Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

The Return of Consumer Guide

Expert Witness, as my new MSN blog--spell it, B-L-O-G--is called, has been a gleam in my eye since June and seriously in the works since August. There've been a lot of hurdles, most of them bureaucratic one way or another. Finally, however, Consumer Guide Mark III is, as they say in the virtual print biz, live. Since another name for this line of work is the discrete visitor biz, I'd appreciate your checking out the details at MSN. Most of what you need to know is in the intro that went up yesterday, but I thought I'd wait till I'd posted my first set of reviews before providing a link.

Canny music fans will note that my first two reviews are of records many months old, both of them already essay subjects for me in The Barnes & Noble Review: M.I.A.'s Maya and the Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. But I bet not everybody can guess which one ended up an A and which one ended up an A minus--I wasn't sure myself until I wrote the capsules, several months after the fact. I have a bunch of reviews stockpiled, and for a while a lot of Expert Witness will be more retrospective than is the blogging norm. But a) the CG was always like that anyway and b) having it live is already making me more news-oriented in my listening.

As for why I'm doing it, the intro explains that pretty candidly. Bottom line, I wouldn't enjoy music as much as I do without the discipline of rating and reviewing it.

52 Comments

By John on November 24, 2010 3:24 PM

welcome back, my beloved CG, i've missed ya! (hope it'll end up being as much fun for you to produce as it will no doubt be for me to peruse, Dean Xgau, sir.)

By Jason W. on November 24, 2010 4:37 PM

The site does not appear to have an RSS feed. Is this something you can put pressure on MSN to change? (Especially seeing as how it's not just nominally a blog, but actually called that.)

By Stan on November 24, 2010 7:09 PM

Great news! Keep on rockin' Dean - and Happy Thanksgiving!

By David W. on November 24, 2010 7:09 PM

Thrilling to have you back. My copies of the Consumer Guide books are dog-eared from using as a constant reference, and your website is terrific. I'm looking forward to keeping up with your new thoughts.

By Dies By The Larnyx on November 24, 2010 7:17 PM

My months will now be complete again. Just, please, give Costello his due.

By Scott Lemieux on November 24, 2010 7:28 PM

Will this be strictly an A list, or will there be the occasional notable dud/Turkey Shoot/Bunny Stomp?

By Zach P. on November 24, 2010 7:53 PM

I'd gladly give up honorable mentions and duds for biweekly reviews of recommended albums from The Dean. Right in time for the holidays. Something to be thankful for tomorrow.

By Bill on November 24, 2010 7:59 PM

I used to think your guide helped me save money by guiding my purchase of cd's that would bring rewards through repeated listenings. With the absence of your column - and the continued price of music dropping at the same time availability expands - I now realize that your devoting your head, heart, and ass to the CG saves me time. Something that it is so more precious than money. Thank you.

By Rob T. on November 24, 2010 10:37 PM

Just read this notice here about 10 hours ago, couldn't comment then because I had to get to work. My initial reaction was about 80 percent "Yes! the CG's back!" and about 20 percent echoing Linus from an old Peanuts storyline in which, after undergoing agonies of withdrawal, finally kicks his blanket dependency only to be undone when Charlie Brown, in all innocence, gives him a new one--"I had it licked, and now I'm hooked again!"

Mostly "Yes!", though. I'm glad to see you working at one of the things you do best, my own job should be half so rewarding. (Not that I don't enjoy your columns too; thanks to your tip, I've got a library copy of Tropical Truth waiting for when I finish the book I'm currently reading.) I look forward to your thoughts on current reissues, having missed the annual Xmas best-of roundup. And I hope the new format allows for time to work on a book-length pop music history, or on some equally worthwhile extended writing.

So how to wrap this up? . . . Thank you for all your good criticism so far, and for the insights to come!

By Fred on November 24, 2010 11:19 PM

Great to have ya back, RC! I was wondering since it doesn't look like you're going to be releasing a CG Book of the 00's (like you have over past decades), will we ever get the chance to see what some of the more significant releases of the last 10 years would rank after you've given them another listen??

By richard ross on November 25, 2010 7:28 AM

You've been my lifelong music guru, the only one I can trust with my hard-earned money. Welcome back! But I can't wait: what grades do your longtime faves get on their new albums: Eminem, Nelly McKay, Kanye West? I need to know . . . now!

By Gary Mairs on November 25, 2010 8:26 AM

Tom Delay's going to jail and the COnsumer Guide is back. Best Thanksgiving in years . . .

By pete on November 25, 2010 2:35 PM

Good news. Welcome back. I look forward to your recommendations. It would also be interesting to get a list of things you just decided not to write about . . . even if you don't say why. Reject pile?

By Tim Cook on November 25, 2010 8:16 PM

your consumer guides have been a part of my life for over twenty years, I have all three books next to the toilet . . one should always have something sensational and brief to read whilst . .

By sevres-babylone on November 25, 2010 8:25 PM

I go back to Secular Music, so this is really good news. (2 good pieces of former-VV news in 1 week -- I see James Hamilton has a book coming out at the end of the month.)

By mike c on November 26, 2010 2:38 AM

hip, hip hooray

By Max M on November 26, 2010 11:59 AM

Oh my goodness, what fantastic news to receive on Thanksgiving weekend. Had always laid out some tiny hope that you would use the positives of social media and/or blogging (immediacy, thinking out loud) to continue to share your evaluations of music, even if in a less structured form.

Can't lie that I feel a tiny bit of ambivalence about the comments section in the new blog and thumbs up/down on the comments -- I'd rather that people talk out loud about your letter grades and the thoughts they spur on their own blogs and twitter feeds, rather than scrawling on your space and having the confusion and noise drown out the authority. (Don't have an issue with varying opinions about music, which are interesting if reasoned out thoughtfully, but varying opinions on a letter grade don't do much for me).

But I'm thrilled to have Consumer Guide back in any form. Thank you.

By Xmode on November 26, 2010 12:19 PM

Thrilled to have you back again, Christgau. You are easily the least-pretentious professional music critic anywhere, though the QC of your ratings system has been slipping in recent years. Hopefully this switch to blog format will be the start of a new era.

By John Schofield on November 26, 2010 1:37 PM

Very glad you've decided to take a pass on retirement; I lost my most important compass when the CG stopped.

By Michael Goodman on November 26, 2010 3:33 PM

Christmas comes early! Excellent, excellent news. . . . I'll be reading!

By Dean Jones on November 26, 2010 4:43 PM

Having initially felt too dispirited to say farewells, leave tributes and declare my love to the Consumer Guide on the previous ("ARTicles") entry that laid it to rest, by remarking that the music critic once compelled - nay, obligated - to state outright, and without insincerity, that John Lennon was "not just half of John & Yoko" is also the only one I know of to so even-handedly allow Yoko Ono her place in popular music (a mark of fairness no honest or crooked soul will ever disagree with), today I'm astonished, elated and grateful that I don't have to. Thank you, Robert Christgau (these last few months were hell).

By Dean Jones on November 26, 2010 4:48 PM

Also, I pretty much figured Arcade Fire got the minus.

By Dean Jones on November 26, 2010 5:05 PM

Might I also add after having read the blog intro that the part about "reissues, older records new to me, the occasional live report, maybe a book review, and occasionally one of those flights of fancy that make blogging the inchoate free-for-all it is" promises the kind of bohemian mess other, stricter, tighter worked in formats never did or could (never a bad thing, of course), which is exciting, right?

By Rick O'Leary on November 26, 2010 5:22 PM

Great to have it back. Bet I did guess: I picked up Maya but not Suburbs - sensed some apprehension in the B&N piece and I rarely buy A minuses. Let's hope I guessed right with Everything In Between over False Priest.

By GMort on November 26, 2010 10:00 PM

Can't say I agree with Max M. on the comments section of the new blog. I think it's quite possible to filter out the noise and focus on the Dean's assessments.

And then there's the possibility that the readers' thoughts will be more than mere noise. I bet on the likelihood that they will in fact add context -- the cheesy analogy would be to say that the lead review is the table cut but that any brilliant diamond requires many additional facet cuts.

The techno-sociological perspective would be to allow that the audience has a brain too, and that using the format provided to add thoughtful commentary and relevant personal experience will enhance understanding rather than detract from it.

The comments to news articles in my local paper prove just the opposite every day of the week of course, as I presume they do in your city also, so maybe I'm just optimistic that this audience is worth attending to. As much as I like listening to and reading about (semi)popular music, I like talking about it too. And if the conversation is with other schooled and insightful listeners, all referencing the same deeply considered professional review, then count me in.

And my wife thinks I spend a lot of time on the computer now!

By David Nathan on November 27, 2010 8:04 AM

Welcome Back!!!!!!! So happy you are back at it!!

By Albert Currier on November 27, 2010 11:48 AM

You've made my day, my month and my year!!!

My wife says she hasn't seen me smile like this in a long, long time [since June?].

Outstanding timing as well, with Christmas just around the corner.

Please find as many re-issues as your precious time allows. . . . those have always been my favourites and have seemingly always been walk-off home runs.

Another long-time and grateful fan bows down to you.

Thank you Dean, thank you . . . and Merry Christmas!!

By Robert Christgau on November 27, 2010 12:46 PM

Thanks to all--wasn't looking for huzzahs, just trying to get the word out, but huzzahs are always welcome. Let me make a few things clear, however. "Return of Consumer Guide" was a good tag, but perhaps a little misleading. The change from the old CG format to Expert Witness's A-records-plus-whatever is major--I don't want to work as hard as I did on the CG, and since my pay rate has gone down the main reason I'm doing it is to stay abreast of current music in a systematic way. That's because the end of the CG wasn't a "retirement"--it was simply the loss of a venue. So there'll be occasional reissues, yes, but--especially since most best-ofs aren't serviced to reviewers--my coverage there will be completely unsystematic. Most of the worthwhile artists are already in the can anyway, which is one reason labels are reduced to mono boxes and other such marginalia. On another front, the immediacy, spontaneity, and so forth of the blog mindset is too sloppy for my tastes. For that reason I'd never consider a "Reject Pile" feature--every Dud I ever listed was thoughtfully (although sometimes rapidly) considered before I committed it to print. My reject pile per se runs to well over 1000 records a year, most of which I don't get all the way through. Finally, my pals at Microsoft believe that RSS feeds are possible there but aren't quite sure how. I'll have get back to you when I learn more.

By Tom on November 27, 2010 2:49 PM

There used to be a Best of Guide that Christgau did every Xmas.

Maybe as Xmas approaches, he could make a few reissue/comp picks.

While it is true that most acts have been anthologized by now, there's always some older or even recent act that is just now getting a best of.

By william donnelly on November 27, 2010 5:52 PM

yea! I've followed and enjoyed your reviews for forty years. Not only have you kept me in touch with contemporary music but most likely have shaped my musical tastes and as a result have helped form another connection with my children and their friends. Many thanks

By redguru on November 28, 2010 11:42 AM

We've been waiting patiently for you.

My wife's favourite comment: "Where did you hear about this artist/album/whatever?"

Robert Christgau...where else?

Yes, except for a strong NY bias, a bias against certain ethnic musics, & a lack of classical music content. He's the man!

By Mike on November 29, 2010 8:36 AM

I must say that I often disagree with you. Quite passionately, in fact.

However, if I only read critics to agree with them, my reading and knowledge would be very limited, wouldn't it? You know how to write, and that's a rarer thing these days than it ought to be.

And I welcome those happy occasions when I do completely and totally agree with you as well.

I have a music blog of my own that I sporadically update, though I'm trying to be much more regular with it at the present, and will make an effort to be more current with it as well.

Glad you're back.

By Richard Gunderson on November 29, 2010 3:24 PM

The loss of CG added to the general gloom (maybe not a lot but perceptibly.) Hey, I found a job, mebbe things are looking up.

By hS on November 29, 2010 3:26 PM

So if you hate an album by Eminem or Jay-Z or Bob Dillon you won't write anything about it?

By GMort on November 30, 2010 8:31 AM

Yeah, and if you have anything to say about the new Bruce Springfield box, or the recent iTunes move by The Beetles, we'd like to hear that too.

And if we are favored by new reissue sets from either Louis Armstead or Madrona . . .

Sheesh. So much for an optimistic view of the audience.

By JB Poersch on November 30, 2010 7:03 PM

Amazing that after all these years, this format (while adjusted) is still exciting. Something about the long form review (say of "The Suburbs" on Barnes and Noble) doesnt have that zing. And, theres no getting letter grades out of my system. . . .

Welcome back to The Dean.

By Mark on December 1, 2010 9:37 AM

Well, I'm happy to say that I was already actively listening to five of the first six blog posted discs. Being from Toronto I should be ashamed at missing Shad though. Thanks Bob. So,to sum up, love "The Suburbs" and "How I Got Over". Underrated the Tricky and MIA so I owe you for the re-evaluation. I think that the Kanye West may be great but I can't remember a more compressed, brickwalled CD ever. It sounds like crap. Digital clipping galore. I hope the vinyl is better because his production is stellar.

The real joy has come from stuff thus far outside the blog. The Tom Ze box is essential even though I've had the CDs of the first two albums for years. They are a revelation on vinyl. Very nice indeed and worth the 70 bucks.

Also, No Age is the best "Husker Du" album in years . . . lol

By Alex on December 1, 2010 1:02 PM

I would love to hear your thoughts on the latest Liz Phair album, "Funstyle."

The CG first caught my attention with the praise for her self-titled record (I was 15 at the time), and I've always appreciated your understanding for her records, as well as the works of Madonna, Courtney Love, and M.I.A., all of whom I see as underdogs in the world according to rock critics. I was ecstatic to see your latest entries and look forward to more.

By Larry Lynch on December 1, 2010 7:10 PM

This is great news. I too, have followed your writing since the Esquire days and boy, I did feel like a good friend had died. Glad to have you back. I'd say half of my pop music collection (and a liking for Ornette Coleman) came from your columns.

By LM Fogel on December 3, 2010 11:17 AM

I'm bummed that the Honorable Mentions will be going away. I found stuff I liked buried in them.

By Beth on December 4, 2010 4:15 PM

Yahoo.

By Jesus H. on December 7, 2010 9:07 PM

For a few months I looked at other available guides on the net . . . nothing measured up, not even remotely. That's when you realize you've taken something for granted for too long. So who cares if everything so far's been congratulatory (or from a boys club, what's up with that). If it will ensure a lifetime tenure for the Dean, count my vote in.

By Ken Ostrer on December 7, 2010 10:48 PM

Wherever the Dean is bounced I always make my best effort to creatively Google myself toward his writing. I've been fan of Mr. Christgau since the 80's and as a part of the Big 4 greatest rock/pop writers - in my opinion, anyway (Chuck Eddy, Dave Marsh, Rob Sheffield) I've read pretty much everything the Dean has ever written. I have each Consumer Guide book (70s, 80s, 90s) he's written. He writes album reviews like great artists write great songs. And whatever his word on a particular album is, that is the final and definitive word. Pitchfork, as one example, would be inconceivable without him. Come to think of it, so would 1/2 the rock writers out there. So anyway, enough jibber jabber. It's good to see the Dean up and around online. Welcome back, Mr. Christgau (Portland, Or)

By Balu Gowthaman on December 8, 2010 7:30 AM

Waiting for the exile's reissue review. . . . believe me, i wouldn't trust anyone else on it.

Regards, Your Biggest Fan

By Stan on December 8, 2010 4:09 PM

Since July, and before the return of of GC/EW, I found three "A/A-" records for my year end list--before they were "A listed" by the Dean--Kanye and M.I.A (recently EW'd) and Belle and Sebastian (not yet--but I think their best in a long time).

Some of these are easy to add--strong albums by established favorites--but it's the other stuff that Christgau leads us to--that sets him apart (plus the slams on some otherwise universally acclaimed LP's) I can come up with a list of hundreds and hundreds of albums that would have escaped me without the Dean's stamp of approval--like Shad--which is sounding damn good as I stream it on Rhapsody.

Love it!

By Seeder on December 8, 2010 9:06 PM

Been a fan of your work since I was a kid in the 70's; you talked me out of listening to Jefferson Starship and got me into Funkadelic; from those days on, I always checked out what you had to say about anything, even stuff i was never gonna buy (cause sometimes after reading your comments, i would . . .)

Alas, when I go to the new blog, it comnes up blank pages for me . . .

Is it gone, or is something on my computer all messed up? Hope it'll be up and running and guiding us through the '10's . . .

By Greg on December 10, 2010 7:20 AM

'Bout time

By Frank Church on December 11, 2010 12:44 PM

Yea, I miss his bad reviews. You really want to know why he bombed some album you love . . lol.

I do wish Christgau would admit his bias against heavy metal and neo-soul. I get tired of seeing great artists like The Family Stand and Chris Thomas get shit on.

He never reviewed Prince's 20ten. Hope an a-plus is in order . . lol

By steve bliss on December 20, 2010 2:20 PM

excellent- a musical xmas xgau gift

By David Schweitzer on December 20, 2010 8:29 PM

  1. I second the comment above about feeling like Linus proudly kicking the blanket habit until Charlie Brown gave him a new one - the bulk of my listening the past few months was '50s and '60s jazz (decided it was time to get all completist on the asses of Coltrane/Monk/Davis/Rollins/Coleman--with Mingus waiting in the wings)--and now I'm being dragged back into 2010.
  2. To second another comment, "Christgau" has been, for 26 years, my number one answer to "Where the hell did you HEAR about that?" from Betty Hutton to the Hoosier Hot Shots to Peter Stampfel to Buck 65 to Pierre de Gallande.
  3. The two-twice-a-week steady-stream suits the consumer habits of a market whose purchases or listens are made with clicks rather than trips (or mail-order write-aways) to a possibly-remote retailer or label. Life is too damn short even without the enforced delayed-gratification of a monthly publication schedule.
  4. Yeah, there were (usually modest) prizes among the Honorable Mentions, but I certainly get why Bob says they're not worth the trouble. They often weren't worth the trouble to sift through and choose among as a consumer. And at 20 or 30 a month . . . well, something that happens daily isn't usually worth writing home about, right?

By GMort on December 22, 2010 8:28 PM

David S: Using the new math and starting with your #3 first, excellent catch on the way the two-twice-a-week format fits the also new click-n-buy purchasing methodology, in the same way that the previous CCG format fit the occasional trip to the record store practice.

And as for your #1 (the jazz part anyway), in Mr. Christgau's absence I found great solace and advice in Tom Hull's mostly jazz blog (http://www.tomhull.com/blog/categories/1-Music). I assembled an over 400 track file which I call "21st Century Jazz" using Mr. Hull almost exclusively. All endlessly playable - Ben Allison, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bernstein's MTO, Brad Shepik, Russ Lossing, Mark Lomax, The Fully Celebrated, many more. Just thought I'd pass that on in case you didn't have the link.

Thanks.

By Ben Lima on January 6, 2011 4:01 PM

Yes, please, an RSS feed!

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