Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band [extended]

  • Mongrel [Capitol, 1970] C+
  • Smokin' O.P.'s [Palladium, 1972] C+
  • Back in '72 [Palladium/Reprise, 1973] B
  • Seven [Palladium/Reprise, 1974] B+
  • Beautiful Loser [Capitol, 1975] B-
  • Live Bullet [Capitol, 1976] B
  • Night Moves [Capitol, 1976] A-
  • Stranger in Town [Capitol, 1978] B-
  • Against the Wind [Capitol, 1980] C+
  • Nine Tonight [Capitol, 1981] C+
  • The Distance [Capitol, 1983] C+
  • Like a Rock [Capitol, 1986] B

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Bob Seger System: Mongrel [Capitol, 1970]
Seger has a brain--you'll learn more about revolutionary youth from "Leanin on My Dream" than from John Sinclair, who has a walk-on in "Highway Child"--but you'd never guess it from his singing. He's one of these heavy guys who equates fake agony with real soul--wrote "Song for Rufus" to himself. C+

Bob Seger: Smokin' O.P.'s [Palladium, 1972]
Zippy title for an album of seven covers and two originals--O.P.'s is Midwestern butt-bummers' slang for Other People's. But for some reason Seger has cadged songs already covered definitively by such other o.p. as B.B. King, the Isley Brothers, the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones. Both his band and his voice sound a lot more adroit than they did last time he was caught smokin'. But who needs 'em? C+

Bob Seger: Back in '72 [Palladium/Reprise, 1973]
Much sharper covers (his "Midnight Rider" beats Cocker's) plus originals that ain't bad for tours 'n' tribulations--"Rosalie," to CKLW programmer Rosalie Twombley, is a stroke in more ways than one, and the details of a day on the road in "Turn the Page" actually make you feel sorry for the poor guy. Elsewhere he feels sorry for himself, which is not the same thing. B

Bob Seger: Seven [Palladium/Reprise, 1974]
Unbecoming for a seven-LP veteran to be stuck vocally at the adolescent outrage stage, midway between screech and scream, but he's learning--a high-speed Chuck Berry chant called "Get Out of Denver" kicks the whole first side into high gear. Glad too that he has his doubts about the upper-middle class, and that he's attracted to schoolteachers, including one he expects to know "20 Years From Now." He could be nicer to groupies, though. B+

Bob Seger: Beautiful Loser [Capitol, 1975]
In which he redeems the overexpressionistic "River Deep, Mountain High" (on Mongrel) with a funny version of "Nutbush City Limits" (a better song anyway) and writes his own "Katmandu" (roll over, Cat Stevens). And beyond that there's the title tune, which seems overunsarcastic to me. B-

Live Bullet [Capitol, 1976]
The impassioned remakes from Beautiful Loser on side one are what live doubles are supposed to be for, and this one is sparing with the cheerleading and calisthenics. In short, it's good of its kind. But I'm from New York, I see a lot of rock concerts, and even when I'm in the room it takes more than "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" and "Heavy Music" and refurbished songs from a guy's last album to get me excited. B

Night Moves [Capitol, 1976]
I've never had much truck with Seger's myth--he's always struck me as a worn if well-schooled rock and roll journeyman, good for one or two tracks a year. But this album is a journeyman's apotheosis. The riffs that identify each of these nine songs comprise a working lexicon of the Berry-Stones tradition, and you've heard them many times before; in fact, that may be the point, because Seger and his musicians reanimate every one with their persistence and conviction. both virtues also come across in lyrics as hard-hitting as the melodies, every one of which asserts the continuing functionality of rock and roll for "sweet sixteens turned thirty-one." In one of them, the singer even has his American Express card stolen by a descendant of Ronnie Hawkins's Mary Lou, if not Mary Lou herself. Worrying about your credit rating--now that's what I call rock and roll realism. A-

Stranger in Town [Capitol, 1978]
This isn't just an honest, rough-and-ready craftsman reverting to form, because he's trying to repeat an inspired, uncharacteristically precise success. So he sounds phony at times, desperate to inject drama into run-of-the-mill material that might work in a more fluid, less fraught-with-meaning live setting. Exception: "Feel Like a Number," in which the banal critique of quantification is renewed by Seger's measured intensity. B-

Against the Wind [Capitol, 1980]
Slow songs about sex and medium-rocking songs about sex contend with slow songs about love and medium-rocking songs about love. Title, concept, and follow-up single: slow song about the futility of life. Just in case you think he's "sold out" or some such. C+

Nine Tonight [Capitol, 1981]
I know they've been hit-filled--deservedly so, I once thought. But five years is a hell of a short time between live doubles. He speeds up the schlock and, it still sounds like schlock. He speeds up the deservings and they deserve yet again. C+

The Distance [Capitol, 1983]
I had filed this as unlistenable until the amazing tuneout power of "Roll Me Away" piqued me into determining why. The songs aren't half bad--adequate melodically and with moments of good writing. But Seger's romantic individualism is a little simpleminded, more late-outlaw than Bruce, and it's suffocated by overstatement. Almost any country singer could show him how to approach a cliché kinda easy like. In fact, with his connections Seger could probably get lessons from Willie himself. But with his taste he'd probably choose Waylon instead. C+

Like a Rock [Capitol, 1986]
The songwriting's sharper, but he's not. Whether their focus is personal ("Like a Rock"), social ("Miami"), or personal-as-social ("Tightrope"), all his evocations of this rock and that hard place add up to is high-grade soap opera. Between John Robinson's measured arena beat and Craig Frost's Bittanesque semiclassicisms, Seger comes on as a world-weary elder statesman, which is to say an incurable cornball. Transcending all this is "The Ring," the tale of a good marriage that didn't get it all, and too bad Bruce won't cover it. B