Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Youssou N'Dour: Eyes Open [Columbia, 1992]
The arranged rock song may be slipping beyond the reach of white men. In a context defined by Paul Simon and Robbie Robertson, even a talent like Freedy Johnston risks sounding smug by association, while many women--Sinéad O'Connor, Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Laurie Anderson--escape the taint. So does Living Colour. And so does N'Dour, whose mbalax commitments mitigate any conceptual link to studio-rock. On 14 songs that once would have required double vinyl, he strikes an African tone far from pop's confessionals and attempted empathy. Directing matter-of-fact moral warnings at the powerful and the disenfranchised like the griot he might have been, he's confident of his social function as he tours the world. And for all that the set-piece stiffness seems as outmoded in America as it must seem modern in Senegal. Since N'Dour usually sings in Wolof, the lyric sheet is a necessity. But I wish once in a while I could do without it. B+