Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The failure of the Pretenders' Packed! (Sire) to reach anybody but hard-core Chrissie Hynde fans is enough to make you worry that guitars are going out of style. Despite producer Mitchell Froom's keyboards, it's old Rockpile stalwart Billy Bremner who defines Hynde's solidest and toughest bunch of songs in a decade, adding signature rock and roll crunch and reverb to singing and writing that get more sinuous with the years. And Chrissie's romantic pain adds emotional muscle. What kind of pop world is it where Mariah Carey can cream all over the charts while the fulltime feelings of Never Do That and Sense of Purpose stiff? A callow one.

And what kind of music world is it where the most soulful dance jams of the year have their U.S. break-even point calculated at 1000 sales? A chauvinistic one. Featuring three mid-'70s and three mid-'80s cuts by permutation of Nigeria's Oriental Brothers International, Heavy on the Highlife! is the only release in Original Music's quixotic distribution deal with Lagos's Afrodisia label that isn't basically archival. Maybe Americans can pass off the harmonic and rhythmic attractions of the guitar-hooked four-minute earlier selections as charm, but as the three recent ones sustain for a full album side apiece, their bodies and spirits will sink or swim. When Dan Satch Opara picks up the guitar beat from yet another angle or Sir Warrior Opara shouts out another variation on his eternal theme, I say yeah. Honoring an apt rock and roll tradition, the three titles fade rather than resolve. In a perfect world they'd go on forever.

Playboy, Nov. 1990


Oct. 1990 Dec. 1990