Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Leonard Cohen, Various Positions (Passport): For almost 20 years, Leonard Cohen has whispered in your ear that to be a roue is a religious calling, and if you're tired of his shtick, so be it--I prefer Al Green myself. Nevertheless, this album has a lot of jam. Aided by John Lissauer and Jennifer Warnes, Cohen doesn't make a false move musically, unless you're a stick-in-the-mud who demands real melodies; his drone is more hypnotic than ever. And if Bob Dylan could still write fables as convoluted as "The Captain" or hymns as haunted as "If It Be Your Will," he'd never go pop again. A better advertisement for middle-aged sex than Dynasty.

Mofungo, Frederick Douglass (Coyote/Twin Tone) and The Scene Is Now, Burn All Your Records (Lost): The few fervent rockers who are also fervent leftists know all too well how poorly the two mix--the music is too intrinsically irresponsible to carry serious messages comfortably. But these interlocking sets of nerdy bohemians, veterans of New York's "no wave" flurry of 1978, come close. Funny but not happy, memorable but not catchy, intense but not bright, this ain't pop music, but its folk-industrial textures, world dance rhythms and screechy-yowly vocals are definitely rock 'n' roll. Mofungo is a straight quartet, The Scene Is Now a more exotic one. Closet pinks, vote with your mail orders.

Howard Jones, Dream into Action (Elektra): The world would be a better place if we could ignore Howard Jones, but the world isn't a better place. Howard is a budding star--not merely in news-hungry old England (Where even psychobabble bland-out can pass for a snappy gimmick) but in the U.S.A., which ordinarily demands at least a little vulgarity of its hit Brits. Jones is a positive-thinking Orientalist who credits "Is There a Difference?" (i.e., between yes and no, up and down, etc.) to the Tao Te Ching, but Lao-tzu has a better beat. Piling truism on cliche on advice to the lovelorn, his message for confused youth is summed up in "Hungry for the Flesh"--he's agin' it. Plus, he plays all the instruments himself. Cast a cold eye/On disc, on cassette--/Confused youth, pass by!

Playboy, Dec. 1985


Nov. 1985 Jan. 1986