Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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When guys dismiss black pop as manipulative, they're threatened by how facilely new the new love men articulate tenderness. After all, most guys aren't above being manipulative--they're just not as good at it as Boyz II Men. Which is why they'll feel very threatened indeed by R. Kelly's R. (Jive). From 1993's 12 Play on, Kelly has been a phenomenal hitmaker, but in the wake of I Believe I Can Fly, the Space Jam megasmash that also closes this double-CD, he's jacked his skills up to Prince level. For over two hours, the boasts, promises, love cries, and assertions of vulnerability never let up, each one equipped not just with its own beat, but with its own tune. Most are slow jams, but Kelly negotiates dance tempos adeptly, sometimes in the company of rappers like Keith Murray or Foxy Brown. The only problem is that, just like guys say, it's all so transparently manipulative--the one song that rings with unmistakable conviction is called Only the Loot Can Make Me Happy. If this album puts songs on the radio into the next millennium, it will be remembered as a classic. If it doesn't, it will be remembered as a genre exercise.


It was 1961 when the late blues singer and harp player Junior Wells first recorded with guitarist-vocalist Buddy Guy. Their final show together was in 1993, at Guy's Chicago club. The result: the loose-limbed, off-the-cuff, all-acoustic Last Time Around--Live at Legends (Silvertone), as joyously musical a record as either has made in 25 years. Highlight: Ray Charles's What'd I Say, so nice they do it twice.


Anyone who cherishes the Dazed and Confused soundtrack as the stupid-rock touchstone it is should go match it with Hard Rock Cafe: Party Rock (Hard Rock/Rhino). Finally, a reason to own Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love!

Playboy, Dec. 1998


Nov. 1998 Jan. 1999