Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Marianne Faithfull attained her pop moment with Jagger-Richards' "As Tears Go By," achieved cult-heroine status with her scabrous 1979 LP Broken English and then settled into a formula that made cynicism its subject and was favored by connoisseurs of rock divadom. On Strange Weather (Island), producer Hal Willner continues that last trend by putting Faithfull's songwriting on hold and handing her world-weary material, from Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" to "Hello Stranger," a new one by the Doctors Pomus and John. Borrowing backups from Tom Waits and Lou Reed, Willner proves that pop realism can transcend the blues tradition. Which is not to say that the two are incompatible? check out Faithfull's a cappella Leadbelly interpretation.

Sonic Youth came up in the postpunk confusion of Los Angeles hard-core and New York no wave. Dominated by hulking guitarist Thurston Moore and crazed bassist Kim Gordon, these self-promoting bohemian obsessives developed their bracing guitar sound playing Glenn Branca's "rock symphonies," then cultivated an undisciplined-to-shapeless expressionism that other bohemians find sexy. Me, I've never gone for Squeaky Fromme. But on 1986's EP Starpower and their new LP Sister (both SST), I hear the point. Gordon's vocal on the tranced-out breakdown "Pacific Coast Highway" makes me understand why some guys (and gals) get off on obsessives. Mostly, though, I like this record's sound--and its shape, which permits this skeptic to follow the sound through. Like Strange Weather, it's a respite from conventional rock 'n' roll that can make a rock-'n'-roller's day.

Playboy, Dec. 1987


Nov. 1987 Jan. 1988