Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

If the product processed below looks like old stuff, it is. Two of these records were released in 1978, four others in the winter and spring of 1979. Sometimes it takes me a while to catch up, that's all. And if a lot of the hot new stuff you're just waiting for my go-ahead on seems to be missing, stay tuned. I'll be taking care of as much as I can stand in the annual pre-Christmas Consumer Guide, coming to your newsstands all too fucking soon.

ASHFORD & SIMPSON: Stay Free (Warner Bros.) Not only is this token of tribute to the great god Disco notably less intense than the nonpareil Is It Still Good to Ya, it's notably less memorable than Send It, which offers three songs that beat anything here. Yet it's also the better record. How come? The great god Disco has bestowed upon them a groove. B PLUS

MOE BANDY & JOE STAMPLEY: Just Good Ol' Boys Featuring "Holding the Bag" (Columbia) Bandy and Stampley, honchos of the hard-assed nouveau honky-tonk style that is Nashville's answer to Texas outlawism, tend to sound pretty dolorous as solo artists. Bandy is still obsessed with cheating as both doer and done; Stampley's more cheerful, but as an ass man of the sincere-if-bearded school he spends a lot of time singing persuasive ballads. Like most country albums, theirs are spotty; recent song titles include "To Cheat or Not to Cheat" and "I Don't Lie," and those are highlights. As a duo, though, they whoop and holler and get hairy, lie to each other's wives and trade wedding rings for outboard motors. The material is still spotty, but since it's always Friday night they can shout right through the spots. All of which goes to show that male bonding is more likely to pick up the tempo than love and marriage. B

CHUCK BROWN AND THE SOUL SEARCHERS: Bustin' Loose (Source) Toward the end of 1978, these D.C. journeymen got lucky and hit the discos with the title track, which was very funk-soul for that disco moment. The album that resulted is almost like a field recording--a completely unpretentious document of what sort of originals a modestly gifted funk-soul dance band might be doing in 1978. There's even a salsa. Very likable. B PLUS

DIRE STRAITS: Communique (Warner Bros.) Boy, people are getting bored with these guys fast--if they don't watch out they're gonna last about as long as Looking Glass or the Lemon Pipers. Just another case of "substance" as novelty, I guess--doesn't sound bad, but they'd better up those beats-per-minute. B MINUS

FASHION: Product Perfect (I.R.S.) Order of topics on first side: consumerism, imperialism, racism, sociopathy, "rock culture," apathy (right-wing), apathy (left-wing). Sounds predictable but it isn't--all of these songs are based on post-Marcusian cliches sophisticated enough to get the average rock fan thinking hard, and some of them are based on post-Marcusian ideas sophisticated enough to get the average post-Marcusian thinking hard. Sounds unmusical but it isn't that either--the singing is clever and impassioned, the punkish, futuristic reggae-synthesizer fusion often catchy and always apt. If only I were a post-Marcusian myself I'd be in heaven. And a second side as good as the first might convert me. A MINUS

MERLE HAGGARD: Serving 190 Proof (MCA) Its impeccable simplicity and sensitivity of its vocal and instrumental musicianship gives this album an autumnal feel reminiscent of recent comebacks by Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. Granted, autumnal country music is easier to come by than autumnal rock and roll. But for Haggard, a mere 41 but feeling it, the effect is therapeutic--and that he's written a batch of wise songs to flesh it out. B PLUS [Later]

IJAHMAN: Haile I Hymn (Chapter 1) (Mango) I like the sweet sobbing gasp of the singing, but as a sympathizer with the reggae-all-sounds-the-same heresy I wish there were more than four tunes. Nor do I believe that Steve Winwood transforms the groove. In fact, his presence may indicate what's wrong. B MINUS [Later: B]

MICHAEL JACKSON: Off the Wall (Epic) In which fast-stepping Michael J. and quick-witted Quncy J. fashion the dance groove of the year. Michael's vocabulary of grunts, squeals, hiccups, moans, and asides is a vivid reminder that he's grown up, and the title tune suggests that maybe what makes Stevie Wonder (who contributes a good ballad) such an oddball isn't his genius or even his blindness so much as the fact that since childhood his main contact with the real world has been on stage and in bed. A MINUS [Later: A]

MILLIE JACKSON & ISAAC HAYES: Royal Rappin's (Polydor) The title is misleading--this meeting of the bullshitters is more groove than rap. Not that it's devoid of spoken vamps or pointed byplay--the joyful havoc they wreak on "Do You Wanna Make Love" transforms it from pap to aphrodisiac. But mostly it gives Millie a chance to get out of her bag and really sing, with Isaac playing the likable foil and the Muscle Shoals boys making it sexy. B PLUS

ELTON JOHN: Victim of Love (MCA) What's most depressing about this incredibly drab disc is that Elton's flirtation with Eurodisco comes a year too late. Even at his smarmiest, the man always used to be on top of the zeitgeist. D [Later: C-]

GEORGE JONES: My Very Special Guests (Epic) This collection of ten collaborations with outlaw old-timers, country-rock phenoms, Staples, Tammy, and someone named Elvis has its flops, as you might expect. But its quality has more to do with what's being sung than with who's singing it where. James Taylor, harmonizing from New York on his neo-classic "Bartender's Blues," sounds fine; Emmylou Harris, chiming in from El Lay on the lame "Here We Are," fares only slightly worse than Johnny Paycheck does on poor old "Proud Mary," which comes complete with made-in-Nashville interaction. Must-hears: "I Gotta Get Drunk," with Willie Nelson, and the amazing "Stranger in the House," which gives an unexpected clue about who taught Mr. Costello to sing. A MINUS [Later]

LATIMORE: Dig a Little Deeper (Glades) In seven solid, funk-rooted tunes this obdurate soul holdout portrays, in order, a long-suffering on-the-road monogamist, a stud on the prowl, a reluctant lay ("We got to hit if off before we get it on," he tells a "liberated woman"), a sentimental monogamist, a sex slave, a good lover (title tune), and a seducer of virgins (courtesy Rod Stewart). And convinces in all seven roles. Very impressive. But I don't believe I'll introduce him to my wife. B PLUS

MOLLY HATCHET: Flirtin' With Disaster (Epic) Some doctrinaire new wavers see the rapid success of this Jacksonville sextet as a reactionary portent, but as an old Skynyrd fan I can't get upset. They do boogie better than, let's see here, Missouri, Bama, Crimson Tide, .38 Special, Wet Willie, Atlanta Rhythm Section, or (mercy sakes) the Charlie Daniels Band. Really, they sound pretty good. Only one thing missing: ideas. C PLUS [Later]

RANDY NEWMAN: Born Again (Warner Bros.) This has more content and feeling than Little Criminals. But as with Little Criminals its highlight is a (great) joke--"The Story of a Rock and Roll Band," which ought to be called "E.L.O." and isn't, for the same reason supergroupie radio programmers have shied away from it. Hence, the content comprises ever more intricate convolutions of bad taste; rather than making you think about homophobes and heavy-metal toughs and me-decade assholes the way he once made you think about rednecks and slave traders and high school belles, he makes you think about how he feels about them. Which just isn't as interesting. B PLUS

GARY NUMAN & TUBEWAY ARMY: Replicas (Atco) Resistant as I am to the new strain of synthesizer punk now reaching us from England, I didn't connect to this for months--not until I listened to the singing. Numan's lyrics abound with aliens and policemen and pickups in what sounds at first like the worst sort of received decadence, but his monotone is too sweet and vulnerable for that impression to stick. To you it may be sordid sex and middlebrow sci-fi; to him it's romance and horror. The debut (Tubeway Army, Beggar's Banquet import) is faster, more pointed, and includes no instrumentals. This is catchier, more haunted, and includes two. A MINUS [Later: B+]

THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT: Eve (Arista) Musically, this is a step toward schlock that knows its name--a few smarmy melodies mixed in with the production values and synthesizer furbelows. Thematically, it's both sophomoric and disgusting--programmatic misogyny rooted in sexual rejections that were clearly deserved. Visually, it's sadistic--the three women on the Hipgnosis cover wear black veils that only partly conceal their scars, blotches and warts. What is it they stencil on street corners? Castrate art-rockers? D [Later]

BONNIE RAITT: The Glow (Warner Bros.) I suppose I should blame Peter Asher for how flat a few of these songs sound, but in fact I blame him only for pianist Don Grolnick, who single-handedly (well, actually I guess he used two) transforms the title cut from a cry of alcoholic despair to a self-pitying piece of hightone lounge schlock. She's never sounded better on the slow ones--Hayes-Porter's "Your Good Thing" is the killer--and her own "Standing by the Same Old Love" adds significantly to the pitiful store of rock songs about enduring sexual relationships. But I could stand some more rock and roll. B PLUS [Later]

BOBBY RUSH: Rush Hour (Philadelphia International) A lot of this is fun--I'm delighted to find Leon Huff collaborating with somebody with funk in his soul, and heartened to hear a protest song about the problem of lost keys. But a lot of it--the witless "Evil Is," the characterless "Hey, Western Union Man"--is dumber than Kenny Gamble. B MINUS [Later]

GARY STEWART: Gary (RCA Victor) The good sound is still there--those Jerry Lee vocals, that spare Nashville backup--but the good songs aren't. Jack Tempchin and Leroy Preston and Bill Payne try their hand, but the best thing here is by Dickey Betts, and Tanya Tucker has just covered it better. C PLUS

YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA (Horizon) Yeah yeah, I know, synthesizers are the electric guitars of the future--they're "progressive," just like all the Europop here. But what about the corny swing melodies? I mean, in between sound effects these guys sound the way Walter Carlos might if he worked a lot of interfaith weddings. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

A long overdue addition to RCA's Legendary Performers series is one by the Carter Family. They could write, pick, and sing; they were traditional and progressive, warm and austere. And their music sounds fresh 50 years after it was recorded. . . .

Sam Price's Rib Joint (Savoy twofer, $8.98 list) is a highly recommended collection of '50s r&b instrumentals. I'm so taken with the two sides that feature King Curtis's best-ofs that I'm inspired to seek out his Atco and Prestige best-ofs, but the other two give guitarist Mickey Baker a chance to stretch, which is also a boon. Now some Smithsonian type should get to work on a hits compilation featuring everyone from Lee Allen to Bill Doggett. . . .

Finaly some singles I can sink my hand into--all of them English, sad to say. "Electricity," by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Factory), a synthy dance number deejays like, is recommended to anyone who thinks 1979's answer to "Tel-Star" is worth three bucks. I prefer it to the current pop-muzik sensation, the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," already available on domestic Island, though I'll put on the Buggles' LP the day it comes out. For content I'll take the Mekons' "Work All Week" (Virgin), a catchy, compassionate song about a wedding ring that convinces me this could turn into a great band. Scritti Politti's "Skank Bloc Bologna" (St. Pancras) is more cerebral, one of those tuneful art-reggaes beloved of Brit post-Marcusians. Lighter but nicely satiric is "Happy Birthday Sweet 16" (not Neil Sedaka's)/"Our Movement" by Clive Pig and the Hopeful Chinamen (Waldo's). . . .

An ingratiatingly non-rigid no-wave project is the flexidisc packed in with the latest edition of No magazine and edition of No includes a previous edition of No and sells for 50 cents at "predictable retail outlets" or for a buck from Rick Brown, 346 East 13th Street, NYC 10003. . . .

Runner-up singles, all U.S., lead off with two surprisingly poppish discs from San Francisco, whose new wave has tended toward punk purism or futuristic electronics. Lou Microwaves' "I Don't Want to Hold You" (Time Recluse) is smooth, ultramodern synthesizer-plus-singer lyricism; Pearl Harbor and the Explosions' "Drivin"/"Release It" (415) tough, tuneful guitar rock. If the Ramones had it to do over they might make like Lester Bangs's old backup band, the Rattlers, who with help from Mitch Leigh's brother Joey R. have cut a resolutely cute but not entirely contentious cartoon about "Livin' Alone"/"On the Beach" (Ratso).

Village Voice, Dec. 3, 1979

Postscript Notes:

The line about No magazine is not perfectly legible on the photocopy, but it seems to have other problems as well. The last line is mucked up on the photocopy, but the two song titles later appeared on the Rattlers' album, Rattled.

Oct. 29, 1979 Dec. 31, 1979