Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide

The techno comp I discovered on a $50 boombox as I sat by the lake with my beloved, the Morrison and Turner and King when my two beloveds commandeered the Benzi on various superhighways. And most of the Honorable Mentions provided moments of pleasure that didn't go all the way--Gus Cannon is considered breakfast music around my vacation retreat.


THE BREEDERS: Last Splash (4AD/Elektra) Kim Deal can't sing and neither can Kelley--not with force, anyway. But what the hey. Unabashed models of feminine weakness, they murmur, they chant, they make a pass at harmonizing, thus revealing the once-ominous tunings of sonic youths everywhere for the benign art-school move they are. No way are these songs "pop"--they won't make little children smile or Mom pat her foot. But their sweetness is no less certain for that, and considerably rarer. A MINUS

BOBBIE CRYNER (Epic) Not only does she sound like John Anderson with a higher voice and better hair, she writes. Cleverly, too, even if "This Heart Speaks for Itself" speaks for her aesthetic--stompers and weepers like "I'm Through Waitin' on You" and "I Think It's Over Now" are a decisive tad more straightforward than hook-laden Music Row koans like "The One I Love the Most." Expressing herself or exerting her professionalism, she's thoughtful and untamed, a natural-born womanist who's taking no shorts. Neotrad Nashville has not seen her like. But it will. A MINUS

DESMOND DEKKER: Rockin' Steady: The Best of Desmond Dekker (Rhino) For those who find ska compilations forbiddingly random, Dekker's crude pop sense and eerie, offhand falsetto provide a focus and a way in. There'll never be another "Israelites." But if the titles "Shanty Town" and "Intensified" mean anything to you, which they should, take a chance on "Mother Long Tongue" and "Fu Manchu." A MINUS

JIMMIE DALE GILMORE: Spinning Around the Sun (Elektra) Never one for automatic poetry, Gilmore chooses to showcase precisely four of the new songs he's managed in the past two years, and even though Butch Hancock and Al Strehli provide appropriate camouflage, somebody up there must have expected a grander statement, because this major-label follow-up is gussied up like just that. The voice transmutes Major Tom into Roy Orbison, the production glistens like Garth, and fast or slow the tempos never waver. All of which may strike the pure of heart as icky, or inappropriate, but I doubt I'll hear a more gorgeous country record--maybe a more gorgeous record--anytime soon. And unlike "After Awhile", this one doesn't let up--ends with a spooky Lucinda Williams duet and three of those four new songs, two of which were definitely worth the trouble. A

HIS NAME IS ALIVE: Mouth by Mouth (4AD) Proudly eclectic, reflective, and obscure--hell, arty--this is mood music for more moods than you'll first believe are there, including plenty of sex for the polymorphously inclined. Think Big Star's Third as witting aesthetic strategy rather than failed attempt to make the world go away. Warren DeFever adds an electric flaneur's world-music collection and an extra coupla decades of pop-studio perversity to the sonic palette. Karin Oliver sings as if being pretty is a spiritual attainment. A MINUS [Later]

B.B. KING: Blues Summit (MCA) The artist's flair for the duet is such that the most arresting solo here comes when B.B. is driven to new heights by his favorite collaborator, the B.B. King Orchestra. And because he doesn't want to give away his come-ons yet (or else doesn't have any), he sounds more comfortable with the men than the gals. But that's not to say the likes of Robert Cray and Etta James and John Lee Hooker aren't extra added attractions. Or that they don't inspire him to focus--which is really all he needs. B PLUS

VAN MORRISON: Too Long in Exile (Polydor) You know, exile--like Joyce and Shaw and Wilde and, oh yeah, Alex Haley. All on account of those "Bigtime Operators" who bugged his phone back when he was green. Now getting on to grizzled, he seeks guidance from the kas of Doc Pomus and King Pleasure and "The Lonesome Road," an unutterably sad spiritual recast as an upbeat vibraphone feature. And especially, on three cuts, his old soulmate John Lee Hooker, who doesn't come close to sounding overexposed on Them's "Gloria" and Sonny Boy's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and something new by Van called "Wasted Years," about how the dumb stuff is behind them now. I don't know about Hook, but Van's just jiving--when he wanders "In the Forest," it's never a safe bet that he'll get out. A MINUS

TECHNOSONIC VOLUME 3 (Sonic) Only maniacs and ecstatics track techno subgenres, but since this comp is subtitled "A Journey Into Trance," figure it's in "ambient" territory--that is, "boring." It's from Antler Subway Records in Belgium, a famous label for what that's worth, and the reason it isn't "boring" is that this trance seems designed to bring blood to the erectile tissues: "Drive My Body," "Sensual Motion," "Just Can't Get Enough," done mostly with rhythm and texture rather than the porny spoken-word come-ons so fashionable in the Brussels we've come to know. With a little poetic license you could call the first side/half the build to a relaxed orgasm. Relaxed by techno standards, anyway--in real-time measure, only maniacs and ecstatics fuck this fast for more than 30 seconds. The rest is more traditionally trancelike, with occasional forays into afterplay. Brian Eno could do a lot worse, and has. A MINUS

TINA TURNER: What's Love Got To Do With It (Virgin) This respects literal chronology even less than the movie, which has her doing "Proud Mary" before Creedence released it. But there's a logic to the willy-nilly segues--in which, for instance, two glossily intelligent new products of her pop-diva phase, the thematic "I Don't Wanna Fight" and the pneumatic "Why Must We Wait Until Tonight?," flank B.B. King's 1964 "Rock Me Baby" and the Trammps' 1978 "Disco Inferno," neither of which has ever had her name on it before. In essence, she's reenacting her career as timeless myth, submitting every brilliant exploit and humiliating compromise to the unmatched lust and lustre of her 54-year-old pipes. She's never sounded more beautiful or more alive. Or more enigmatic--it's as impossible as ever to glimpse what she might be like in "real life," or even to pin down an artistic appeal that at this point seems to inhere in the the raw fact of her survival. As for the sex, it's more abstract and calculated than ever. And right--love has nothing to do with it. A MINUS

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: Career Moves (Charisma) In a music where scions of the upper-middle class are supposed to camouflage their cultural impoverishment, one of the many irritating things about L-III is that he's never bothered. Another is his great subject, which boils down to divorce whether the metaphor is his kids or his mom or his goddamn waitress. And at 47, he's so callow that it's easy to forget how consistent he's kept the product. So here's a vivid reminder. His second live album adds six new ones to a selection that concentrates on his Rounder period, after he gave up his puny dreams of pop glory and settled into the folk-circuit grind, and except for a dumb Elvis song, every one is a gem. Accept him for what he is and the man can flat-out write. Just because he's so shameless, he doesn't miss a detail--baby shampoo and unwaxed dental floss, pissing in the sink and coming in your cummerbund. More important, he doesn't miss a nuance, either--even in Nashville they don't pin down the vagaries of male chauvinist resentment quite so tight. And to top it off he has revealing things to say about his life in art. Inspirational Verse: "Out on the road, out on the road/You're Willie Loman and Tom Joad/Vladimir and Estragon/Kerouac, Genghis Khan." A [Later]

PAUL WESTERBERG: 14 Songs (Sire/Reprise) Like most know-nothings--well, who else says shit like "Knowledge is power/Got your books, go read 'em/Wisdom is ignorance/Stupidity--I call freedom"?--he equates freedom with individualism and wisdom with unbridled sentiment. But the Replacements were a monument to bad faith by the end, and being as it's time for him to shit or get off the pot, he shits. "Things," to a woman who deserves better than the guy who wrote this song, will tempt you to forgive the the stupid songpoems about junkyard flowers and runaway winds. "Down Love" and "A Few Minutes of Silence" are new ways to say shut up. You'll want to hear that riff again--that one too. Because his official solo debut is considerably more raucous than Don't Tell a Soul or All Shook Down. B PLUS

Dud of the Month

4 NON BLONDES: Bigger, Better, Faster, More! (Interscope) Except maybe for a few pie-eyed corner-cutters over in marketing, nobody born before Never Mind the Bollocks thinks Linda Perry is "alternative." It was to avoid music that might distract from her big vague voice--referents: people she never heard of like Lydia Pense and people you wish she never heard of like Ann Wilson--that she axed her female guitarist for a male hotshot once her male producer took her aside. Janis is dead, unfortunately. Also unfortunately, her vision of meaningful rebellion lives on. C

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

  • Gutterball (Mute): New Zevons for a pomo world ("Trial Separation Blues," "One by One")
  • PJ Harvey, Man-Size (Island import): album-available single plus two utterly disparate signature B sides ("Wang Dang Doodle," "Daddy")
  • The Fall, The Infotainment Scan (Matador): great original sound, one hell of a cover band ("Lost in Music," "I'm Going to Spain")
  • Street Music of Java (Original Music): love that girl-group dangdut, appreciate the rest ("Asoi," "Kuda Lumping," "Hai Cuim Dong")
  • Cannon's Jug Stompers, The Complete Works 1927-30 (Yazoo): love that medicine-show rag, appreciate the rest ("Going to Germany," "Madison Street Rag," "Bring It With You When You Come")
  • The Coup, Kill My Landlord (Wild Pitch): collegiate revolutionary cliche equals gangsta revolutionary revelation ("Dig It!," "I Know You")
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, In the Beginning (Epic): live and unfledged, 4/1/81--blues as a barely controllable torrent of electric sound ("Shake for Me," "Tin Pan Alley")
  • Champion Jack Dupree, One Last Time (Bullseye Blues): the band boys listen like they might not get another chance ("Bad Blood," "School Days")
  • Chris Smither, Happier Blue (Flying Fish): expansive new songs, congenial new band, and the stompingest foot this side of John Lee Hooker ("Happier Blue," "Honeysuckle Bone")
  • Mary McCaslin, Things We Said Today: The Best of Mary McCaslin (Philo): progressive schoolmarm as spirit of the West ("The Bramble and the Rose," "Last Cannonball")
  • Bash & Pop, Friday Night Is Killing Me (Sire/Reprise): where the Replacements were antiintellectual, they're just unintellectual--as opposed to untalented, or even uninspired ("Fast & Hard," "Loose Ends")
  • Brokin English Klik (Wild Pitch): they aim their hostility where it belongs--at cops, you, me, and the next fella ("Who's Da Gangsta?," "Youth Gone Mad")
  • Frank Black (Elektra): the trivial Pixie ("Fu Manchu," "I Heard Ramona Sing")
  • The Fall, Kimble (Strange Fruit): great original sound ("Spoilt Victorian Child")
  • Pere Ubu, Story of My Life (Imago): postpunk as likable litterateur, band as predictable support ("Story of My Life," "Kathleen")
  • Van Morrison, The Best of Van Morrison Volume Two (Polydor): post-'84--the Great Ruminator ("Real Real Gone")
Choice Cuts:
  • Sid Selvidge, "Keep It Clean," "Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt" (Twice Told Tales, Elektra Nonesuch)
  • Iggy Pop, "Louie Louie" (American Caesar, Virgin)
  • Space, "Judas Priest" (Sonic Screwdriver, Sub Bass import)
  • John Hiatt, "Perfectly Good Guitar," "Buffalo River Home" (Perfectly Good Guitar, A&M)
  • Buddy Guy, "Country Boy" (Feels Like Rain, Silvertone)
  • System 01, "Drugs Work" (Berlin 1992: A Tresor Compilation: The Techno Sound of Berlin, NovaMute).
Duds:
  • Cracker, Kerosene Hat (Virgin)
  • Chris Mars, 75% Less Fat (Smash)
  • Meat Beat Manifesto, Satyricon (Mute)
  • Tresor II: Berlin-Detroit . . . A Techno Alliance (NovaMute)

Village Voice, Sept. 28, 1993


Aug. 3, 1993 Oct. 19, 1993