Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Hüsker Dü, New Day Rising (SST): Although only neophytes dare try to distinguish one brutally fast hard-core song from the next, the tracks that rise from the rush are enough to make normal fans hold on to their hopes for second-generation punk. After a debut album aptly titled Land Speed Record, Hüsker Dü's Metal Circus and Zen Arcade proved Bob Mould to be not only a world-class noise guitarist but a sporadically melodic songwriter who thinks for himself as well. The band's latest is hard-core that any old Clash (and maybe Byrds) fan can hum. Such Mould songs as "I Apologize" and "Celebrated Summer" reject adolescent rage without settling for cheap acceptance, and drummer Grant Hart pays tuneful tribute to two identifiably human women. Yet if you turn the album up loud enough to clear the dust balls out of the anti-audiophile mix, you'll still be accused of violating your lease. Otherwise, what would be the point?

Katrina and the Waves (Capitol): Nobody who had heard 1983's Walking on Sunshine or 1984's 2--import albums, check 'em out--could understand why no U.S. label was backing Katrina and the Waves head to head against the Pretenders. Songwriter-guitarist Kimberley Rew has an unerring knack for up-to-the-minute Sixties-style hooks and writes rock-outsider lyrics that never get obtrusively specific; singer-guitarist Katrina Leskanich has a voice so big and enthusiastic she could make Barry Manilow's songs sound like Holland-Dozier-Holland. Commercially speaking, what more could you want? So now, Capitol has boosted the sound (drum tracks, especially) on ten of the Waves' songs, which I suppose will help sales, but the songs don't need it. Just deciding which ten to redo must have driven everybody crazy--but it's about time somebody did.

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra Featuring Paul Gonsalves (Fantasy): As part of rock 'n' roll's first generation, I've never been comfortable with the big bands my favorite music displaced. Duke Ellington is America's greatest composer, but I don't listen much more to him than to Beethoven. Because I treasure spontaneity, my tastes in jazz run to bebop--and to albums like this one. Cut in one four-hour 1962 session that caught the leader without any new material and went unreleased until now, these eight Ellington standards--including at least two ("Caravan" and "Take the 'A' Train") almost any American adult will recognize--showcase the work of tenor saxophonist Gonsalves. It goes without saying that Gonsalves shows more sonic and harmonic imagination than such R&B contemporaries (and heroes of my youth) as Lee Allen and Sam "The Man" Taylor. The beauty is that he's not above outhonking them as well.

Playboy, Aug. 1985


  Sept. 1985