Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Tina Turner

  • Acid Queen [United Artists, 1975] B
  • Private Dancer [Capitol, 1984] A-
  • Break Every Rule [Capitol, 1986] B+
  • Tina Live in Europe [Capitol, 1988] B
  • Foreign Affair [Capitol, 1989] B-
  • Simply the Best [Capitol, 1991] A-
  • What's Love Got to Do With It [Virgin, 1993] A-
  • Wildest Dreams [Virgin, 1996] Neither

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Acid Queen [United Artists, 1975]
Her rock myth reconfirmed cinematically, Tina quickly turns out two from the Who (only fair), two from the Stones (who else?), and one from Led Zep ("Whole Lotta Love," brilliant, I trust R. Plant has his big twelve-inch in a sling at this very moment). With bass lines lifted whole from the originals the singing almost doesn't matter. And what rocks most mythically? I. Turner's cleverly entitled "Baby--Get It On." B

Private Dancer [Capitol, 1984]
Her voice was shot even before she split with Ike, ten years ago now, and videotaped evidence belied the dazzled reports that filtered in from the faithful when she began her comeback, two and a half years ago now. Less than converted by her reverent reading of the Reverend Green's "Let's Stay Together," I noted cynically that the album lists four different production teams, always a sign of desperation. Which makes its seamless authority all the more impressive. The auteur is Tina, who's learned to sing around and through the cracks rather than shrieking helplessly over them, and who's just sophisticated (or unsophisticated) enough to take the middlebrow angst of contemporary professional songwriting literally. Also personally--check out how she adapts the printed lyrics of Paul Brady's "Steel Claw" to her own spoken idiom. A-

Break Every Rule [Capitol, 1986]
Charges that Tina has betrayed her precious heritage come twenty years too late--not since she and Ike reeled off five straight r&b top-tens between 1960 and 1962 has she pursued the black audience with any notable passion. Her benefactors of the late '60s were Phil Spector, Bob Krasnow, the Rolling Stones, and the Las Vegas International Hotel, where she and Ike were fixtures at the time of Elvis's comeback; their big numbers of the early '70s were the totemic rock anthems "Come Together" and "Proud Mary." That she should now realize the pop fabrications of white svengalis is just a couple more steps down the same appointed path, and she's damned good at it, even an innovator--Private Dancer remains the archetypal all-singles all-hits multiproducer crossover, and Whitney Houston should be so soulful. Unfortunately, the follow-up musters no archetypal crossover singles, and no totemic rock anthems either (Bryan Adams induces her to go metal, which is more than Bowie or Knopfler can claim). Fortunately, ranking svengali Terry Britten gets his own state-of-the-pop-art side. If he and Tina can't convince you that rich people have feelings too, you're some kind of bigot for sure. B+

Tina Live in Europe [Capitol, 1988]
Almost two hours of double-LP, with an extra half of covers on cassette and CD, and not as pointless as you think. It's interesting to hear songs originally crafted for 64-track crossover streamlined or steamrollered by the gruffly inexorable forward motion of a crack road show, and sometimes--a "Break Every Rule" with that live elle-sait-quoi followed by a sharply funky "I Can't Stand the Rain," or most of side three, from Pickett parlay to Cray and Clapton cameos to the inevitable "Proud Mary"--there are transformations or revelations. Then there's the Bryan Adams cameo. And before that there are the David Bowie cameos--two of the ugly things. B

Foreign Affair [Capitol, 1989]
Crossing Josephine Baker and Grace Jones in a magisterially self-possessed style of "blackness," Tina's a full-fledged superstar in Europe. In the U.S. she's more like Ray Charles or Tony Bennett--her iconic clout is heaviest when she's selling products other than her own expertly sultry recordings. And since chances are Plymouths make her just as hot as romantic sensuality, maybe this is as it should be. B-

Simply the Best [Capitol, 1991]
With its hyperstylized soul and dominatrix shtick, Tina's pop-queen phase is recommended to Madonna fans who fancy a more serious grade of schlock. Except on straight love songs, which are rare, her production values will titillate your sensorium even if you're not in the mood--the dream hooker of Mark Knopfler's sexist fantasies come "true." A-

What's Love Got to Do With It [Virgin, 1993]
This respects literal chronology even less than the movie, which has her doing "Proud Mary" before Creedence released it. But there's a logic to the willy-nilly segues--in which, for instance, two glossily intelligent new products of her pop-diva phase, the thematic "I Don't Wanna Fight" and the pneumatic "Why Must We Wait Until Tonight?," flank B.B. King's 1964 "Rock Me Baby" and the Trammps' 1978 "Disco Inferno," neither of which has ever had her name on it before. In essence, she's reenacting her career as timeless myth, submitting every brilliant exploit and humiliating compromise to the unmatched lust and lustre of her 54-year-old pipes. She's never sounded more beautiful or more alive. Or more enigmatic--it's as impossible as ever to glimpse what she might be like in "real life," or even to pin down an artistic appeal that at this point seems to inhere in the raw fact of her survival. As for the sex, it's more abstract and calculated than ever. And right--love has nothing to do with it. A-

Wildest Dreams [Virgin, 1996] Neither