Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Months if not millennia ahead of the marketplace, an international pop consensus has gathered around the ever-evolving concept of grunge. Like every pop consensus, it tames sonic ideas originally embraced for their aura of danger--dirty guitars, found noise, industrial samples, lo-fi recording. It's tuneful as all get-out, but it's never neat. This is pop music for people who don't make their beds and then lie in them anyway.

Two notable consensus-seizers exploit yet another idea whose time has come again, the female singer. Whale is a Swedish trio comprising hot young producer Gordon Cyrus, talk-show comic Henrik Schyffert, and the snowy nation's first-ever VJ, Cia Berg. Garbage sets Shirley Manson, formerly of the Scottish band Angelfish, in front of three Midwestern musicians masterminded by drummer Butch Vig, who just happens to have produced Nirvana's Nevermind.

These acts are far too calculated and professional to qualify literally as garage bands. But both do their damnedest to rough-and-tumble it, and the effect is delightful, even charming. Whale's We Care (Virgin/Hut Recordings) is happier, goofier, and much sexier, as in I'll Do Ya, Young Dumb N' Full of Cum, and the deathless Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe--more fun and more avant simultaneously. But if the this-is-not-a-parody title Only Happy When It Rains suggests the depth of the pessimism on Garbage (Almo Sounds), the cleverness of its art is in the way the same song strikes the ear--as a catchy little number that doesn't sound like a cliche. A great pop consensus never does--until it's time to find the next one.


"Trance" is a watchword in the hermetic world of techno, applied to both its noodling ambient and raving high-energy variants. But why let johnny-come-latelys suspend your consciousness? Sufi academic Oruj Guvenc's Ocean of Remembrance (Interworld) could calm anybody's troubled breast. And the Gnawa flutes on Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka (Point Music) are wild enough to start rumors about where the original Dionysian revels ended up.

Playboy, Sept. 1995


Aug. 1995 Oct. 1995