Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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For record bizzers, alternative rock is barely a memory. Indie labels still serve as farm teams occasionally--Blink 182 cut its teeth on one--but nobody thinks they're the first step to stardom anymore. Yet the flow of releases continues unstaunched. In fact, several remarkable recent CDs come from the doubly suspect DIY sector, where all you need to make a record is an ego and a few grand.

The Drive-by Truckers' Pizza Deliverance (Soul Dump) designs a country music for low-lifes it sees as modern hillbillies. Raucous rather than slick, its rock feel uncompromised by the odd mandolin or banjo, the album is replete with tales of drunken indiscretion and murderous rage, of smarmy swingers and a guy who hooks up with a woman whose TV he steals only to rut after her daughter 13 years later. There's also The President's Penis Is Missing, which demonstrates a historical grasp not all of their characters share.

Modest Mouse's Building Nothing Out of Something (Up) isn't DIY, but mines an equally woebegotten genre: the indie 45 compilation. Yet this Northwest trio has such a consistent sonic signature that disparate songs hang together as if equipped with dovetail joints. Anyone who admires Pavement's combination of fetching tunes, dissonant guitar, and stop-and-go structures should give it a try. And guess what--they have a "real" album due on Epic.


Nobody's more DIY than a mysterious folkie who's been doing business as Baby Gramps for, some claim, 30 years. His very belated debut, Same Ol' Timeously (Grampophone), will be prized by specialists for an acoustic guitar style that reminds some of Ornette Coleman. Ordinary folks will love its Popeye imitation, worm medley, old blues and kiddie songs, and mind-boggling collection of palindromes.

Playboy, Jan. 2000


Dec. 1999 Feb. 2000