Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Way I Were

A casual, living-room look at one of rock's great, disturbing songwriters

Most juvenilia albums are arguments for abortion. Tom Waits, Steely Dan and Mr. Bob Dylan are just three of the titans betrayed by the belated delivery of their premature gestation. So there's wisdom in expecting nothing from these 1988-1991 demos by a Kansas-born, Hoboken, New Jersey-based singer-songwriter who earned a cult following with 1992's perfect Can You Fly. Only this time, wisdom proves to be cynicism. Long on strummed guitar and pro forma drums, the music here is so negligible it leaves extra room for songwriting looser than on his rigorously conceived official oeuvre. And the songs stick, from the wacked-out assertion that his honey isn't jailbait at the beginning to the one-riff battle against loneliness at the end.

Blender, Dec. 2004