Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  And It Don't Stop
  Book Reports
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
  And It Don't Stop
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
Web Site:
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
CG Search:
Google Search:

Consumer Guide:
Radical Comfort

Hey Mr. Sax Man, you're the hidden king of rock and roll, or whatever it is

ARCTIC MONKEYS: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino) The great thing about this album is how untranscendent it is, as if these lads know the guitar-band pleasures are cons. Sing-along tunes? Breakneck momentum? Next-big-thing ambition? Saturday-night swindles every one. Instead Alex Turner and crew evoke club life as it is actually experienced. They sound like not knowing the doorman, like moving on a girl you think isn't pretty enough, like missing the bus in a leather jacket that doesn't keep out the cold. Many details are too U.K.-specific for Yank-yob gratification. But aesthetes will come to enjoy Turner's nuanced adenoids and his bandmates' thought-through arrangements. A MINUS

BURNING SPEAR: Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings From Studio One (Heartbeat) Before he started wailing to wake up the dead, Winston Rodney tried to find a place within the harmony trio format imposed by Studio One's Clement Dodd. This is the record of that struggle--not always as songful as Dodd (or we) might prefer, but whenever you tune in, somebody will do something that makes you ooh inside of a minute. "Door Peeper"? "This Population"? "Weeping and Wailing" (natch)? "Creation Rebel" itself? Those are songs. The "hip hip hooray" of "What a Happy Day"? Saddest ever recorded. A MINUS

JAMES CARTER ORGAN TRIO: Out of Nowhere (Half Note) Though 2004's Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge is as warm a blowing session as he's laid down, this all too self-sufficient virtuoso gravitates to concept albums, in part because he's no writer. This can be tricky--his Billie Holiday tribute is dreadful, and his Pavement covers reflect poorly on the alt-rock groove. But the organ-trio format so derided in jazzbo land suits his vulgar gusto perfectly--it's made for showoffs and delights in the impolite sounds he can extract from any number of saxophones at will. My favorite pits his avant-honking tenor against guest Hamiet Bluiett's avant-honking baritone on guest James Blood Ulmer's "Highjack." Ulmer also gets to sing "Little Red Rooster." The vocal-less finale is "I Believe I Can Fly." The organist is Gerard Gibbs. A MINUS

JAMIE LIDELL: Multiply (Warp) Although slotted as soul or techno according to the interests of the slotter, this veteran U.K. dance music producer is neither. He moves in more select company: less genius than late Chic or recent Prince, but far more daring than Daniel Bedingfield or Craig David. Although Lidell's voice lacks muscle and butter, he knows how to launch a falsetto, and the beats on "A Little Bit More" and "The City" should not be played within earshot of anyone wearing a pacemaker. He goes out on a wan five-minute ballad called "Game for Fools." But before then he's stated his creed with a lyric recommended to all white guys in the future-funk game, which also isn't for fools: "I'm a question mark, walking talking question mark/But what is the question again?" A MINUS

SONNY ROLLINS: Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert (Milestone) I counted: pianist Stephen Scott and trombonist Clifton Anderson solo for 15-plus minutes apiece on this 72-minute album, which documents a 9/15/01 Boston concert down to the introductory remarks and standing ovations. Understandably, the material includes three meditative standards, and unsurprisingly, Rollins meditates up a storm at several speeds. The historical moment only intensifies his religious feelings about music; he's humble and masterful, questioning and joyous, swinging and polyrhythmic. Scott fits in, running changes with a satisfying physicality. But the heightened circumstances make clear that Anderson's main job in this band is to give the boss breathing room. And under the circumstances, there's too much of it. B PLUS

RUN THE ROAD 2 (Vice) Got no idea whether this is true grime because I never knew what grime was to begin with. The Brit accents on the pseudo-triumphalist, vaguely Jeezy-sounding four-cameo opener are grime enough for me--most gripping grime I know, in fact, and pretty damn fine Jeezy-sounding pseudo-triumphalism to boot. Offenses against purity abound--girl choruses and duets, guy who argues endearingly if unconvincingly that "shanking" isn't commercial, and a Nas fan with a pink penis who tells a mildly grisly story backwards whilst strumming an acoustic guitar very hard. Letdown: Sway, touted as this year's, you remember, Dizzee Rascal. Disappointment: paucity of Jeezy-sounding pseudo-triumphalism. A MINUS

THINK DIFFERENTLY MUSIC: WU-TANG MEETS THE INDIE CULTURE (Babygrande) Less Wu than advertised--RZA duet, GZA duet, GZA cameo, U-God cameo, with production dominated by RZA subaltern Bronze Nazareth. Not especially coherent, either, even within individual songs. But loaded with beats, and with great moments--RZA's traffic cop, Byata's Russian homegirl, Solomon Childs's African economics. With backpack types now Wu-Tang's natural constituency, the 27 rappers on this comp make their subculture sound dope even if they're not. Plus an infomercial in which Jim Jarmusch bites Yehudi Menuhin. B PLUS

THE DAVID S. WARE QUARTETS: Live in the World (Thirsty Ear) It's a fine cosmic joke, the way radical sounds turn comforting as they grow old. I've played these three CDs for atmosphere during a Vermont retreat, for solace after a disturbing afternoon with my demented 90-year-old dad--for the organic integrity of live free, for chaos rendered beautiful. Tune in anywhere except the one bass solo per disc that William Parker gets for holding the world together and you'll hear saxophonist Ware or perhaps pianist Matthew Shipp or briefly one of the three drummers creating music that eschews the signposts, anchors, and trivial pleasures pop fans can't and shouldn't do without. Shipp is a lovely man and a wide-ranging artist, but in no other context is he so solid, and Ware's ideas flow nonstop. After all these years it's clear that he commands one of the great sounds in tenor sax history, very nearly on a par with Rollins, Coltrane, Webster--huge yet lyrical, and so loose. I prefer disc two for Hamid Drake, who drives harder than Susie Ibarra or Guillermo Brown. I recommend "Aquarian Sound" Parker and all, "Part Two" of Freedom Suite, and, definitely, "The Way We Were." A MINUS

Dud of the Month

EDITORS: The Back Room (Fader) Denying prior knowledge of Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Interpol, Staffordshire University's answer to the Arctic Monkeys cite as influences early R.E.M., Elbow, and the French Doors--not Jimbo in Paris, a Brooklyn band that shares members with, you know, Black Lipstick. I believe them, too. Though this strain of heartsick gravity was unknown on earth before Ian Curtis and the goth/new romantic inundation he heralded, it has since been imprinted on every Caucasian adolescent in the English-speaking world. And as leader Tom Smith demonstrates, it needn't be morbid or suicidal. His message is often sanely chin-up--as in "Open your arms and welcome people to your town" and even the relatively dark (if sonically comic) "You don't need this disease you don't," 36 repetitions of which constitute virtually the entire lyric of "Bullets." Someone should tell him about the Human League. C PLUS

Honorable Mention

  • David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters: Gwotet (Justin Time): He needs his ka drummer and his diaspora brass, but the heroes are guest co-tenor Pharoah Sanders and trap drummer Hamid Drake, Yanks both despite their sobriquets ("Gwotet," "Ovwa").
  • Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows--1926-1937 (Old Hat): Forty-eight lovingly documented songs, most generic even when also distinguished, many uncomfortably laissez-faire about minstrel stereotyping (Walter Cole, "Mama Keep Your Yes Ma'am Clean"; Jim Jackson, "I Heard the Voice of a Porkchop"; Beans Hambone & El Morrow, "Beans").
  • The Blackangels: Passover (Light in the Attic): The cleansing power of a big fat gloomy wartime drone ("The First Vietnamese War," "Manipulation").
  • The Strokes: First Impressions of Earth (RCA): You know how it is--the gym does more for your wind than for your jump shot ("You Only Live Once," "Ask Me Anything").
  • Th' Legendary Shack Shakers: Pandelirium (Yep Roc): Mad Red Bulgarian Wannabes of the Appalachians ("Somethin' in the Water," "No Such Thing").
  • Nada Surf: The Weight Is a Gift (Barsuk): Emo, if that term retains any shred of cred, for adults--who actually know a tune when they hear one ("Blankest Year," "Imaginary Friends").
  • DJ Muggs Vs GZA the Genius: Grandmasters (Angeles): RZA-inspired beats, CSI-inspired rhymes ("Destruction of a Guard," "Exploitation of Mistakes").
  • Carneyball Johnson (Akron Cracker): Mr. Ralph Carney and his small ensemble play the works of Zappa, Prado, Ra, Monk, Cream, Dekker, and others ("Jackie-ing," "Intensified Festival '68").
  • One Self: Children of Possibility (Ninja Tune): Digable internationalists descant hip-hop spirituality ("Fear the Labour," "Bluebird").
  • The Scotch Greens: Professional (Brass Tack): They tried the country and they tried the city, but speed was the only thing that made them feel better--as bluegrass and punk, respectively ("Rumspringa," "Professional").
  • James Carter/Cyrus Chestnut/Ali Jackson/Reginald Veal: Gold Sounds (Brown Brothers): Jazz guys seeking avant move cover alt-rock demigods ("Here," "Summer Babe").
  • Anthony Hamilton: Ain't Nobody Worryin' (So So Def): The essential nourishment and fatal tedium of soul, sincerity, the whole Sunday-morning snore ("Ain't Nobody Worryin'," "Sista Big Bones").
  • Murs: Murray's Revenge (Record Collection): "We're not gonna be yelling and screaming about ignorant shit" ("Dark Skinned White Girls," "Yesterday, Today").

Choice Cuts

  • Mary Gauthier, "I Drink," "Mercy Now" (Mercy Now, Lost Highway)
  • Aceyalone, "Junior" (Magnificent City, Decon)
  • Attwenger, "He-U" (The Rough Guide to the Music of the Alps, World Music Network)


  • Big Boi Presents . . . Got Purp? Vol. II (Virgin)
  • Big Star: In Space (Ryko)
  • Kate Bush: Aerial (Columbia)
  • Chocolate Genius Inc: Black Yankee Rock (Commotion)
  • Jamie Foxx: Unpredictable (J)
  • Lewis Taylor: Stoned (Hacktone)

Village Voice, Apr. 4, 2006

Postscript Notes:

Original version erroneously referred to Arctic Monkeys leader as Alex Taylor. Corrected to Alex Turner.

Mar. 7, 2006 May 2, 2006