Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Vulgar Boatmen

  • You and Your Sister [Record Collect, 1989] B+
  • Please Panic [Safe House/Caroline, 1992] **
  • Wide Awake [No Nostalgia, 2003] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

You and Your Sister [Record Collect, 1989]
These guys make much more than you expect out of what first sounds like almost nothing--just tuneful enough to warrant play two, their mild jangle gains sweetness and kick as your faith increases. But their lyrics come from an English prof who may be too much the formalist to say what he wants but more likely just doesn't know what he wants: hoping for more "Change the World All Around," what you get instead is six minutes of "Drive Somewhere." It's such a great riff you wouldn't care if it kept going, either. But an honorable, self-aware nowhere is where it'll end up. B+

Please Panic [Safe House/Caroline, 1992]
as if one of those shapeless arguments where you just can't concentrate on your partner's complaint were love, sweet love ("You're the One," "You Don't Love Me Yet") **

Wide Awake [No Nostalgia, 2003]
Between their flat rhythms and their undemonstrative vocals, this long-running hobby band have to hit it just right to hit it at all, which on this retrospective happens most of the time: if not sweet tunes, then sharp lines or even driving grooves. So cannily generalized they make the polite romantic disconnections of academia stand in for those of all white middle-class America, their songs sound like what Ricky Nelson might have sung if he'd grown up to be a manager in the conglomerate that bought the Emporium rather than the wastrel who pursued a musical career. A-