Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Xgau Sez

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Robert Christgau. New ones will appear in batches every third Tuesday.

To ask your own question, please use this form.

February 22, 2024

And It Don't Stop.

Some thoughts on Eminem, trying (and failing) to get into Neutral Milk Hotel, Chicago blues (Chess and otherwise), A+ best-of albums, pretty good live Stones, and the affordability of CDs.

[Q] As a fellow boomer and long-time consumer of your words, just thought I'd acknowledge how 100% right on and right you are on the topic of Eminem. I pity the fools who begrudge that generation their Stones/Dylan/whatever that makes sense and irritates parents. -- Bernie Kellman, Mexico City

[A] Anyone who's really interested in my take on Eminem should find what The Believer called "The Slim Shady Essay," which is available on my site and also collected in Is It Still Good to Ya? It was assigned and paid for and then left hanging as a minibook by someone who'd been led to believe by the late Dave Hickey that I might write something worthy of his recommendation. But there was only one Dave Hickey, and it definitely wasn't me.

[Q] Hi Bob! Huge fan, even if (especially IF) we disagree on certain records because I'm a huge fan of getting an alternate viewpoint. A critic will never make me stop liking what I like, but a critic who can write well will ABSOLUTELY make me give something a second listen, and your reviews have certainly pushed me out of my gen-x, rockist comfort zone. I'll stop kissing ass now. That being said, are you ever tempted to revisit reviews based on the changing landscape of popular acclaim? For example, you gave Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea a solid "Meh," which (I say this as the target audience) is totally defensible (and not . . . too far off from other reviews at the time) but it's become kind of the Sgt Pepper's of people born between 1972-1987 (I picked those numbers out of my ass, and I'll stand by them). Is there an urge (or a responsibility) to re-review a record when its place in music history has shifted radically? No wrong answers! -- Matt, Boston

[A] I have tried to get into that admittedly beloved Neutral Milk Hotel album on at least three separate occasions. Many love it and are free to do so, yourself included. Not me. I'm older than you and would at this point in my life would almost always rather devote my ever-fleeting hours to something I like already.

[Q] Hi Bob, Any opinions on the lesser known Chess blues artist Jimmy Rogers? Of course, I play Muddy and the Wolf more but whenever I pull Chicago Bound or The Complete Chess Recordings off the shelf, I enjoy them just as much. Rogers' voice may not be as distinctive as Waters or Wolf but the same band rocks behind all those Chess records. I'm wondering if you consider any of his collections A-worthy. -- Phil, Columbia, Missouri

[A] I do like Rogers but have never explored him. The only incidentally Chess Elmore James's The Sky Is Crying, assembled by the late Robert Palmer for Rhino, is one of the great single-artist compilations, and see my other James reviews as well. I play Sonny Boy Williamson as much as Wolf or Waters myself. And original Alligator Records mainstay Hound Dog Taylor, who did do a few Chess singles as well.

[Q] Who's an A+ artist that never released an A+ album in your opinion? I'd guess James Brown or Chuck Berry, if you don't count best-ofs. -- Kyoko M., Orlando

[A] But I do count best-ofs. Why not? So pin The Shirelles' Greatest Hits up in there. And Tom Ze's Brazil Classics IV. Definitely Franco's Francophonic, both volumes. And note that when Blender did a GOAT thing, sometime in the '00s as I recall, it put none other than Madonna's Immaculate Collection at the top of the list. Plus, absolutely, the James Brown box Star Time.

[Q] I enjoyed and mostly agree with your semi-longform piece on the Stones and Hackney Diamonds. The career peaks you scan through highlight by omission the dilemma that "the world's greatest rock and roll band" has never made a great live album. I like The Brussels Affair more than you, the expanded version of Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out is better than the original single disc release, the various versions of Stripped are OK (and Liver Than You'll Ever Be sounds like mud) -- but none of them are great. It's not that they haven't tried, over and over. So why do you think The Rolling Stones don't have a great live album in their canon? -- Cam Patterson, Little Rock

[A] Just to check, I dug out and put on the Stones' 2017 On Air (Deluxe Edition) which collects mostly blues/r&b/ covers from their irrepressible youth. Stands in as a pretty good live album. Otherwise, point taken. For me, that's a so what. For . . . Allman Brothers fans, perhaps? . . . not necessarily.

[Q] Maybe this is not the proper forum. But I feel like you really dropped the ball in your review of Hothouse: The Complete Live at Massey Hall in your latest CG. Not in your score or your appraisal of the music, which is excellent, but in your consumer guidance per se. You noted that you already owned "large chunks" of this set, but not that you had already reviewed the entire set by the full quintet, available as The Quintet's Live at Massey Hall and which comprises disc one of Hothouse. Disc two of Hothouse is an entirely different recording (from what seems like a different night) of a piano trio, sans Diz and Bird. And disc three is the exact same set as disc one except this time with Mingus's overdubs in place. Live at Massey Hall is findable for about 15 dollars; Hothouse for about 75. Ignoring the marginally different disc 3, as you should, this means that disc 2's perfectly solid trio material, 7 songs including a four minute drum solo, will set you back about 60 dollars. -- Ronan Connelly, Boise, Idaho

[A] I dealt with these somewhat confusing options the way I did basically because Hot House is at the moment the most readily accessible version of this extraordinary night of music and I thought it sounded great. I saw little advantage in A&B-ing Mingus's willful revisions and the much more than adequate bass parts on the "live" Hot House. To me Hot House is clearly, for the nonce, the fullest sounding, the most coherent, and the most readily available version of this music. I'm really not interested in the kind of nitpicking in which so many jazz adepts love to indulge. Both records I've reviewed are fine. If you already have a Massey Hall album you can probably stick with it. If you're in the market for one now, Hot House is almost certain to be the most readily available, with the bass parts far more than adequate. Distinguishing among/between bass parts that seem fine to me just isn't my idea of what aesthetic acuity is for. The CD, which is what I have, goes for around 25 bucks at Amazon from what I can see.