Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Pazz & Jop Preview

Handicappers take note--it's Consumer Guide's annual Pazz & Jop Preview. Which ones finished, which ones should have, and which one are my own self-indulgent eccentricities? A week from now you'll know.

BABYFACE: A Collection of His Greatest Hits (Epic) Forget R. Kelly if you can get him to bug off already--when it all comes down, Kenny Edmonds will be remembered as the most interesting love man of our era. Only females of a certain mindset can be expected to sit still for all his palaver, but he's got a hell of a line. Duplicating but three tracks from his superb worstseller The Day, this is the distillation of woman-friendly romanticism; there's even a song that accurately and effectively deploys the jargon term "abused." The new one he didn't write advances instantly to the head of his repertoire: "Poured one for you but I drank that too," laments the bereaved wino-in-progress. The new one he did write lacks a killer hook. But is it ever outspoken about fortysomething males who leave their wives primping at home. A MINUS

BADLY DRAWN BOY: The Hour of Bewilderbeast (XL) Damon Gough sounds a lot sadder than he is. It's more like he muses a lot, is easily distracted. On the page, "You left your shoes in the tree with me/I'll wear them to your house tonight" looks hopelessly stupid; on record, it's quite wry. Nor is he undemonstrative--unlike low-affect codependent Elliott Smith, he fusses so much over his tunes, crooning and seguing and arranging and stuff, that you know he loves them to death. You can imagine him being just as nice to a real live girl one of these years. A MINUS

EMINEM: Fucking Yzarc (bootleg) No connoisseur of commercially illicit music, I neglected to seek this out when it surfaced last summer and ended up taping a borrowed one, though I'm sure the Napster-literate could burn something similar. We've all heard some of this music, but having the guest shots compiled here on one longform cements what a nonstop force he is. "Stan" or no "Stan," he's a rhymer not a storyteller, an inspired free-associater who like so many rappers loves rhyme as raw technical device and finds fresh sonic material in a self-renewing English language hooked on celebrities, brand names, neologisms, code--and a world where "real" poets long ago distanced themselves from rhyme the way "real" composers distanced themselves from tune. Unlike such African American coequals as Mos Def or Aceyalone, he has no apparent metaphysical ambitions--he's a comedian and prankster whose own art mines the metaphysics of entertainment, a/k/a celebrity. He's totally ill here, more into sex, and smack up against Dr. Dre's or Missy Elliott's his flow rocks. Interscope: you got the juice. Market an improved version when Marshall Mathers falls off. A MINUS

HAGANS/BELDEN: Re-Animation Live! (Blue Note) In the studio, trumpeter Tim Hagans's integration of turntables and samples into jazz combo ended up subtly and fatally stiff and segmented. In concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the electrobeats and spoken-word overlays sound like parts of an organism. Think '70s Miles only tamer, a model many will pick up on. B PLUS

KHEVRISA: European Klezmer Music (Smithsonian Folkways) The idea of klezmer as goodtime music makes every bit as much sense as the idea of polka as goodtime music. Obviously that's the main thing both are supposed to be. Only goodtime musics happen to be a passion of mine, and there are plenty that do the deed better. So the klezmer that moves me generally has spiritual ambitions. With Klezmatics violinist Alicia Svigals relegated to second fiddle by leader Steven Greenman, this American ensemble performs original-instrumentation suites designed for rich people's weddings a century ago. Never a repertoire that took celebration to unseemly extremes, by now it partakes of a classical civility that packs just the charm to soothe a plebe with no passion for civility. A MINUS

KRS-ONE: A Retrospective (Jive) Listening to this selection bound all over his vast corpus, you're struck by two things. First, even striding off a Blondie sample he wouldn't have stooped to in his proud twenties, he always sounds like himself. Second, he never sounds like anyone else of much moment--except Run-D.M.C., called out on the early "South Bronx." His musical forthrightness has no modern-day parallels--Gang Starr are scatmen by comparison, the N.O. Bouncers parademasters. How much impact the right voice and beat could make back in the day--and still can, especially boiled down to stark strokes that stick in the mind. To hear "South Bronx," "The Bridge Is Over," "Criminal Minded," "Black Cop," the sociologically perfect and metaphysically weird "Love's Gonna Get'Cha," and the bullheaded history lesson "Why Is That?" all in one place is to learn that sometimes all a man needs to make great music is an idea he believes in. A MINUS

LYRICIST LOUNGE VOL. 2 (Rawkus) The first volume documented a fertile institution of zero political correctness and endless creativity, but because it's hard to catch live improvisation on the fly, it was longer on feel than on legible music. The follow-up takes off from 16 high-flying bars of 1993 Biggie, then proceeds to the studio to prove how much competitive freestyling has meant to New York hip-hop. Name producers and star collaborations abound, and informing them all is a mindset few official guardians of black pride would approve--not just that good art needn't forswear violence, but that in this community it can't. Even moralists Dead Prez and Talib Kweli praise their pistols, as weapons of political struggle and self-protection, and not always against the white man--they know Prodigy, Kool G Rap, and M.O.P. aren't so circumspect, know it because that's the life they're living and know it because all three soon say so. Mos Def sums things up by rhyming in the voice of that boyfriend Macy Gray committed murder for. The two of them make it sound like fun. A MINUS

M.O.P.: Warriorz (Loud) Ooh, Eminem, scary. You want a rap record to terrify your ass, how about one with a street anthem about robbing niggaz? Socially redeeming characteristic: will discourage young African American men from wearing jewelry. Billy Danze is the coarse-grained DMX bellower with the crazy laugh, Lil' Fame his rugged sidekick. Wielding brazen, unrelenting samples, they attack like a firing squad on a spree, with a fierce joy Guns N' Roses would abjure hard drugs for. As is no secret, I hate gangsta rap--hate its smugness, its brutality, its cool, its lies, its contempt for the ordinary, its failure to provide role models for young African American men. But this specimen convinces me that, sometimes, thugs have more fun--get large in the ways that matter by shitting on anybody they fucking feel like. I scoff at "guilty pleasures," too. Pleasure is nothing to feel guilty about. This may be. A MINUS

SUN RA AND HIS ARKESTRA: Greatest Hits (Evidence) The solid heads and well-schooled solos of John Gilmore, Marshall Allen, and the former Herman Blount are avant-trad at its most accessible, but note that the melodic panjazz swing showcased here is far more human-sounding and heartbeat-anchored than the children of Star Wars and videogames expect of "easy listening for intergalactic travel." Orbital fans out to slake their craving for strange should make room in their budget for one of the DIY albums where these 18 nonhits began. I'm a Lanquidity fan myself, but remember--I've always liked Agharta too. B PLUS

RADIOHEAD: Kid A (Capitol) I guess the fools who ceded these bummed-out Brits U2's otherwise uncontested world's-greatest-rock-band slot actually did care about what bigger fool Thom Yorke had to say as well as how he made it sound. Why else the controversy over this bag of sonics? Me, I'm so relieved Yorke's doing without lyrics. Presaging too damn much but no more a death knell for song than OK Computer was for organic life, this is an imaginative, imitative variation on a pop staple: sadness made pretty. Alienated masterpiece nothing--it's dinner music. More claret? A MINUS

Dud of the Month

DR DRE: Dr. Dre--2001 (Aftermath/Interscope) It's a New Millennium, but he's Still S.L.I.M.E. How Eminem survived all the misogyny conditioning to grow into the sensitive spouse we know today I'll never understand. A "family man" when he's explaining why he fled the 'hood, on the very next track Dre drips contempt for the wife he's dogging and the other husband's wives he's sodomizing--apparently because his real-life wife told him that would be commercial, rendering him a liar more ways than Eminem himself could comprehend. For an hour, with time out for some memorable Eminem tracks, Dre degrades women every way he can think of, all of which involve his dick ("the whole eight," as this master of poetic license puts it). Best friend S. Dogg, bad speller Kurupt, and Dat Ho Ms. Roq are among the hangers-on who'll take his (really Eminem's) money when (and if) he writes the check. And just when you thought it was safe to discard your vomit bag he goes out on a tearjerker about a dead homey. Wottan innovator. C

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

  • Queens of the Stone Age, R (Interscope): masters of unreality ("Feel Good Hit of the Summer," "Monsters in the Parasol")
  • Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars, Di Shikere Kapelye (Piranha import): "Band of Drunks" revisited--the Jewish equivalent of nouveau honky tonk ("A Shiker Iz A Bloyzer-Shpiler [A drunk is a brass-player]," "Lekhaim, Efraim [Cheers, Frank]")
  • Beenie Man, Art and Life (VP/Virgin): hip hop plus salsa plus r&b plus more r&b equals pure reggae crossover ("Analyze This," "Girls Dem Sugar")
  • Tricky, Mission Accomplished (Anti-): four tracks not market-friendly enough to convince me "PolyGram" offed him for being a "fucking nigger" ("Divine Comedy")
  • Talib Kweli & Hi Tek, Reflection Eternal (Rawkus): "Anybody can tell you how it is/What we puttin' down right here, this is how it is, and how it could be" ("Eternalists," "For Women")
  • Kool Keith, Matthew (Funky Ass): "Tell your a&r and his wife to get out of my fucking life" ("I Don't Believe You," "Extravagant Traveler")
  • Primal Scream, XTRMNTR (Astralwerks): to hell in a cybercar ("Kill All Hippies," "MBV Arkestra [If They Move Kill 'Em]")
  • The Dandy Warhols, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia (Capitol): dandies have feelings too--no, strike that, tunes too ("Shakin'," Godless")
  • Xzibit, Restless (Loud): a tough guy explains himself ("Best of Things," "Sorry I'm Away So Much," "F****n' You Right")
  • Bamboozled (Motown): ain't nobody here but we chickens (Prince, "2045 Radical Man"; Stevie Wonder, "Misrepresented People")
  • Peter Tosh, Live at the One Love Peace Concert (Koch): more politics than Bob or Bunny, and here's where they got him beaten within an inch of his life ("Speech," "Legalize It/Get Up, Stand Up")
  • Eminem, The Freestyle Album (bootleg): just illin'--rhymes 'n' beats, some worked out over multiple takes and then released elsewhere ("15-27 Freestyles," "8-13 Freestyles")
  • The Blackbook Sessions (Galapagos4): up against a rap underground this brainy, no wonder Chitown's white bohos "feign" shallowness (Anacron, "Be Where? [Beware!]"; Offwhyte, "Easy Speak")
  • Kittie, Paperdoll EP (NG/Artemis): learning to yowl, live ("Spit," "Suck")
Choice Cuts:
  • Aimee Mann, "Ghost World" (Bachelor No. 2, SuperEgo)
  • Coldplay, "Yellow," "Don't Panic" (Parachutes, Nettwerk America)
  • Lexxus, "Ring Mi Cellie" (Mr. Lex, VP)
  • Blaque Featuring Joey Fatone, Jr., "As If"; Daphne & Celeste, "U.G.L.Y." (Bring It On, Play-Tone/Epic/Sony Music Soundtrax)
  • D.D. Jackson, "Anthem" (Anthem, RCA Victor)
  • Richard Ashcroft, Alone With Everybody (Virgin)
  • DJ Assault, Off the Chain for the Y2K: Volume Six (Intuit-Solar)
  • Doves, Lost Souls (Astralwerks)
  • Meet the Parents (DreamWorks)
  • Prodigy of Mobb Deep, H.N.I.C. (Loud)
  • The Sea and Cake, Oui (Thrill Jockey)

Village Voice, Feb. 13, 2001

Jan. 23, 2001 Apr. 3, 2001