Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Philip Glass

  • North Star [Virgin, 1977] A-
  • The Photographer [CBS, 1983] A-
  • Songs From Liquid Days [FM, 1986] C+
  • The Hours [Nonesuch, 2002] Dud

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

North Star [Virgin, 1977]
Rock ears take to this avant-garde composer because he understands electronic sound in a melodic context and loves rhythm, a rhythm achieved--like the hypnotic/mystical mood of the music as a whole--not through percussion but through mechanical repetitions cunningly modified. There is natural drama here, but Glass never indulges it, which is why he appeals to Eno's side of the "progressive" spectrum rather than to Keith Emerson's. What Eno fans may find hard to take--and what I find doubly admirable--is that this music refuses to fade into the background; it's rich, bright, and demanding despite its austerity. Onward. A-

The Photographer [CBS, 1983]
With its intrusive melodies and who-needs-a-cannon? climax, this is Glass's most obvious record, and I like it that way. After all, which is more likely to touch a rock-and-roller's heart--an opera about an Asian saint, or a multigenre piece about an American artist-gadgeteer who shoots his wife's lover and lives with the consequences? A-

Songs From Liquid Days [FM, 1986]
From Satyagraha to Mishima, much of Glass's recent work has invoked the mood if not the methods of nineteenth-century classical music, a realm of discourse where I'm reluctant to pass judgment, though I will mention that this hardly makes him unique among soundtrack composers. When it comes to vocal production, though, I have my proud prejudices. Without passing judgment on Satyagraha's Douglas Perry, who applies his tenor to one song here, I'll insist without fear of ignorance that he's a less than apt model for the Roches and Bernard Fowler (Linda Ronstadt can do what she wants). Even Suzanne Vega's lyrics read better than they sound. Which may just mean Glass is too spiritually enlightened to set meaningful texts to music. C+

The Hours [Nonesuch, 2002] Dud