Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bell Biv Devoe are three New Edition alumni with their eyes on a fourth: new jack swing king Bobby Brown. The cover of Poison (MCA) lays out their program: "Our music is mentally hip-hop, smoothed out on the r&b tip with a pop feel appeal to it." And with newcomer Dr. Freeze and a consortium of Public Enemy stalwarts combining their knowledge of levels, they bring it off. The title and debut hit is a glorious rhythm-and-harmony concoction that keeps on hitting on you, with Dope!, B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me), and others almost as seductive. The problem is, "mentally hip-hop" seems to mean these onetime candy-asses can dis girls as good as N.W.A or 2 Live Crew. The hot young thing who announces "I'm running the show" is "like that with all the guys"; just to make sure the "underage" honey of Do Me! doesn't pull the same tricks, she gets a complete set of orders before getting down ("leave on your shoes"). The sensual object of Poison's desire is just that, warn the singer's buddies. How do you know? he challenges, and the answer's one of the nastiest in radio history: "Me and the crew used to do her." Scared of sex? These mannish boys? You better believe it.

My prescription is a blind date with Saffire, the three over-40 women--a guitarist, pianist, and bassist, all of whom write and sing, with Gaye Adegbalola the fearless leader--from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who've just released The Uppity Blues Women (Alligator). These gals take blues-based bull by the horns, but they appreciate a young man: "He'll let you navigate/'Cause he ain't worried 'bout seniority/You can tell him where to put it/Keepin' you happy's his priority." The payback? "Old women don't yell/And old women don't tell/And old women don't swell/And they're grateful as hell." The evening might begin a little rough, but after a few choruses of School Teacher's Blues the BBD posse would figure out how to add three and three. If they're up to Saffire's standards, that is.

Playboy, June 1990


May 1990 July 1990