Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

It has been a grim month for your faithful alphabetizer. Rock and roll has been as boring as the Yankees, but life goes on and when Bobby Murcer came up representing the tying run in the ninth inning of the game that would determine whether the former Bronx bombers would be over or under the .500 mark at the All-Star break--follow me? Well, to be honest, I'm not sure I've got the details straight, but it was something like that--I had already turned off the stereo for awhile and could give Bobby my full attention. Now, Bobby Murcer sure isn't Mickey Mantle, or Yogi Berra, and sometimes I don't even think he's Bill Skowron, but he's all we got and--this is a warning--it may just be that the same could be said of Elton John. I know I love "Rocket Man," and Honky Chateau does bear up under close listening, but he's never been my man, and the one time I played it after rating, my friend Nadine Robinson told me she still couldn't stand his voice, and I was embarrassed. Who knows? Maybe old Reg, or whoever he really is, is just filling a vacuum.

But what a vacuum. Creeping fogeyism threatens the Consumer Guide. Did you ever get around to buying another copy of Something New when your boyfriend took the first one after you broke up? Maybe now's the time. In truth, the two new records I've listened to voluntarily over the past two months are some ten-year-old Otis Spann tapes just released on Barnaby and Exile on Main Street, which I played 30 or 40 times before deciding I liked it. What's worse? I wonder. A two-record rock album that requires as much exposure as a poem by Wallace Stevens, or solace from dependable, kitschy Elton John?

The Yankees, by the way, finished below .500 at the All-Star break. But they beat the Red Sox yesterday, and the new Van Morrison sounds pretty good.

Brian Auger's Oblivion Express: Second Wind (RCA). Auger is a keyboard virtuoso and so what? Like most jazz-rock, this is a mishmash, not a synthesis, a loud version of the jazz of a decade ago. A voice is used not for human dimension, but for "dynamics" and the lyrics are so empty they might as well be Ray Coniff doodly-doodly-doo. D PLUS

Joan Baez: Come From the Shadows (A&M). How anyone whose concept of beauty is so well-bred can pretend to visionary politics has always baffled me, but for a start she could write songs in which the object always follows the predicate. I don't know about The People, but just plain people say "scattered upon the four winds," not "upon the four winds scattered." Actually they don't say "scattered upon the four winds" either, but we'll get to that next time. C PLUS

David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (RCA). Because this concept album couples Bowie with a working band, it's supposed to surpass his semi-underground studio semi-masterpiece, Hunky Dory, but in fact it's as dull as Jefferson Starship--dumb ideas and amorphous songs. Sole highlight: an eerie reading of Ron Davies' "It Ain't Easy." C PLUS [Later: B+]

Ruth Brown: The Real Ruth Brown (Cobblestone). In which the young r&b singer becomes the mature jazz singer. Ruth Brown gave us some wonderful times way back when (remember "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean"?) and there are wonderful times here, too (I vote for "Snap Your Fingers" and "All Around the World") but they're cut with a lot of club-act schlock. How about a one-year moratorium on "Walk a Mile in My Shoes"? B MINUS

Chee Chee & Peppy (Buddah). If I'm so opposed to music that lays fantasy trips on the unsuspecting, then why do I dig these two pre-pubescents--Peaches & Herb cum Jackson Five--singing about rings and things? Because they're cute, that's why. B PLUS [Later: B]

Mike d'Abo: Down at Rachel's Place (A&M). Normally, I only play the first side of just plain dull records like this one, but because d'Abo wrote "Handbags and Gladrags" I not only played side two but played it twice. A waste of time. D PLUS

Jackie DeShannon: Jackie (Atlantic). About once a year Atlantic Records--really Jerry Wexler, I suspect--does a conversion job on a soulful white female pop singer. Sometimes it works (Dusty in Memphis the all-time rock-era torch record) and sometimes it doesn't (Cher, Lulu). This one works, despite a couple of humdrum country soul songs on the first side. Highlights: two originals, "Vanilla Olay" and "Anna Karina," and a great version of Alice Stuart's "Full Time Woman." B PLUS [Later: B]

Yvonne Elliman (Decca). Clean production, tasteful song selection, winsome singing. Bleh. C PLUS

Elton John: Honky Chateau (Uni). John has progressed from dangerous phony to likable pro, and this is easily his best album. Paul Buckmaster and his singing strings are gone, Bernie Taupin is settling into some comprehensible lyrics and John's piano can be a real delight. If you dig the single ("Rocket Man") in spite of yourself, like me, try it. A MINUS

Looking Glass (Epic). This automatic good time doesn't even have the courage of its own slickness. C MINUS

Loretta Lynn: One's on the Way (Decca). The title song is a stone masterpiece, the ultimate country-western woman's statement. (It should be almost unnecessary to add that it was written by a man, Shel Silverstein. He also writes for Johnny Cash, Dr. Hook and Playboy.) Like most country albums, the rest is somewhat flat--long on heart but sometimes short on imagination--but it's still remarkably solid, without one bummer cut, and how many works of rock can you say that about? Highly recommended to anyone who shares my taste for real country music and straightforward female singers. B PLUS

Mama Lion (Family Productions). Lynn Carey, who fronts this outfit, makes speed-screamers like Lydia Pense and Genya Raven sound like the demi-Janises they wish they could be. Together with her producer, her bassist and her guitarist, she has written the first rock song I've heard about sex between women, but if Lynn really dug her sisters so much she'd hire some female musicians. It would help. Continual intensity is supposed to communicate passion, but this doesn't even convey lust, except for something boring, like success. D MINUS

Harry Nilsson: Son of Schmilsson (RCA). Nilsson functions on the edge of parody--his best stuff succeeds simultaneously as a kind of take-off and as a genuinely moving example of the genre that has inspired him. Unfortunately, most of this album which follows so close on the heels of his biggest commercial success that Nilsson (natch) makes a joke of it in the title, is too often merely funny or strange, so that those three or four songs which are much better than that suffer by association. B PLUS

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Trilogy (Cotillion). Anyone who buys a record that divides a . . . composition called "The Endless Enigma" into parts one and two deserves it. C MINUS

Flash (Capitol). People who love Yes will probably like this spinoff. I appreciate Yes when I'm in a certain mood, and I find it shapeless and intolerably precious where Yes is sharp and clever. C [Later: C-]

Kim Fowley: I'm Bad (Capitol). I've nothing against hype, but it's a little low to distribute snazzy jackets containing blank discs. Caveat emptor. E MINUS

Free: Free at Last (A&M). The usual steadily unpretentious hard rock. This one sounds a little sodden and listless at first, but it does come on. Nice extension of a simple, intelligent concept, recommended to the group's fans. B

Elvis Presley: Elvis as Recorded at Madison Square Garden (RCA). I know this was released in record time, but if you want post-comeback live Elvis, stick with the Memphis/Vegas LP. Unless your home entertainment center is equipped with a magic holograph and seats 20,000, this will not recreate the excitement of that fabled concert. In fact, it won't even come close. Sorry, but you had to be there. C

Chris Smither: Don't It Drag On (Poppy). Smither sings astringent, slight left-of-mainstream post-folk songs by himself and others in a convincing baritone. Michael Cuscuna's production complements perfectly. A smart little record. B PLUS [Later: A-]

Stevie Wonder: Music of My Mind (Tamla). Wonder reminds me of another blind genius, Ray Charles, in the way he overflows the bounds of taste. This is virtually a one-man album, including some of the most musical synthesizer improvisations yet, but because the songs are less inspired than the concept, it doesn't quite hold together. B PLUS

Creem, October 1972

September 1972 November 1972