate City. This D.C. dance compilation evokes the endless party groove of a P-Funk concert better than any Clinton vinyl, yet it's definitely a go go record--maybe even the go go record, given the style's all-the-way-live commitments. The cowbells and timbales share one rhythmic language, and by gleaning prime cuts from five bands who make a habit of spacing out their peaks, the collection achieves a concentration suitable for the medium--these aren't singles, they're album tracks. A MINUS

KOOL AND THE GANG: Emergency (De-Lite) Funk pioneers in the early '70s, crossover pioneers in the early '80s, and don't blame yourself if this impressive double play missed you coming and going--anonymity is their signature. When I undertook a professional reexamination of their latest piece of platinum, I was surprised to recognize all three hits on side one from the radio. Quite liked "Misled," sort of liked "Fresh," rather disliked "Cherish"--and had never wondered who did any of them. B MINUS

MALOPOETS (EMI America) Urban music from South Africa, with tunes and beat compact enough to squeeze into an American time slot, and what could be bad? Well, though their core quota's a lot lower than Juluka's, we have heard guttier mbaqanga--on Rough Trade's Soweto, Earthworks's Zulu Jive. Can't help wondering whether impresario Martin Meissonnier doesn't consider the mysterioso aura generated so inevitably by his aristocratic Nigerian friends essential to every Afro-American connection. B PLUS

NEW ORDER: Low Life (Qwest) Where once they determined to keep all affect out of their music, now they determine to put some in. Any dance-trance outfit that can lead off its Quincy Jones debut with an oblique "Love Me Do" quote has its heart (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in the right place, so one doesn't want to quibble. But inserting affect isn't the same as actually feeling something, and it isn't the same as expressing (or even simulating) a feeling, either. B PLUS

THE POWER STATION (Capitol) Problem's not Bernard Edwards's textures or Tony Thompson's pulse. It's not the condescending concept that united them with young posers John and Andy Taylor. (How to Tell Them Apart: Andy's guitar has six strings, John's only four!) It's not even the Taylors' songs, though I'll take the T. Rex and Isleys covers and so will you. Problem's old poser Robert Palmer, whom the Taylors thought a suitable Simon Le Bon substitute. Ask any Duranie: he's got wrinkles, and they're not as cute as Bruce's. And even when he didn't the little girls understood. C PLUS

STAPLE SINGERS: Are You Ready (Private I) Mike Piccirillo and Gary Goetzman, who brainstormed not only the Heads cover that brought the Staples back last year but also the bedroom-eyes embarrassment that was supposed to cement their chart status, here discover that the great pop subject of this reformed gospel group is public morality. And lead off with two covers--the first from, are you ready, Pacific Gas & Electric, topped by "Life During Wartime"--so incandescent they lend a glow to the producer-penned protest sentiments that follow. Of course, Mavis's commitment to these sentiments doesn't hurt. B PLUS

DAVID THOMAS AND THE PEDESTRIANS: More Places Forever (Twin/Tone) How about that--it's Peter and the Wolf. Thomas is a cabaret artist now, more at home for better or worse with arty Euroswingers like Chris Cutler and Lindsay Cooper than he ever was with roots-rockers deep down like Richard Thompson and Anton Fier. For a while there, his whimsy seemed arid and forced. Here, once again, he's palpably "Enthusiastic." B PLUS

UB40: Little Baggariddim (A&M) The speeded-up "One in Ten" is just like "I Got You Babe" with Chrissie Hynde as Cher--an unabashed and possibly unprincipled bid for the red wine audience from reggae men who've always been political by choice rather than racial destiny. And the statistical metaphor it draws does seem a little less grim now. But good politics are rarely grim, and though I've loved "One in Ten" since the first time I heard it, this is the version I'll put on, if only because Chrissie makes such a soulful Cher. Also, two of the five tracks are toasts, which seems about the right proportion to me. A MINUS

PAUL YOUNG: The Secret of Association (Columbia) His fat voice even more a sign of the times than Laurie Latham's baroque production, Young is Boz Scaggs for the '80s: an honorable soul fake. It's all too much at times, but Young writes as well as Boz ever did and is smart enough to go elsewhere for the meaty lyrics he loves, including two antiwar songs that could make more of an impression than Boy George's. Be nice to think music could still do that sometimes. B PLUS

Additional Consumer News

I'm ridiculously far behind on ACN, but can't let another month go by without mentioning the Ramones' "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" (Beggars Banquet import 12-inch), far from the first Ramones' single with good politics but possibly the first with a bridge. Why hasn't Sire Records released this record in the States? Wasn't Seymour Stein bothered by Reagan's SS problem, and ours?

Village Voice, Sept. 24, 1985


Aug. 27, 1985 Oct. 22, 1985