Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Millie Jackson

  • Millie Jackson [Spring, 1972] B+
  • It Hurts So Good [Spring, 1973] B
  • Millie [Spring, 1974] B-
  • Caught Up [Spring, 1974] A-
  • Still Caught Up [Spring, 1975] B+
  • Free and in Love [Spring, 1976] B+
  • Feelin' Bitchy [Spring, 1977] B
  • Lovingly Yours [Spring, 1977] C+
  • Get It Out'cha System [Spring, 1978] B+
  • Live and Uncensored [Spring, 1979] A-
  • A Moment's Pleasure [Spring, 1979] B+
  • For Men Only [Spring, 1980] B
  • I Had to Say It [Spring, 1980] B
  • Live and Outrageous [Spring, 1982] B+
  • E.S.P. [Spring, 1984] B-
  • Totally Unrestricted! The Millie Jackson Anthology [Rhino, 1997] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Millie Jackson [Spring, 1972]
Producer Raeford Gerald's "My Man, a Sweet Man" and "I Miss You Baby" are as melodically upbeat as Jackson's own "Ask Me What You Want," and she delivers a ghetto sermon so unfashionably judgmental it makes me want to shout amen just to be contrary. But most of the rest is so nondescript that even Jackson's big, rough, tremendously vital voice can't bring it to life. Marginal. B+

It Hurts So Good [Spring, 1973]
A hint of concept brings the tracks on this album together--on side one she's playing up to her man, while on side two she's playing around--and the production mixes (alternates, really) Holland-Dozier-Holland and Norman Whitfield, with guest Brad Shapiro adding the occasional modernism, all of which makes for instructive contrasts with Jackson's definitely unsubtle attack. But if there isn't a bad track on the record, there isn't a compelling one either, and in pop that's the kiss of obscurity if anything is. B

Millie [Spring, 1974]
On stage, her dress, demeanor, and delivery put across a hooker's street toughness a lot more daring than the stage toughness of Tina Turner or Laura Lee. On record, though, she remains one more funkier-than-average but basically anonymous mama. She doesn't even know what to call this album--it's Millie in the notes, (big caps) Millie (small caps) Jackson on the cover, Millie Jackson on the spine, and I Got to Try It One More Time on the label. I guess I'd prefer she try it one more time myself. B-

Caught Up [Spring, 1974]
Jackson rights the flaws of a promising career with this concept album about infidelity. The other woman starts an eleven-minute version of "If Loving You Is Wrong" by talking big, briefly allows herself some typical other-woman complaints, reasserts her independence, then suddenly finds her predicament untenable. She gets better lines than the wife's, which are on side two, but any artist sharp enough to cut through the overstatement of Brad Shapiro (production) and Bobby Goldsboro (one lyric) won't let that ruin her record. If you liked Quadrophenia (or still recall "A Quick One"), you have no excuse for not liking this. A-

Still Caught Up [Spring, 1975]
Jackson's specialty--the funky truth about husbands, wives, and other women--is worth this sequel. As with Caught Up, she has her theme in control about eighty percent of the time, and her tone has become even nastier. But since she no longer has the advantage of surprise, her stridency is beginning to seem a little forced. B+

Free and in Love [Spring, 1976]
The songs aren't getting any stronger, bad news for a concept artist who's slowly running out of concept. But "Feel Like Making Love" (Bad Company's, not Roberta Flack's--score one for Millie), "A House for Sale," and Clarence Reid's super-funky "Do What Makes the World Go Round" combine with a terrific dramatic monologue about scoring at a party and a tour de force demonstration of sexual noises to push this one over the line. B+

Feelin' Bitchy [Spring, 1977]
Fuck this ten-pop-tunes shit, Millie says. Almost literally--the FCC will not approve. She's appealing more explicitly to her black audience, too, and has apparently returned to concepts--or rather, messages, two of them. The second side says "Don't cheat" and the first side says "Eat pussy." The first side is definitely more fun. B

Lovingly Yours [Spring, 1977]
Her third consecutive nasty album having stiffed, she makes nice, and boy does she sound bored--a song called "Body Movements" and she barely raises an eyebrow. C+

Get It Out'cha System [Spring, 1978]
As a convinced monogamist, I've always approved of Millie's no-shit shtick--there's a lot more commitment to love and marriage in her acerbic skepticism-going-on-cynicism than in the old escapist fantasies or the new therapeutic bromides. Still, shtick does wear out, so I'm happy to report that "Why Say You're Sorry" is her sharpest lyric in years and "Logs and Thangs" her funkiest monologue. Also, the title tune has a line about bosses that should raise class consciousness a notch. B+

Live and Uncensored [Spring, 1979]
Millie was made for live albums, as the rap-and-belt format of her studio work suggests, and the drama here, with its raunchy audience interplay, is at least as natural as anything she's ever devised for vinyl. Her timing keeps getting sharper, her voice keeps getting bigger, the songs amount to a best-of, and you also get a monologue about soap operas and the "Phuck U Symphony." Certainly her best since the Caught Up diptych, and probably definitive. A-

A Moment's Pleasure [Spring, 1979]
If only because it's so patently unlikely to result in dancefloor hits, the arrant discofication is annoying at first--these songs don't need David Van De Pitte's clamorous strings and horns or bass lines that pine for a kick-drum. But Brandye's back-ups add extra nuance to Jackson's ever subtler singing, and Clayton Ivy's guitar obbligatos insure a flow her declamatory approach often lacks. What's more, the disco touches lend Millie's bawdy moralism special relevance to the latest arena of modern hedonism. If only her lyric on "Seeing You Again" didn't sound like an ad for Eastern Airlines I'd be convinced she was above gross hedonism herself. B+

For Men Only [Spring, 1980]
This starts with a bang--Millie's unemployed husband hits her. And for a while she runs with it, giving no quarter to either side in the sexual war. But then the plot blurs over into an ill-conceived affair that only heats up when Millie says no. She's very good at saying no. She's not such a hot ballad singer. B

I Had to Say It [Spring, 1980]
Who better to do a rap parody--a damn funny one first few times through, closes with MJ invited into the KKK. I like the infidelity-on-the-road piece, too, and note that much of side two--"I Ain't No Glory Story," the Philip Mitchell duet, "Ladies First" (and you'd better last)--tops For Men Only. But either Millie's growing weary of her shtick or we are--she sounds bone tired. B

Live and Outrageous [Spring, 1982]
Because her dirty mouth is more purely a shock effect than most pop concepts, it's sure to lose its zing for the audience even if Millie stays interested, which according to her last few studio albums she hasn't. But this one-volume follow-up to 1979's live double is also a de facto best-of, claiming the pop classic "This Is It" from Kenny Loggins and the pop throwaway "Passion" from Rod Stewart as well as preserving for posterity at least one rap that makes me squirm, and I don't squirm easy. B+

E.S.P. [Spring, 1984]
It stands for extra-sexual persuasion, but that's not what it means--it means he knows where her hot spots are. This is doubly inappropriate because Millie seems sick of sex. She's still convincing when she parodies sexercise or does her on-the-make impression or pleads a generic headache, but the preposterous "Slow Tongue" is obviously just the faked orgasm that follows the faked foreplay of the title cut. And since South Africa, she's somehow lost her feeling for the slow sermons that used to save her bleep. B-

Totally Unrestricted! The Millie Jackson Anthology [Rhino, 1997]
Maybe the reason rock fans have never gotten this brassy, bawdy, moralistic yenta isn't that she's too black but that she's too country--starting with 1974's Caught Up, she's adapted a powerful yet not finally distinctive delivery to half-spoken sexual-domestic minidramas that still sell tickets in the South, often as fully scripted theater pieces. Of course, I mean country in worldview, not geography. The implicit locale here is the kind of black lower-middle class neighborhood that takes another hit with each new "economic downturn"--in bed as everywhere else. Jackson describes this world as if she's internalized Billie Holiday on God blessing the child. She's not nice or even all that compassionate about it. She's just strong, convinced that good feelings have to be stored up against times of trouble like everything else. A-

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]