Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

I don't know how many of you notice such things, but this month's CG runs six columns instead of five--at least, it did when I wrote this. This enables me to include a large accumulation of Additional Consumer News. Two months ago I didn't even get in all 20 items (omitted were Crosby/Nash C plus and Brubeck & Desmond C), and in the hope of completeness I will end this intro now. Will there be enough CG to fill six columns? I'm not sure. If you find news of a bake sale at P.S. 3 at the end of my musings, It'll be because there wasn't.

BAD COMPANY: Run With the Pack (Swan Song) This rocks better than anything these guys or Free ever made--the dynamics shift nicely, the tempos have picked up, and the album includes 10 (why, that's almost 11!) different tunes. What's more, Paul Rodgers is singing like a virtuoso, which in a way is the problem. It's not that the lyrics are dumb, although there are smarter ways of being dumb than this (cf Slade, or Free's "All Right Now"), but that Rodgers emotes these egregious hip-and-funky cliches as if he's never run across such sentiments before in his life. Ordinarily, that's what a singer should do. This time, though, it adds a false note that endangers the entire artifice. B [Later: B-]

BRASS CONSTRUCTION (United Artists) All disco bands sound alike--and if you've seen one ghetto you've seen them all, not to mention their residents, with their swarthy skin and flat (or is it hooked?) noses. Yeah sure. This specific disco band is black-identified, i.e., nonhustle/samba with lots of funk. It owes more lyrically to Gil Scott-Heron than to Barry White but evokes both and is candid to the point of wryness (and terseness) about using words primarily for musical color. I like the way the synthesized violins are timed and love the fanfare coda to "Love," my favorite cut. Great art it's not, but if you wore out your B.T. Express album you'll wear this out too. B MINUS [Later: B+]

JIMMY BUFFETT: Havana Daydreamin' (ABC) Undeniably, this romantic individualist has staked out his surf; perhaps it is because his utopian sunland is Florida (rooted in the South) rather than California (headed toward the Orient) that his songs are so adult, skeptical, and closely observed. He doesn't sentimentalize in any obvious sense--the outsiders he sings about (including himself) are neither pitiable victims nor complacent heirs of unacknowledged privilege. But when he essays some lyricism (about his grandfather, say, or the "so feminine" mandolin) he becomes totally mawkish, revealing a softheadedness that in the best Hemingway tradition he is careful to conceal most of the time. And upon close analysis this softheadedness extends even to his best lyrics--he is so intent on the day-to-day that he never cultivates an overview. Buffett is singing with new lustre and this avoids the generalizing that marred its predecessor, A1A. I can't bring myself to put it down. But I don't expect to be putting it on much either. B PLUS [Later: B]

NATALIE COLE: Inseparable (Capitol) Why has Natalie been selling so well? Simple: great voice. Why has it taken me so long to ascertain this? Simple: mediocre songs. B MINUS [Later: B]

DISCO-TREK (Atlantic) The one invaluable service performed by disco is that it gets more music out here. If it wasn't for this remixed collection of eight mostly rare "disco hits" I might never have heard Sister Sledge's "Mama Never Told Me" or the Valentinos' "I Can Understand It." And since the music isn't brand-new, its tone is more soulish than is the current disco norm, making this a more attractive black music sampler than any of Motown's Disco-Tech collections, for instance. Nevertheless, its hyped-up, punched-in feel is dispiriting, and the spliced-on instrumental riffraff (cuts average five minutes) is meant for the feet, not the ears. Social notes: Boers overrunning South Africa were history's most prominent trekkers. So how about calling this Disco-Tracks, folks? I won't even charge a creative consultant fee. B [Later]

DR. FEELGOOD: Malpractice (Columbia) The problem with pub-rock is that it never quite gets out of the pub. Despite their invaluable funk quotient, bands like Brinsley Schwarz and Ducks Deluxe lack the overweening talent that makes for consistently brilliant or theoretically exciting albums. This one offers several memorable originals ("Another Man" and "Don't Let Your Daddy Know") and worthy remakes ("I Can Tell" and "Riot in Cell Block #9"). But then there's the okay stuff--side two is a B side indeed, maybe B minus. and I can't help wondering whether a debut record that sounds like a more simplistic and stylized J. Geils Band doesn't portend ever increasing mechanization. B PLUS [Later: B]

LARRY GROCE: Junkfood Junkie (Warner Bros.) The single was a nourishing tidbit, but consumers had better beware of filler and artificial ingredients in the large economy size. C MINUS

MURRAY HEAD: Say It Ain't So (A&M) If mindless pap is your thing, this sure beats Eric Carmen. It's even slightly psychedoolic, and includes not a single Rachmaninoff cop. Hit single: "Say It Ain't So Joe." B [Later: B-]

HOT CHOCOLATE (Big Tree) I figured album number one, Cicero Park, might eventually sound prophetic if the group gave us any reason to get used to its eccentrically proper English soul style. "You Sexy Thing," the supersmash included hereupon, is the reason. And Cicero Park does indeed sound prophetic now. But I hope it was prophesying something slightly more eccentric and less proper than this. B [Later: B+]

RAY WYLIE HUBBARD & THE COWBOY TWINKIES (Warner Bros.) I've listened to the bracingly solid songs of this Austin mainstreamer two dozen times without once being tempted to turn them off. But there must be more to love than that. B

MICHAEL HURLEY: Have Moicy! (Rounder) Because he's listed first, I've assigned oh-teur status to Hurley, although the mizzenseen obviously belongs to Peter "Unholy Modal" Stampfel and Jeffrey "Clamtone" Fredericks as well. A dynamic trio. Hurley's sleepy LPs for Raccoon flaunted their homemade triviality, while the work of Stampfel (and Weber) for Prestige and Metromedia and Rounder managed to make music out of chalk scraping a blackboard--quite a feat, damn right, but not one I ever wanted to witness daily. This time, however, they combine with Fredericks for 13 homemade, chalky songs that renew American folk music, a bizarre apotheosis of the post-hippie estate. No losers, either--just loadsa laffs, a few tears, some death, some shit, a hamburger, spaghetti, world travel, etc. Available at many local record stores and most of the Manhattan biggies, or six bucks postpaid from Disconnection, Box 544, Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009. A [Later: A+]

KGB (MCA) Heavy horseshit. Carmine Appice, Rick Grech, Barry Goldberg, and Ray (the K) Kennedy don't make a supergroup any more than Jim Price (last espied trying to bury Joe Cocker) makes a superproducer (overproducer, maybe). As for Mike Bloomfield--well, he's deserved better ever since he left Butterfield, and there's obviously no reason to believe he'll ever go out and get it. D PLUS

LORETTA LYNN: When the Tingle Becomes a Chill (MCA) Like almost every country artist, Loretta is so inconsistent on album that greatest hits are usually advised, but this is her strongest since One's on the Way five years ago. Even "Rhinestone Cowboy" sounds okay, and who could stand to miss this admission by "the blue-eyed Indian squaw" in Lynn's own composition, "Red, White, and Blue": "The blue comes from the man I love/Because I did before I said I do"? B PLUS [Later: B]

LYNYRD SKYNYRD: Gimme Back My Bullets (MCA) Ronnie Van Zant may intend those bullets for "pencil pushers" (which means not only me but you, I'll bet) but that's no reason to shoot him down. In fact, it's just the opposite--his attraction has always been the way he gets his unreconstructed say. Unfortunately, the music could use some Yankee calculation--from Al Kooper of Forest Hills, who I figure was good for two hooks per album, and Ed King of New Jersey, the guitarist turned born-againer whose guitar fills carried a lot more zing than three doodooing Honnicutts. A MINUS [Later: B+]

CLEDUS MAGGARD & THE CITIZEN'S BAND: The White Knight (Mercury) Negatory, C.W. McCall. And back it down, Firesign Theatre. This tribute to the aural graffiti of the trucker's South is surrealism in everyday life for sure. B PLUS

MELISSA MANCHESTER: Better Days and Happy Endings (Arista) The lyric zaniness that justified her defensive overstatement and good cheer last time proves a flimsy virtue, collapsing beneath the weight of her own success. Maybe she only does want to make us happy, but that should make us sad. C MINUS

JOHN MAYALL: Notice to Appear (ABC) What a title--is that how he knew his trial by studio was due? Granted, the first side did almost convince me that Allen Toussaint could produce a seductive rock and roll album for anybody (except maybe James Cotton) (and Allen Toussaint). But then I listened to side two. C PLUS

THE OUTLAWS (RCA Victor) No truth-in-packaging awards here, but how about a cheer-and-a-half for the programming? Me, I find Waylon and Willie (and Tompall and Jessi) a little tedious over a whole side. This never gets boring. B PLUS [Later]

THE SWEET: Give Us a Wink (Capitol) An experiment that proves it is more aesthetically fruitful to veer toward Slade without a Noddy Holder than to veer toward Deep Purple without a Ritchie Blackmore. Science marches on. So does commerce. About art you can never be sure. C PLUS

JAMES TALLEY: Tryin' Like the Devil (Capitol) Something about this record as a whole is slightly off--maybe it's Talley's humorlessness, or maybe it's that his voice is much better suited to the startling talky intimacy of his first record than to the belting bravado with which he asserts his ambitions this time. But every song works individually, and an audacious concept--returning a consciously leftish analysis to the right-leaning populism of country music--is damn near realized. It belts good enough. A MINUS [Later]

Additional Consumer News

For a record company, greatest hits collections embody the wondrous principle of effortless profit. Pressing, packaging, distribution, and royalty costs persist, but the hassles and financial risks of production are gone and product recognition is assured. A parallel conservatism presumably motivates the people who buy them, which may be why last fall's LP charts were dominated by reruns of Chicago, America, Seals & Crofts and I forget who else. Which in turn is probably the reason we are currently flooded with best-ofs. When (note ascending order) Jethro Tull, Argent, Black Sabbath, and Uriah Heep repackages appear on the market, something is up. My advice in such cases is brief--the one good thing you can say about such groups is that they tried to justify an album aesthetic, but they didn't, and these ain't those albums anyway. Buddah's new Gladys Knight collection is a more complicated case--their albums are spotty, but so are their greatest hits (in a different way), so the "best of" selection is spotty too. I find this less true for the new Eagles set (a bargain for those who find them addictive on the radio) and not at all true of a most worthy endeavor, Leonard Cohen's best-of, which is recommended to all of you who never got around to buying one of his albums because they weren't that essential. . . .

Segue to a much different field, reissues, with the new Buddah twofer on the Isley Brothers. Rather irresponsibly, Buddah has let this ground-breaking black music from the early '70s go out of print, but the new set is the best and most economical selection of it ever available. More qualified praise to the Buddah Lovin' Spoonful twofer--very sloppily put together, but the only Spoonful you can buy. I wish Greg Shaw had programmed all of Del Shannon's hits on one side (like on my defunct Dot LP), but his Sire twofer represents a decisive improvement in sound quality and some of the minor stuff ain't so bad. Pye's new Kinks anthologies are purposeless while Reprise's Kinks' Greatest Hits and Kink Kronikles are in the catalogue. And volume two on the Searchers? Come on, folks. . . .

The great treasures in reissues are jazz. Herewith some special recommendations; buy them now lest they disappear forever. The Smithsonian Institute's Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines 1928 and King Oliver's Jazz Band 1923 are essential to students of American music. I find the Oliver a little antiquey just to play, but the inevitable audio problems on the Armstrong (which are minimized) don't diminish the music a bit. ($9.00 from Smithsonian Collection, P.O. Box 5774, Terre Haute, Indiana 47802). And the new Fats Navarro double on Blue Note is the best of a generally disappointing release. Bebop at its best. . . .

Finally, this note from Paul Gambaccini's (priced at $3.95) Conversation With Elton John and Bernie Taupin: "You can feel everybody's eyes on you. I suppose I've put myself in a position where I have to live with it. It's like when you go to see the Queen--well, of course, she's used to it, she handles it very well." Guess which one said that. Ahh, noblesse oblige.

Village Voice, Mar. 29, 1976

Mar. 1, 1976 Apr. 26, 1976