Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field [Carpark, 2022]
The title track, an extended analogy between a love turned old and an academic career in an obsolescent discipline, could also be said to sum up the formal approach of this New Zealand guitar-guitar-bass-drums tuneful-not-melodic not-quite-power pop. As background music it seems pleasant but plain. The sole singer is Elizabeth Stokes, who also wrote all the songs beyond a single collab with guitarist-producer Jonathan Pearce. But soon you notice that Pearce is some guitarist, and soon after that, when you've found time to give the lyrics the attention they turn out to deserve, you can't wait to hear how the next one will turn out. The title track is dazzling flat-out, a failing relationship in less than 200 meticulously metaphorical words. But the rest are almost as articulate and also less dark: "I cave like I was built to break/You stay like it's a passing rain"; "I want to leave you out there/Waiting in the downpour/Singing that you're sorry/Dripping on the hall floor"; "It's a pain in the heart/Clean the blood from your shirt"; "If you want to whisper/I swear I want to listen"; and in summation "Mixing drinks and messages/It's been quite a year." A-