Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

From the grades, you might expect that this consumer guide was another case of the nondescript leading the mediocre, but the miracle is that every one of these artists is special, and the reality is that not even Spring has figured out how to make that specialness manifestly pleasurable, at least not to me. Well, for one thing, I haven't been Consumer Guiding the A records--I've got to write long about something--but here's a hint: I sure have been listening to the new Van Morrison and Rod Stewart a lot. If you really like O'Sullivan and Croce on the radio, you'll probably like their LPs, and if you really, really like, Solomon Burke you might even like his.

Forget Birtha and Supa though.

Birtha (Dunhill). Hi! I'm Chickie! Fly me to Quaalude! In which Gabriel Mekler, sly devil, combines heavy music cliches with four female musicians, none of whom seem to have last names. There is the enigmatic soft song, "She Was Good to Me," so maybe they're a buncha dykes or love their mothers. This could all be rationalized by some eager feminist theorist--women have never played macho rock before, and last names are patronymics after all--but it would still be lousy. D

Solomon Burke: We're Almost Home (MGM). It is the custom to blame abortive comebacks by great rhythm-and-blues singers on the producers, but Burke has one-third production credit on this one himself. The title song is acceptable, but all that makes the rest of Burke's twisted shout credible is the memory of how honestly he was performing at Atlantic ten years ago. Cluttered and aimless. C MINUS

Jim Croce: You Don't Mess Around With Jim (ABC). A nice, original persona here--the truck driver, world-weary machismo with a heart of gold--plus a song that should be even better than the title hit, "Operator." More than a novelty, less than the big star he doubtless wants to be, he'll be around. B MINUS

Bo Diddley: Where It All Began (Chess). How bad can a Bo Diddley record be? A lot worse than this. It could have horns, or feature his version of the latest hits, only his producers (Pete Welding and Johnny Otis) know better than that. But how good can a Bo Diddley record be? Unlike Chuck Berry, who also must transcend his own musical homogeneity, Bo is no lyricist, and most of the material here lacks variety and drive. C PLUS

The Doors: Full Circle (Elektra). Anyone can sing rock, but that doesn't mean just anyone. Richard Nixon can't, and neither can Barbra Streisand, and I bet Peter Fonda can't either. Well, neither can Ray Manzarek or Robbie Krieger, whose voices share one salient quality: they are uptight. Is this slick eclecticism what all those experts who used to claim Jim Morrison was limiting his musicians had in mind? This record wouldn't be so bad if you could ignore the vocals and the lyrics but that's a whole lot to ask. C [Later]

Arlo Guthrie: Hobo's Lullabye (Reprise). One of the best of those exploring-the-folkie-sensibility records, with everything from "Ukelele Lady" to one of Woody's heaviest anti-scab ballads (with several new, slightly outmoded songs about trains and booze) pressed through the same nostalgic mold. B PLUS

The Isleys: Brother Brother Brother (T-Neck). The Isley Brothers were launched in the wake of the group revival inspired by the pop Drifters, and now they are just about where the Drifters were then--which means they have successfully transformed their style for a new audience, in this case hip and vaguely jazz-oriented blacks. A lot of waste, as usual, but a serviceable party record, and most of the first side moves. B MINUS [Later: B]

Jefferson Airplane: Long John Silver (Grunt). This is certainly the best record to come from anyone in the Airplane since Volunteers--the hole left by Marty Balin has finally been smoothed over. The music is muscular, with much of the flatness that normally enervates sci-fi rock gone. But whatever feeling Grace Slick put into her singing in the days of her innocence has disappeared, and Paul Kantner never had any to begin with, which is probably why this is so much easier to admire than to like. It's hard to love even the most human machine. B PLUS [Later: C+]

The Johnstons (Mercury). What do you call it when an honest and political Irish folk duo adds strings and horn arrangements for no perceivable purpose, including increased sales? How about sham-rock? C

Arthur Lee: Vindicator (A&M). As the center of Love, the Los Angeles equivalent of the Velvet Underground in both critical enthusiasm (maximal) and commercial success (minimal), Lee was a ranking mode genius of the music for five years, and this sounds like more of that good old weirdness. Yet after a dozen listenings the only phrase, musical or verbal, that stays in my mind is "Ooh what a dish, she smelled just like a fish," which offended me. I probably don't understand, probably because I'm not trying hard enough, but then, you won't either. B MINUS

Laura Lee (Hot Wax). An attempt to broaden Ms. Lee's man-hating persona, this ends up sounding like one more vaguely disappointing soul LP, uneven and repetitious at the same time. I'm sure the women's-lib number, which was engineered by her male producer-manager, is mostly an act, yet isn't it strange that the man-hating songs carry more conviction than the others? Highlight: "Rip Off," which I suspect was kept off the air by male programmers. B MINUS [Later: B+]

Lindisfarne: Fog on the Tyne (Elektra). For months now, I have been coming to this record at the end of the row, playing it once more, noting how much I prefer the group to its name and forgetting about it again. So, I remember--competent and eclectic. B MINUS [Later: C+]

The Moonglows: Return of the Moonglows (RCA Victor). On the one hand, this revival of the great 50s Chess Records group is obviously a money-making scheme. On the other hand, producer Harvey Fuqua (ex-Moonglow, ex-Motown) has done a serious updating job--strings, after all, are the correct studio equivalent of the group's smooth polyphonous style, and "I Was Wrong" fused the two periods beautifully. But there were strings in the '50s, too, and it meant something for the Moonglows to replace them with voices. On both hands, I'd rather listen to the real stuff. C PLUS

Gilbert O'Sullivan: Himself (MAM). I admit I discarded this after playing it twice when it came through six months ago, but I insist I was intrigued by the idea of a singer-songwriter managed by Gordon Mills, who brings us Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. Now that he turns up with a genius single--which I like best for its off-handedness, both structurally and in the way it equates filial and romantic affection--I've listened again. Chances are he'll turn into a major annoyance, but before that happens we ought to acknowledge that he is a complete original, albeit a very uneven artist. Persona: insecure middle-class with a screw loose. Recommended: "Nothing Rhymed." B

Junior Parker: I Tell Stories Sad and True, I Sing the Blues and Play Harmonica Too, It Is Very Funky (United Artists). I don't know much about Junior Parker, but I know what I like--whether he's singing Percy Mayfield or a standard like "Funny How Time Slips Away," this man is mellow for real. B PLUS [Later: B]

Leon Russell: Carney (Shelter). I don't know anyone who really likes Russell who also really likes this album. I don't really like Russell--a quirk I rarely attempt to defend--and I think I'd rather listen to the first side of Carney than to anything else he's recorded. The reason: Two of his very best songs, "Tight Rope" and "Manhattan Island Serenade" are both performed at his most unaffected. I grant that the second side is a loser, though. B [Later: B-]

Spring (United Artists). I love this record. Knowing my fondness for girl groups and early Beach Boys, however, I have to admit I'm a little prejudiced. Brian Wilson has produced his old female back-up, the Honeys, featuring his wife, Marilyn, in what sounds like the best Beach Boys record since Sunflower. The old combination of ingenuousness and sophistication works as well as ever. This time the vocals rather than the lyrics are naive--direct, pretty, effortless, thoughtless--but Wilson's studio work is as precise and humorous as ever. B PLUS

Supa: Homespun (Paramount). Every time I think I've run up against the ultimate country-funk inanity--Hookfoot, say--I find someone even dumber. Guess what this love of the good red Canarsie clay says money won't buy? And what rhymes with buy that he gets on his motorcycle? Gawd. D MINUS

Three Dog Night: Seven Separate Fools (Dunhill). I ordinarily defend the slickness of America's fave group, but their worst-ever studio LP doesn't deserve to be called slick. It's professional and expensive, yes, but it's also a mess--oversung, overarranged, overpackaged. Their tasty material has turned into a mush of campaign promise social consciousness, and the two songs I know in other versions sound bloated. This could just be the beginning of the end. C

Booker T. & Priscilla: Home Grown (Dunhill). This is mostly sententious and silly--it includes a 12 minute version of "Who Killed Cock Robin?" that the artist says was inspired in Heaven but I suspect was concocted in Limbo--but radio programmers should listen to "Maggie's Farm," in which (by genius or chance) the conversational and musical elements of Dylan's delivery are split almost prismatically. I like these people and I wish everything they did was that good. C

Creem, November 1972

October 1972 December 1972