Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Meters

  • Struttin' [Josie, 1970] B+
  • Cabbage Alley [Reprise, 1972] B
  • Rejuvenation [Reprise, 1974] B+
  • Cissy Strut [Island, 1975] A-
  • Fire on the Bayou [Reprise, 1975] B
  • Trick Bag [Reprise, 1976] C+
  • New Directions [Warner Bros., 1977] B+
  • The Meters Anthology [Rhino, 1996] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Struttin' [Josie, 1970]
The New Orleans M.G.'s swing, but not smoothly, the way a big band does--their Caribbean lilt is pure second-line, as elliptical as a saint's march. They're the secret of Allen Toussaint-produced hits by Lee Dorsey, Aaron Neville, and Ernie K-Doe, and because they put out riffs rather than songs their own LPs are consistently danceable and listenable. Of course, to do better than that the band would have to come up with more good riffs in a year than most rhythm sections manage in a decade, and usually they compromise a little--only two r&b hits here, plus several other tracks that might have been, "Wichita Lineman" not among them. B+

Cabbage Alley [Reprise, 1972]
Just what do these people want? They're still making up titles like "Gettin' Funkier All the Time," even singing one called "Do the Dirt." But they're also stretching out a catchy little number called "Stay Away" with what annotator Barry Hansen refers to gingerly as "some most unusual electronic adventures" and putting voice to Neil Young's "Birds" and their own "Lonesome and Unwanted People." And what can it mean that the catchiest little number of all has no words and two titles--"You've Got to Change (You've Got to Reform)"? B

Rejuvenation [Reprise, 1974]
Although it's worth noting that their first hit for Warners, "Hey Pocky A-Way," is as old as the second line, it's also worth nothing that they're getting results from their experiments--namely, the twelve-minute funk fusion "It Ain't No Use." And if most of the time the vocals are neutral at best, what this bunch of amateurs makes of "Just Kissed My Baby" isn't dreamed of in Three Dog Night's philosophy. B+

Cissy Strut [Island, 1975]
Unless you happen to be dancing, it takes a slightly inappropriate aesthetic concentration to, er, appreciate a whole album of party instrumentals. But this compilation of thirteen turn-of-the-decade r&b hits (plus album tracks) the Meters cut for Josie is worth the strain. The secret: listen to Ziggy Modeliste. He plays more off-beats and eccentric patterns than any soul drummer you ever heard, yet never breaks up the band's spare, clever riff structures; it's almost as if he's the lead. These cuts are short and catchy. Not one of them is as amazing as Rejuvenation's "It Ain't No Use." But every one works. A-

Fire on the Bayou [Reprise, 1975]
Thanks to new conga player Cyril Neville, the singing has gotten better, but no matter how much I love "They All Ask'd for You," I'm not sure that's good. Distracts us from the drummer. And maybe it distracts the drummer, too. B

Trick Bag [Reprise, 1976]
Doing James Taylor and the Rolling Stones. Writing a song about pollution solutions, and one called "Find Yourself" that's more embarrassing than the one called "Disco Is the Thing Today." And covering Earl King's title tune magnificently. Why, oh Lord, why? C+

New Directions [Warner Bros., 1977]
Outside of New Orleans the Meters are a cult band. All they accomplish by going pop/disco is the loss of their critical rep (whatever that's worth) and the erosion of their sales base. Yet leaving Allen Toussaint for David Rubinson was evidently the right move--he respected them so much he was even sparing with the Tower of Power. A very good commercial funk record, right down to covers that go with their natural beat--one from Peter Tosh and one from Allen Toussaint. B+

The Meters Anthology [Rhino, 1996]
This was a totally original band. Driven on and crazy by the very different drummer Ziggy Modeliste, the eccentric instrumental New Orleans funk the quartet cut for Josie sounds epochal a quarter century later. If the 26 cuts on disc one are more than you need at a sitting, program. On Reprise they went pop, presaging both the Neville Brothers (sans Aaron) and the mediocre fusion a band of the same name tours behind to this day. Disc two does this period as proud as possible right down to the shameless grease of "Funkify Your Life," if not the shameless schmaltz of "Be My Lady." Sometimes too minimal, and not devoid of dead spots. But seminal and essential--and fun. A-

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