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:
Dear Mr. President

Baby let's have a ficus leaf and a cranberry Snapple before Bush do something crazy

THE COUP: Pick a Bigger Weapon (Epitaph) Boots Riley's live-in-the-studio funk is as retro as his Afro, and when Talib Kweli percusses next to him you'd think his flow was straight out the Watts Prophets. So call him corny if his Marxist talk makes you nervous. Fact is, the brother's some writer, with his own Oaktown sound. Marxism fans should start with the two love songs: "Ijustwannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou" lays out the rationalization of the capitalist workday, while the Silk E. feature "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethin'Crazy" speaks for itself. Plus the Chomskyite "Head (of State)" also has sex in it, the sponsored "Ass-Breath Killers" will help cure your bootymouth, and "I Love Boosters!" is merely the warmest of many shout-outs to a criminal community he's too busy to join. Riley understands as well as any songwriter in America how the black poor and other barely employeds get by, and he also understands who's taking their money, and how. His lesser songs would be dookie gold on an ordinary undie-rap album. And he's no moralizer: "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor/And help the damn revolution come quicker." A

GHOSTFACE KILLAH: Fishscale (Def Jam) With the crack trade making its hip-hop comeback, Ghost fashions a trend record that ranks with any Biggie or Wu CD. Morally, it's a retrospective--there's no attempt to convince us that he's still in the game or wants to return. But neither will he countenance doubt that he knows whereof he speaks. The stories are as vivid, brutal, and thought-out as any noir, with details that both encompass and surpass the wisdom of "pyrex scholars." This is a guy with a bald spot who likes cranberry Snapple, Larry King Live, and women who work for JetBlue. When he asks his boo to turn the flame down a little, he says thank you. His high wail renders extreme anxiety beautiful. And before the music settles into a powerfully souled and sampled Clan-type groove, its screeching intensity has a Nation of Millions feel. A PLUS

LOVE IS ALL: Nine Times That Same Song (What's Your Rupture?) A minor, female-fronted Swedish band who may have something to tell us about love when somebody posts the lyrics, but probably won't, and yes, they sing in English, as in "I know we like the same kind of cheese." What they can tell us about is the persistence of punk. Unlike the Hives, who I bet they look down on, they're avant formalists as opposed to pop formalists, twisting funky drumming and weird guitar. Love them for getting excited about these time-honored usages. A MINUS

PINK: I'm Not Dead (LaFace/Zomba) With American Idol rampant, it's nice to have this emotional hipster sticking her celebrity cred in the stupid world's face. She overdoes the ballads, but what kind of teen idol could she be if she didn't? She's got turf to claim before dropping "Dear Mr. President," which assumes, correctly, that Bush did coke and teens care about the homeless. If there's a Bono song like that, the stupid world missed it. And if stardom slips through Pink's cleavage, she's got an answer: "You don't have to like me any more/I've got money now." No, she doesn't mean it--that's just a smarter than usual woe-is-stardom song. Much smarter than usual. A MINUS

PRINCE: 3121 (Universal) It could be argued that music this masterful waives all claim to the sound of surprise--until you pay attention. Sure "Love" and "Satisfied" and "Fury" constitute a standard sequence, keyb funk to torch r&b to u-got-the-rock--but only by genius standards. Sure he overdubs all the time, but he risks letting the Other play bass and drums on the over-under-sideways-down title tune--and then immediately prefabs the cockeyed "Lolita" by himself. The dubiosities he induces NPG fans to collect prove only that geniuses know who their friends are. I'm back to suspecting that, at 47, the Abstemious One can keep laying top-shelf stuff on the public for as long as he's in the mood. Even if he gets on your nerves, treat him nice. A MINUS

THE RAKES: Capture/Release (V2) They're more Wire fans than Wire imitators--looser and louder, comfortable with their middle-class roots in a time when identifying middle class is just a fancier way to point out that you're oppressed. Nevertheless, a fuller sound can be a problem for a band that sounds something like Wire. Suddenly dynamic tension alone won't do--you start aiming for rock, for songs, for anthems like "22 Grand Job," more universal than the immortal "I Am the Fly" itself. Unless you're way too big for dynamic tension, you won't nail all that many. But you may get close, like on the U.S.-only "All Too Human." And for sure you'll be dynamic. "T Bone"! "Terror!"! One after the other! A MINUS

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO BHANGRA DANCE (World Music Network) Punjabi-based dance music has accrued formula since Rough Guide's first bhangra comp, and this one pumps identical hyperdrive from boy group, Anglophone pop queen, and subcontinental elder. Only it's really great hyperdrive--if that's the same hook again (it is, right?), bring it on. Eventually, soft or folkloric sounds do enter the mix, and how about that? The letdown is a respite if you happen to be tired and does itself proud if you're not. More more more. A MINUS

TOM Z: Estudando O Pagode (Luaka Bop) This exploration of a sexism fueled by the more blatant injustices of class and race doesn't cohere, but what "rock opera" does? Anyway, Z prefers the term "operetta," and with his avant-garde credentials is free to embrace episodic method. Much of the songs' philosophical punch is lost in the superb translations, a shortfall that probably reflects Z's special interest in the male chauvinist samba subgenre "pagode," the emotional resonances of which can't impact those who haven't lived with them. But no other Brazilian composer defies cultural boundaries so eloquently. Whether or not I absorb these songs' meaning when I read along, at any level of attention I feel the way they straddle pop and avant-garde, natural and mechanical, Brazil and the rest of the world. Those not-quite-metallic scraping noises you keep hearing? They come from one of Z's inventions, an instrument crafted from the leaf of the ficus trees that grow all over So Paolo. You blow into it. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

JUVENILE: Reality Check (Atlantic) Juvenile gives better interview than former N.O. labelmate Lil Wayne and appears to be a better guy, but he's also one more bore whose idea of entertainment is threatening to kill people. A few moments seem real enough--not just "I Know You Know," in which he reminds his wife that, actually, he doesn't fuck all those hoes he raps about, but the street-mystique primer "Way I Be Leanin'." And even there Mike Jones, Paul Wall, and Wacko provide welcome relief from the nasal, constricted, humorless flow he's gotten on. Later, Fat Joe does the same. I mean, really--Fat Joe? B MINUS

Honorable Mention

  • Willie Nelson: You Don't Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker (Lost Highway): He owns the title tune now too ("Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age," "Dusty Skies").
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Show Your Bones (Interscope): I dig her new Middle America affect, but still don't wish she was my girlfriend (or daughter) ("Phenomena," "Turn Into").
  • Drive-By Truckers: A Blessing and a Curse (New West): Includes title song directed at a trust fund baby I personally am sorry they ever met ("A World of Hurt," "Goodbye").
  • Built to Spill: You in Reverse (Warner Bros.): Like Uncle Neil says, "It's all one song--except for that flamenco thing" ("Conventional Wisdom," "Mess With Time").
  • DJ Dolores: Aparelhagem (Ziriguiboom/Crammed Discs): Club carnaval of the mind ("De Dar D," "Azougue").
  • Old 97's: Alive & Wired (New West): Their rough and rowdy ways--two CDs worth ("Time Bomb," "Barrier Reef").
  • Stephen Yerkey: Metaneonatureboy (Echo): Sees all the colors of the Cadillac at the Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden, hitchhikes on the Stinson Beach road ("My Baby Love the Western Violence," "Link Wray's Girlfriend").
  • Turkish Groove (Putumayo World Music): Sweet and stretchy in its commercial version, just like the taffy (Bendeniz, "Kirmizi Biber"; Nilgl, "Pis Pisla").
  • X: Live in Los Angeles (Shout! Factory): The live album Billy Zoom and their songbook have long deserved ("Johny Hit and Run Paulene," "Beyond & Back").
  • The Rough Guide to Urban Latino (World Music Network): A noisy mess from rock to ska to hip-hop, with catchy politicos prominent and a German for spice (Zona Marginal, "No Mas"; Yerba Brava, "Sos Un Cheto").
  • Eef Barzelay: Bitter Honey (SpinArt): The best of these songs are so perfectly put they thrive solo acoustic--but could still use a band ("Ballad of Bitter Honey," "I Wasn't Really Drunk").
  • The New Orleans Social Club: Sing Me Back Home (Burgundy/Honey Darling): Mix winning sincerity with formal nostalgia, much like the Cuban franchise holder (Cyrille Neville, "This Is My Country"; John Boutt "Why").
  • MC Lars: The Graduate (Horris): Never mind the wimp beats--if he were my son I'd be so proud ("Internet Relationships," "Download This Song").
  • Beanie Sigel: The B. Coming (Def Jam): Scared straight enough to rap about being paranoid ("I Can't Go On This Way," "Feel It in the Air").
  • Jon Langford: Gold Brick (ROIR): Music for some occasions ("Workingman's Palace," "Lost in America").
  • Hank Williams III: Straight to Hell (Bruc): "Kid Rock don't come from where I come from"--and, oh yeah, "if you thought so goddamn you're fucking dumb" ("Pills I Took," "Thrown Out of the Bar").

Choice Cuts

  • The Rakes, "Something Clicked and I Fell Off the Edge" (Retreat, Dim Mak)
  • Soul Position, "Keys," "The Cool Thing to Do" (Things Go Better With RJ and AL, Rhymesayers Entertainment)
  • Third Sight, "Hypothermia" (Symbionese Liberation Album, Disgruntled/Amalgam Entertainment)
  • Van Morrison, "There Stands the Glass" (Pay the Devil, Lost Highway)


  • Calexico: Garden Ruin (Quarterstick)
  • Cordero: En Este Momento (Bloodshot)
  • Kris Kristofferson: This Old Road (New West)
  • Little Brother: The Minstrel Show (Atlantic)
  • Ray Parker Jr: I'm Free! (RP)

Village Voice, May 2, 2006

Apr. 4, 2006 May 30, 2006