Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Freedy Johnston is a little over 30, Thelonious Monster's Bob Forrest a little under. Can You Fly (Bar/None) is Johnston's second album, Beautiful Mess (Capitol) Forrest's fourth. Johnston sold the family farm for 10 grand to finish his record; Forrest blew $300,000 in advances making his. Both guys feel a little like failures, and if you can't get behind that, you probably can't hear what they have to say. Too bad for you.

Though occasionally an old-timer gets lucky, Can You Fly is the work of genius here--the strongest album by a new male singer-songwriter in at least a decade. The account of how he "sold the dirt to feed the band," the post-ozone rock concert, the extended metaphor about the labor of ending a marriage--every one of Johnston's oblique but decipherable tales of not quite getting it together could be summed up by the title of the first: Trying To Tell You I Don't Know. Yet Johnston's reedy Midwestern twang, the open-ended detail of the lyrics, and the lithe, sly, hook-laden music add up to a case study in bringing confusion under control--in loving your life as beautiful mess.

Speaking of which, Beautiful Mess lives up to its title--it's punkier, more naked. In songs like I Live in a Nice House (conceived just after he signed his deal, I guess) and Blood Is Thicker Than Water (ahh, dysfunction), Forrest harbors no hope of transcending his confusion. He just wants to make music out of it. And he gets close enough for rock and roll.


Fast Cuts: On The Way of the Vaselines: A Complete History (Sub Pop), young Glaswegians Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee poke fun at sex roles and much else in a completely amateurish, completely captivating hodgepodge of silly songs. On Eugenius's Oomalama (Atlantic), Kelly has broken up with McKee. He rocks more, but you know what? He's less interesting.

Playboy, Feb. 1993


Jan. 1993 Mar. 1993