Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Graham Parker

  • Howlin' Wind [Mercury, 1976] A
  • Heat Treatment [Mercury, 1976] A
  • Stick to Me [Mercury, 1977] A-
  • Another Grey Area [Arista, 1982] B
  • The Real Macaw [Arista, 1983] B+
  • The Mona Lisa's Sister [RCA Victor, 1988] C+
  • Human Soul [RCA Victor, 1989] C
  • Struck by Lightning [RCA, 1991] Dud
  • Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker [Dakota, 1994] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Howlin' Wind [Mercury, 1976]
Parker builds his white r&b of such familiar materials that it takes awhile for the songs to sort themselves out, but their fury is unmistakable--in the time-honored English manner, bass and drums play the house-rocking rhythms of Chicago and Detroit for righteous anger rather than good-time escape. Then songs come clear, marred at times by the white bluesman's chronic romanticism of the blood--"Gypsy Blood," to be precise--but so passionate that every personal animus takes dead aim at the great world. Parker's "strange religion/Without any God" may well be himself. But when he instructs the Lord not to ask him questions, he doesn't extend the prohibition to Graham Parker. A

Heat Treatment [Mercury, 1976]
Parker doesn't just have the makings of a major artist, he is one. Because his more reflective and/or accusatory tendencies here show up his rather narrow timbral and melodic range, this isn't quite as engaging as Howlin Wind. Even the verve of the Rumour's arrangements and Parker's deft and pithy way with vernacular speech don't entirely redeem "Black Honey" or "Help Me Shake It." But the sound is a lot fuller, and the defiance in the face of social collapse more bracing as a result. A

Stick to Me [Mercury, 1977]
This is indeed a disappointment. The production is muddy, the female chorus an excrescence, and "The Heat in Harlem" vapid and overblown. But it's not as depressing as the faithful believe. Sure, I'll probably put on Howlin Wind or Heat Treatment when I feel like hearing Parker--unless I just have to hear one of these songs, most of which eventually implanted themselves in my subconscious just like the others. A-

Another Grey Area [Arista, 1982]
Mixed success isn't becoming to Parker, who can no longer blame his bad personality on unemployment. By replacing the Rumour with studio regulars, he's lost the edgy drive that used to help his bitterness cut through, and his revitalized melodic craft only takes him so far--if hooks don't justify kneejerk sentimentality, they don't justify jerkoff paranoia either. B

The Real Macaw [Arista, 1983]
In which Parker finally justifies his abandonment of rock and roll outcry for self-referential studiocraft by more or less acknowledging the private sources of his bitterest protests. The male chauvinism he mocks in the opener is almost certainly his own, and the love he can't take for granted right afterwards is probably his wife's, which in the end proves more durable than he's afraid it will. That's why he's glad to have a glass jaw, why he's advised to ignore everything that sounds like chains, and why except for one misplaced complaint side two is a happy-to-ironic-to-credibly-sappy paean to a marriage that has lasted--talk about your miracle a minute--one whole year. B+

The Mona Lisa's Sister [RCA Victor, 1988]
No rocker this sarcastic has any right (I didn't say business, though who knows what bizzers see in him at this late date) coming on so relaxed, and no rocker this relaxed has any right coming on so sarcastic. Add 'em up and you got smug. Cover: "Cupid." Auxiliary art reference: Bosch. Now are you impressed? C+

Human Soul [RCA Victor, 1989]
Latest objects of his bottomless rancor: sugar, hamburgers, mailman (black). But not his lost youth--his lost youth makes him feel all gushy inside. C

Struck by Lightning [RCA, 1991] Dud

Graham Parker's Christmas Cracker [Dakota, 1994] Dud

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]