Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Thelonious Monster

  • Next Saturday Afternoon [Relativity, 1987] B+
  • Stormy Weather [Relativity, 1989] A-
  • Beautiful Mess [Capitol, 1992] A-
  • California Clam Chowder [Lakeshore, 2004] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Next Saturday Afternoon [Relativity, 1987]
It's an old trick, this articulateness-in-inarticulateness, but in the words, the singing, the drumming, even the guitar (though you can tell the guitarist wants to be good real bad), this joke hardcore band that got lost on its way to college definitely has a bead on it. Start with side two, which rises from the singer as jollied-along asshole into smart and almost straight dope on Pleasant Valley teens, then quickly devolves into won't somebody come over, unhousetrained dog, demented half-audible vamp, and "Tree 'n Sven Orbit the Planet," which is an instrumental, as it damn well better be. B+

Stormy Weather [Relativity, 1989]
Bob Forrest wasn't taking Monk's name in vain after all--any Orange County punk who gives it up to Lena Horne and Tracy Chapman has a healthy yen for the Aryan Nation shitlist. Best song's about the Forrests' white flight ("They said it wasn't a question of race/It's just property values"), and the relationship stuff beats Paul Westerberg's--"So What if I Did" with its John Doe guitars, the hopeless "Real Kinda Hatred." Laff at "Sammy Hagar Weekend" all you want, but Forrest feels sorry for those guys. He'll never lead a joke band again. [CD version includes Next Saturday Afternoon.] A-

Beautiful Mess [Capitol, 1992]
As always, Bob Forrest is beset by bad feelings he can't comprehend--about an unjust society, a dysfunctional family, a feminist girlfriend who runs off with "some faggot from the Posies," above all about himself. Crawling around the nice house he secured with his advance or gazing awestruck at the nice girlfriend he doubts he deserves, covering Joan Armatrading or duetting with Tom Waits, sleeping eight to a room in Vegas with his equally confused friends, he always seems to end up doing what he does best--whining. He whines tunefully, loudly, childishly, revoltingly, nakedly, sweetly, intelligently, and though he probably doesn't deserve that girlfriend, you can tell why she doesn't think so. With a jerk like Forrest, this constitutes a major artistic achievement. A-

California Clam Chowder [Lakeshore, 2004]
Not as peaky as beautiful fuckup Bob Forrest's Bicycle Thief comeback five years ago. If the brief "The Germs Song" is ugly and chaotic and the briefer "The Beck Song" disses the post-folkie and his haircut, titles like "The Bob Dylan Song" and "The Iggy Stooge Song" are less evocative than implied. As for "The Elton John Song"--well, Elton should cover it, because Forrest needs the money. Throughout this out-of-nowhere record, he and his relaxed band ride an emotional openness and tuneful ease that some pop schemer should convert into accounts receivable. Forrest is glad to be alive because staying that way has been kind of hard. The loveliest of his many lovely moments reaches out in near-tears solidarity to a sad, sexy, solitary salesclerk who wasn't so lucky. Why it's called "The Big Star Song" I don't know or care. A-