Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mike Nesmith & the First National Band [extended]

  • Magnetic South [RCA Victor, 1970] B
  • Loose Salute [RCA Victor, 1970] B+
  • Nevada Fighter [RCA Victor, 1971] C+
  • Tantamount to Treason Volume 1 [RCA Victor, 1972] C
  • Compilation [Pacific Arts, 1977] B+
  • Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma [Pacific Arts, 1979] B-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Magnetic South [RCA Victor, 1970]
"I love it here on the range," the Smart Monkee yodels, but then he adds that he'd "love it more if it changed," which sums up his country-rock synthesis quite nicely. I don't know if he's serious about this "free from euphemisms and alive with their own emotions" stuff he writes about in the notes, but one reason I like his songs is that they never seem to mean exactly what they say--even "Joanne," which could be covered by Paul Butterfield or Linda Ronstadt or somebody, partakes of the bemused natural distance that saves his more aimless experiments from getting lost. B

Loose Salute [RCA Victor, 1970]
In which Nesmith continues his transmutation into Gram Parsons for television fans, or the Jimmy Rodgers of Sunset Strip. I'm beginning to suspect that he takes his meandering thoughts and marble columns in the sky more seriously than they deserve. But his songwriting gifts are at a peak on this amalgam of gimmicks and mannerisms, long-vowel articles and near-yodels and electronic excursions and alien rhythms. At its best, sublime schlock; at its worst, downhome kitsch. B+

Nevada Fighter [RCA Victor, 1971]
This begins perfectly, with Nes fleeing the "Grand Ennui" (which I heard as "Opry" first time). And continues honorably with "Propinquity (I've Just Begun to Care)" (the Stone Poneys tribute). And then falls flat on its face with three vacant originals and a side of moderately well-chosen but extremely unnecessary covers. Nesmith just isn't a strong enough singer for such stuff--makes you think he got his gig through connections. C+

Mike Nesmith & the Second National Band: Tantamount to Treason Volume 1 [RCA Victor, 1972]
The good original is willfully weird. So are the bad ones. So is the good cover. The bad covers are just bad. Volume 1, eh? C

Michael Nesmith: Compilation [Pacific Arts, 1977]
Nesmith began his career on RCA as a crackpot inventor and ended as a bankrupt cottage industry. The title of his final RCA LP, And the Hits Just Keep On Coming, was more wishful than sarcastic, which is why he's seen to its reissue, as well as that of Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, another pretty much standard country-song sampler. Seven of the twelve cuts on this compilation (another great title) come from those two albums. The side that concentrates on earlier stuff is an amazing contraption, one piece of zonked Nashville after another. The other side is a pretty much standard-plus display case. Among the missing: "The Grand Ennui," "Calico Girlfriend," "Mama Nantucket," "The Keys to the Car." B+

Michael Nesmith: Infinite Rider on the Big Dogma [Pacific Arts, 1979]
The Smart Monkee has turned into the Young Herb Alpert, rock's most successful artist-businessman. Pacific Arts, which he owns outright, has purchased his RCA masters for reissue and released albums by such artists as Charles Lloyd. It's also put out Nesmith's ghastly boxed audio-allegory-with-book The Prison, his desultory reputed cult album From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing, his live LP, and now this intelligent, hard-rocking item. What's not clear is whether the records make money--TV commercials are the company's staple. Though Nesmith hasn't sounded this good in years, there's a difference between the pop eccentric he's become and the country-rock eccentric he used to be--he's now a little behind the times instead of ahead of them. Still beats most of what the majors market as power pop. But the only necessity he conveys is a continuing compulsion to make music. And that's not sufficient. B-