Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Kurt Weill is the most universal 20th Century composer this side of Bob Marley, and let's be frank--Weill had more chops. A German Jew who fled to Paris and felt most at home in New York City, he was claimed as "a Negro" by one of his lyricists, the black poet Langston Hughes. Now Hal Willner has compiled Lost in the Stars (A&M), an hourlong disc of unlikely seeming Weill interpretations. Lou Reed's "September Song" is the most startling. Dagmar Krause's "Surabaya Johnny" the most dramatic, Marianne Faithfull's "Ballad of the Soldier's Wife" the most wrenching, and, believe me, I could go on. This one you owe yourself.

The playful or dreamy or alienated obliqueness of new pop love songs is also chickenshit--an arty way for a young guy to pull the old "It ain't me, babe." So When Marti Jones covers such material, I sympathize--she has to protect herself from evasive guys. Jones is a modern woman, resilient and self-aware, yet she's obviously singing to keep from sighing. Her solo debut, Unsophisticated Time (A&M), reclaims unjustly neglected tunes from the dB's, the Bongos, Elvis Costello and others, notably producer Don Dixon, who as an R.E.M. colleague is no stranger to obliqueness.

The first album by drummer Anton Fier's Golden Palominos was an art-funk experiment that featured the strangulated Arto Lindsay. The follow-up, Visions of Excess (Celluloid), is a psychedelic-punk experiment that features five lead singers: Lindsay, Michael Stipe, John Lydon, Jack Bruce and female phenom Syd Straw. The musicians are equally semifamous, but this is no off-the-cuff supersession: Despite the project's slightly clinical air, the playing is powerful as well as tight, and Fier's attention to composition pays off. If the music of the Sixties blows you away, you're the listener his experiment is designed to manipulate, benignly.

Playboy, Mar. 1986


Feb. 1986 Apr. 1986