Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

David Bowie changes images the way Cyndi Lauper changes hairdos, so the news that the old chameleon is making yet another comeback is no news at all. And he'll likely get away with it, but let's agree right here that this time, he deserves something worse--Chapter 11, maybe. Never Let Me Down is proudly but expediently described by EMI America as uncategorizable. This means that instead of coming up with something "new"--such as the mechanical but functional rock disco of 1983's Let's Dance--Bowie has cannibalized his own past. There's hard rock and pseudo soul, a Spiders From Mars rehash, some mechanical but functional rock disco and a ridiculous spoken-word fable called "Glass Spider." Through it all, Bowie favors the worst of his many inadequate voices, that of the overwrought chanteur who first surfaced on 1973's Time. The accompanying profit-taking promotion will be trademarked the Glass Spider Tour. Don't get caught.

Having already crossed Run-D.M.C. with Aerosmith and set the Beastie Boys on A.C./D.C., Rick Rubin is now said to have transformed four Brit doom fops called The Cult into Led Zeppelin. Direct comparison, however, reveals that Jimmy Page's thunderclap riffs, Robert Plant's banshee yowls and John Bonham's ka-boom are as difficult to replicate as you'd imagine. Electric (Sire) is nothing more than a collection of rocking riff tunes that dispenses with the droning echoes and laggardly beats of 1986's Love. I hear lots of Led Zep simplified--no sagas, no tempo shifts, no blues. I hear Steppenwolf (an unconvincing "Born to Be Wild"), Cream ("Aphrodisiac Jacket" recalls "Tales of Brave Ulysses") and lots of Aerosmith--fop but no fool, Ian Astbury apes Steve Tyler rather than the unapproachable Plant. And I hear an LP every bit as entertaining as, say, Aerosmith's underrated Done With Mirrors. Good work, Rick.

Playboy, Aug. 1987


July 1987 Sept. 1987