Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Around when Saddam Hussein gave George Bush his opening, Rhino put out an intelligently nostalgic document called Songs That Got Us Through World War II. As an eager student of pop, I wanted to enjoy it. But from Frankie to Louis, the articulated sentimentality and chin-up humor of its well-crafted songs seemed almost as foreign as when I was a kid, assuming a faith in the naturalness of both war and romantic love that Americans no longer share. Today's beleaguered escapists require something more grandiose and abstract--Mariah Carey, say, or Jon Bon Jovi. Skeptical idealists, on the other hand, just scrounge.

That's why Cole Porter, a radically unsentimental artist who bent that age of faith to his own uses, has been seized as ammunition in pop's first concerted sally in the holy war on AIDS: the charity record Red Hot + Blue (Chrysalis), in which 20 youngish skeptical idealists--among them U2, Sinead O'Connor, David Byrne, K.D. Lang, and Neneh Cherry--interpret the Porter canon. These are almost all love songs, but necessarily, they're about faith too. Whether it's Tom Waits saying "Fuck it" or Jimmy Somerville pledging his troth, Annie Lennox essaying straight pop or Erasure bombing a house mix, all are paying their respects to a moral certainty they suspect is impossible. They'll love you as well as they can, but they won't indulge in any easy lies, and they won't tolerate your lying to them. AIDS demands nothing less. Neither does an unholy war.

Playboy, Jan. 1991


Dec. 1990 Feb. 1991