Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Kassav' #5 [Celluloid, 1987] B+
  • Vini Pou [Columbia, 1988] B
  • Majestik Zouk [Columbia, 1989] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Kassav' #5 [Celluloid, 1987]
Like Senegalese mbalax and Zairean rumba, Antillean zouk has its schlocky tendencies--singing in Creole doesn't get all the French out of your system. So Celluloid's two U.S. Kassav' LPs, both from the early '80s, feature synthesizers and fancy horns and ladies going duh-do-do-do as well as hot polyrhythms and soul/calypso/rumba horns and the occasional catchy theme. Georges Decimus is pretty tuneless, closing one side with a drum piece that won't signify to anyone who doesn't know the difference between ti bwa and Saint Jean (they're both rhythms), and while Kassav' #5 is a lot catchier, I bet greatest hits plucked from the two dozen albums recorded by the band and its many offshoots would be a lot catchier than that. Saved by the schlock-like-it-oughta-be of "Anki Nou"--a quiet storm that crosses "A Whiter Shade of Pale" with "Maggot Brain." B+

Vini Pou [Columbia, 1988]
It's no more filler-proof than any other disco album, and though the production has gained depth, zouk didn't develop its studio rep because the brothers Decimus laid off the special effects. Nevertheless, this major-label debut is the latest, the longest and the easiest to find LP from the guys who invented world dance music. Probably the cheapest, too. But if you run across Kassav' #5 at a discount, go for it. B

Majestik Zouk [Columbia, 1989]
What this accomplished display of pop production values proves is that they're big in France because they speak French. With keyb hooks and basslines mixed way up, most of the tracks jump you like the radio. But the pretty-to-gritty voices have nothing intelligible to say to Anglos--nothing to grab the market share they have such designs on. And with average track length under four minutes, the groove ejaculates prematurely almost every time. B