Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Blondie was a group, and title blonde Debbie Harry all but vanished after the aggregation disintegrated five years ago. This was due partly to the long illness of her life collaborator, Chris Stein, partly to the disappointing sales of her klutzy solo album with Nile Rodgers. But with Stein (and Rodgers) chipping in and J. Geils music man Seth Justman at the controls, Rockbird (Geffen) skillfully updates Harry's half-moil, half-Marilyn half parody. The lyrics are tough and sexy and slightly dizzy, the groove more lithe and professional than Blondie's pop punk, yet not so tricky that Harry trips over it. If the result could sound a mite fresher, that's mostly because Harry's competing with versions of herself--her innovations made the Bangles and Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and even Tina Turner commercial propositions. It's also because the late Seventies were Harry's heyday, and not many pop icons get more than one of those.

To prevent unprofitable confusion, the white Run-D.M.C. tells the truth at least once on Licensed to Ill (Def Jam): "We're the Beastie Boys, not Cheech and Chong." As for all the stuff about their guns, their girls, their dust, how they fucked the sheriff's daughter with a Wiffle-ball bat and went into your locker and broke your glasses, well, who knows? I'm not even positive they subsist on beer, ale, White Castle and Chef Boy-Ar-Dee--like Cheech and Chong, these three hard-core refugees aren't above exaggerating for effect. But they're funnier than Cheech and Chong, and not only do they have a better sense of rhythm, they have the whomping electrobeats and ripped-off power chords of hip-hop mastermind Rick Rubin leading them on. Exploiting his patently inauthentic proteges, Rubin seized his chance to go too far, and the Beasties weren't about to say no. Not since early punk has gleeful swagger been so much fun.

Playboy, Apr. 1987


Mar. 1987 May 1987