Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

Those who suspect I'm picking on poor noble Peter Hofmann should switch to Harper's and The New Republic for definitions of culture. Those who believe I have racist attitudes toward Aryans should check out Additional Consumer News and supplement that information with a shot of my Aunt Mildred's sauerbrauten and potato dumplings.

STEVE ARRINGTON'S HALL OF FAME: I (Atlantic) Funk vocals are so cartoon-defined you'd figure the bassist to end up with the real band after the split. But it must have been Arrington's parts of Slave's collective compositions that made them stick. Here he proposes nothing less than to modulate the nasalities, glottal constrictions, and Mel Blanc raunch of Ohio playing into an emotionally integrated--soulful, as the expression goes--singing style. Funnier lyrics would make the task easier. Likewise funnier bass parts. B PLUS

RAY CHARLES: Wish You Were Here Tonight (Columbia) Two decades ago, on Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Charles transfigured pop, prefigured soul, and defined modern country & western music. This return to a symbolic Nashville (recorded in his own L.A. studio, natch, though unlike 1970's Love Country Style it leans more heavily on banjo-mandolin-steel than on Sid Feller's strings) celebrates his latest contract with yet another rehash of his jokey, deeply felt shtick. Not that it can't be great shtick. But he's always better off grabbing other people's classics than trying to create new ones from scratch, and I bet he's got publishing on three or four of the songs you never heard of. B

ERIC CLAPTON: Money and Cigarettes (Duck/Warner Bros.) The groove is as inspired as this crack band of blues 'n' boogie pros can make it--when Cooder, Lee, Dunn & Hawkins play their hearts out, mere professionalism (also mere boogie) gets left behind, and Clapton's guitar hasn't rung so crisp and clear since Layla. The drawback is that the music is the message, everything Clapton boasts he ("still") has "left to say" on "Ain't Going Down," his only notable new song. If blues power were my idea of God, I might feel a transcendent presence even so. But blues power in itself isn't even my idea of a foxhole. B PLUS

JOHNNY COPELAND: Make My Home Where I Hang My Hat (Rounder) At the outset Copeland identifies himself as a "Natural Born Believer," then applies himself to the bluesman's dilemma of making that belief come just as naturally to us. On his debut album, an all-star horn section and a quarter century of pent-up ambition put him over, but here he opts for the homey (and perhaps overfamiliar) spontaneity of his road band and instead gets horns and songs that sound half-dead until he mixes in some covers overdisc. B

DIVINYLS: Desperate (Chrysalis) The voracious readymade chords of this Australian quintet aspire more to rock than to rock and roll, but when you think about it, so do Joan Jett's. Christina Amphlett plays a town slut who's moving up in the world of sexual--and emotional--obsession, like Iggy Pop with a heart as big--and needful--as his dick. And on the Easybeats' "Make You Happy" she gets to the infantile root. A MINUS

DARYL HALL & JOHN OATES: H2O (RCA Victor) The bristling hookcraft and fussy funk of their crossover has never been more unmistakable, and neither has its small-mindedness. Only "One on One," the album's sole seduction song, breaks the waspish music into something bigger, and while their dispatches from the sex wars might gain heart if gender-reversed (women get partial lyric credit on no less than five of them) I just don't believe "Maneater" was conceived with Nona Hendryx in mind. B MINUS

JIMI HENDRIX: The Jimi Hendrix Concerts (Warner Bros.) After 12 years of posthumous barrel-scraping there really isn't all that much live Hendrix around, and this worthy but rarely compelling two-record set suggests a reason: what's available ain't that hot. Limited by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, never the world's greatest living rhythm section, this barrel-bottom houses Hendrix the heavy metal paterfamilias rather than Hendrix the nonpareil rock improviser (not that the two weren't sometimes the same). There've been more exciting versions of such highlights as "Hear My Train a Comin'" (on Rainbow Bridge), "Little Wing," and especially "Red House" (both on the criminally deleted Hendrix in the West). But "Are You Experienced" has never been noisier. B PLUS [Later]

PETER HOFMANN: Rock Classics (CBS) If all 10 selections were as hilariously wrong as "The House of the Rising Sun," which kicks off this chenu-wine Cherman heldentenor's bid for the unwashed market, it might qualify as a camp masterpiece. Instead it's merely dreadful, an object lesson in how poorly the technical paraphernalia of European good-and-beautiful serve American pop. You can hear why the effortless purity of Hofmann's three-octave range gets over with opera enthusiasts--Judy Collins would kill a whale for it. But "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has never sounded lovelier than in Simon & Garfunkel's original because their fragile harmonies underscore the modesty that makes the melody soar. And if not even Ray Charles could make much of "The Long and Winding Road," he also had the good sense to avoid "MacArthur Park" and "Nights in White Satin" altogether. What is it they're supposed to have over in Europe? Oh, I remember--taste. D

HOT CHOCOLATE: Mystery (EMI America) Maybe the reason Errol Brown's never broken through Stateside is the inscrutability that's always made him such a provocative pop figure--he gives you nothing to hold on to but the hook. And though his hooks have never been more abundant, I'm beginning to wish I knew why he took so much trouble. B PLUS [Later: B]

IMAGINATION: In the Heat of the Night (MCA) Most English disco albums project the music into a chrome-plated video-game "future"; this one conjoins it to a flesh-and-blood rock and roll "past." Sweeter and simpler--but no dumber--than their alienated-adolescent counterparts across the color line. Leee John and friends depict themselves on the cover as Flash Gordon-style gladiator-cosmonauts on an endless keyboard into space, but they're love men and almost soul men nevertheless, and one more hook as hypnotic as "Just an Illusion"'s would have every android from here to Triton making out on the couch. B PLUS

KATE & ANNA MCGARRIGLE: Love Over and Over (Polydor) Having reclaimed their equilibrium and resigned themselves to making their own music in their own place, the sisters come up with the rockingest album of their reluctant career, with Andrew Cowan's guitar a pervasive presence and Mark Knopfler himself sitting on one track. The effect is gratifyingly smart, tasty, and unforced, with every song perfectly articulated. But the equilibrium extends all too comfortably to the material itself--there's none of the wrenching luminosity of a "Mendocino" or a "Walking Song" or a "Bundle of Sorrow, Bundle of Joy." Which reminds us once again that careerism does have its artistic advantages. A MINUS

MISSION OF BURMA: Vs. (Ace of Hearts) Is it merely the cornball in me who wishes these stiff, snarling, abrasive rave-ups would break into anthem a little more often? After all, how much of a cornball can I be if I believe stiff, snarling, abrasive rave-ups would be just peachy if only they did--maybe even if the words connected for more than a line at a time. N.b.: departing guitarist Roger Miller wrote more than half the songs, and anthemic he ain't. What next? B PLUS

IGGY POP: Zombie Birdhouse (Animal) Granted artistic freedom by idealist entrepreneur Chris Stein after three albums of hard-rock self-formulization for bad old Clive Davis, the Ig comes up with the most experimental record of his career. Which sucks. Don't blame music-meister Rob duPrey, whose settings maintain stylistic continuity yet generate a certain theoretical interest of their own. Blame the slogans, social theory, in-jokes, bad poetry, and vocal dramaturgy he had to work with. B MINUS

LOU REED: Legendary Hearts (RCA Victor) If The Blue Mask was a tonic, the follow-up's a long drink of water, trading impact and intensity for the stated goal of this (final?) phase of Reed's music: continuity, making do, the long haul. The greatest songs on The Blue Mask honored the extremes he was learning to live without while "My House" and the like copped to the implicit sentimentality of his resolution. Here both ends approach the middle. "Legendary Hearts" and "Betrayed" clarify Reed's commitment by laying out the down side of romantic marriage; "Bottoming Out" and "The Last Shot" and the elegiac "Home of the Brave" excise melodrama from his waves of fear. Equally important, "Martial Law" and "Don't Talk to Me About Work" and the almost, well, liberal "Powwow" prove that sometimes his great new band is just a way for him to write great new songs, which is what his endurance had better be about in the end. A

ROXY MUSIC: Avalon (Warner Bros.) At its juiciest Bryan Ferry's romanticism has always seemed too arch and too sour, not to mention too juicy, which is why this minor triumph sounds mild or even dull at first: after all these years its sweet simplicity is unexpected. We've always known he recorded "These Foolish Things" in the fond hope that someday he'd believe it, and while I never will, I can enjoy his pleasure in the accomplishment. A MINUS

GIL SCOTT-HERON: Moving Target (Arista) With Malcolm Cecil coproducing, Scott-Heron's music comes back strong--the horns and rhythm are progressive funk as it was meant to be, Tower of Power without Vegas, dissonant and intricate and talky and natural. But the Caribbean inflections are compromised enough to suit a lyric that sounds commissioned by the Jamaican Tourist Board if not Edward Seaga himself, and while this album has plenty of good parts, they come together only on the side-openers: two on side one, one on side two. B

SLAVE: Visions of the Lite (Cotillion) Each side kicks off with a small bang and proceeds pleasantly enough, but Mark L. Adams's half of the band spells it like the beer for a reason--not enough body to make you rub your belly after the brew has gone down. B MINUS

TOTO: Toto IV (Columbia) Wish I could claim this millionaire Grammy-rock was totally pleasureless, but professionalism is rarely that neat. The fattest of all studio bands is almost as hooky as Shoes or the Ramones, and their production excesses at times betray verve, delight, even (though I must be mistaken) a sense of humor. But the lyrics are utterly forgettable, and the tone and spirit have nothing to do with rock and roll--unlike Thom Bell, to whom they've been rapturously compared in Billboard, they don't know the difference between slick and smooth, between hedonism and conspicuous consumption. At least Michael McDonald learned his shit from the real thing; Bobby Kimball and Steve Lukather learned theirs from McDonald. Still, for a band that crosses Chicago, Asia, and the Doobie Brothers, they have their glitzy moments. B MINUS

TRUE SOUNDS OF LIBERTY: Beneath the Shadows (Alternative Tentacles) Musically and verbally, TSOL stand between the high-school protest of L.A. neopunk and the collegiate lyricism of L.A. neopsychedelia. Wordwise this is half a disaster--their colors running into the sand are even less interesting than Black Flag's antiauthoritarian rant or the Dream Syndicate's postnarcissistic angst. It's only because of the lyric sheet that you notice, though--Jack Delauge yawps out catchphrases as passable as anybody's and pretty much garbles the rest. And while the musical synthesis isn't as formally sophisticated as that of the more fashionable new American sound bands, it's more direct, so robust and determined it blows all suspicions of nostalgia away. B PLUS [Later: B]

TRU FAX AND THE INSANIACS: Mental Decay (Wasp) So many indie LPs are as useless as the slimiest megacorp product that this near-miss from D.C. is worth remembering. Diana Quinn's fey feminism and David Wells's broken buzzsaw ride the flat garage rhythms as far as they'll go, which means their half-absurdist ditties work best when they're purely satirical. "Up in the Air" is the funniest (and archest) anti-Reagan song to date and "Washington" hits suburbia where it lives (for once). B

Additional Consumer News

Still discovering good (and better) EPs from 1982, but three of the very best are newer. Cool It Reba is more than another art band with a great rhythm section; like Pylon and the B-52's, they're fronted by a singer you remember--the slightly demented David Hansen, who adds muscle to (and subtracts camp from) Fred Schneider's sharp attack--and write songs you remember, four for four on their candid bid for wealth, fame, drugs, and wealth, (Hannibal). Falco's "Der Komissar"/"Auf der Flucht"/"Helden von Heute" (A&M) has it all over Trio for stoopid novelty hooks, and not just on the hit, which has inspired [ . . . ]

Village Voice, Mar. 29, 1983

Postscript Notes:

Missing jump, Continued on page 80.

Mar. 1, 1983 Apr. 26, 1983