Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

My toughest decision this month involved the Must to Avoid, in which a virtual dead heat (with Heatwave) was decided on the basis of which band most annoyed me just to think about. Village People ran a distant third. At least they provide something to laugh at.

THE ALPHA BAND: The Statue Makers of Hollywood (Arista) I'm told that my man J.H. Burnett is a born-again Christian, which must be why he feels so strongly about money changers and temples. Nonbelievers consider him shrill, but I find something sweet and reflective right beneath his cool, caustic self-righteousness. This is the weakest of three strong, oddball LPs, but David Mansfield's instrumental finesse makes the questionable cuts go, and Steven Soles keeps his mouth shut most of the time. B PLUS [Later]

ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL: Collision Course (Capitol) A lot of conceptual work went into the choice of material here. But what's made the Wheel's records work has been new Ray Benson and Leroy Preston songs that played off and framed the borrowings and rediscoveries. This offers wonderful countrifications of Count Basie and Randy Newman; the other covers are nice, rarely more, and the original aren't numerous enough--or original enough--to push them over the top. B [Later: B-]

ELIZABETH BARRACLOUGH (Bearsville) This woman's vocal intensity seems passionate when you're in the mood and affected when you're not. Her love songs are as desperate, committed, and possessed as her political ones. She tends to be a little long-winded. I hope the guitar riff on "Who Do You Think's the Fool" and "Shepherd's Bush" (almost the same riff) is hers. And I hope she keeps getting better. B MINUS [Later]

CARLENE CARTER (Warner Bros.) This woman has a strong voice, an assertive persona, and good taste in bands (the Rumour) and grandmothers (Maybelle C.). She's twice-divorced with two kids at 22, so she Knows Life, and her songwriting definitely Shows Potential. But reach ain't grasp, strength ain't passion, and she could use a haircut. C PLUS [Later]

LEE CLAYTON: Border Affair (Capitol) Clayton doesn't seem to like the term "outlaw," and although he does adduce a silver stallion he also mentions Bach, so I guess he's got a right. But how come he sings like his jeans are too tight? C PLUS

BOB DYLAN: Street-Legal (Columbia) Inveterate rock and rollers learn to find charm in the cocky callowness of boastful, secretly girl-shy adolescents, but boozy-voiced misogynists in their late thirties are a straight drag. This divorcÚ sounds fulsomely overripe, too in love with his own self-generated misery to break through the leaden tempos that oppress his melodies, devoid not just of humor but of lightness--unless, that is, he intends his Neil Diamond masquerade as a joke. Because he's too shrewd to put his heart into genuine corn, and because his idea of a tricky arrangement is to add horns or chicks to simplistic verse-and-chorus abcb structures, a joke is what it is. But since he still commands remnants of authority, the joke is sour indeed. C PLUS [Later]

FOREIGNER: Double Vision (Atlantic) I like rock and roll so much that I catch myself getting off on "Hot Blooded," a typical piece of cock-rock nookie-hating carried along on a riff-with-chord-change that's pure (gad) second-generation Bad Company. Fortunately, nothing else here threatens their status as world's dullest group. Inspirational Verse: "She backhanded me 'cross my face." C MINUS

JERRY GARCIA BAND: Cats Under the Stars (Arista) There seem to be three good songs here until you listen to the lyric of "Rubin and Cherise." The other two, "Cats Under the Stars" and "Rhapsody in Red," are both about music. Come to think of it, so is "Rubin and Cherise." C PLUS

HEATWAVE: Central Heating (Epic) Personally, I've always thought sucking was fun, but I know people intend an insult when they say disco sucks, and this is the kind of preprogrammed pap they're thinking of. Most of it has as much emotional substance as the soundtrack to Integrated Beach Party--here the background music for the boisterous-barbecue sequence, there the accompaniment for the gentle-fuck scene. This does feature a nice post-doowop vocal on "Happiness Togetherness" (what am I supposed to call it, fifth cut first side?), and "The Groove Line" does its filthy work as fast as a Dr. Pepper jingle, but only on the title cut do the layered rhythms and harmonies get interesting, the way good disco should. Admittedly, I don't find much use even for good disco. But I know it's better than this. C MINUS [Later]

MILLIE JACKSON: Get It Out'cha System (Spring) I've always been a fan of Millie's no-shit shtick--there's a lot more commitment to love and marriage in her acerbic skepticism-going-on-cynicism than in the old escapist fantasies or the new therapeutic bromides. Still, shtick does wear out, so I'm happy to report that this is the first Jackson album that's really interested me in some time. "Why Say You're Sorry" is her sharpest lyric in years, "Logs and Thangs" her funkiest monologue, and the title tune has a line about bosses that should raise class consciousness a notch. My only complaint is that she does Kenny Rogers's "Sweet Music Man" almost straight--that's an idea that could use some heavy sarcasm. B PLUS [Later]

THE KINKS: Misfits (Arista) Ray Davies hasn't put so many hummable melodies in one place since Everybody's in Showbiz (just to make sure, he's put a couple of them both places), and the lyrics evince renewed thought and craft. All of which makes his congenital parochialism and ressentiment seem surprisingly fresh and vivid. Most dismaying: "Black Messiah"--Enoch Powell would be proud. B [Later]

THE MOTORS: Approved by the Motors (Virgin) Last time, they essayed a commercial takeoff on punk, which they traced back to Grand Funk Railroad rather than the Stooges; this time (punk having been declared economically unsound by English bizzers), they have a go at power pop and come out sounding like the Foundations rather than the Small Faces. Since reformed pub rockers are more comfortable with cuteness than with power, this is an enormous improvement--"Airport" is as funny as any Nick Lowe genre piece and catchy enough to do jingle duty at Gatwick. Unfortunately, just to keep up their pseudo-punk credibility, they also include a equivocal celebration of sadism. I mean, fun is fun. B PLUS

NRBQ: At Yankee Stadium (Mercury) Although I've always liked its stick-to-it-ive-ness and good cheer, this band has a history of living up to its full name--New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, suggesting a cross between a classical chamber group (virtuosity and musical decorum) and the New Christy Minstrels or New Lost City Ramblers (general folkiness). Their records invariably seemed a little complacent because real r&b at its subtlest was never so laid back. This one represents a telling change--the performance is urgent, intense, up, so that even given fairly ordinary lyrics the songs take on a complex life worthy of their chord changes. Nice. B PLUS [Later]

GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR: The Parkerilla (Mercury) If you think it's a little early for a concert album by Parker, who's not exactly Peter Frampton on the rock jobber circuit, you're right, but only if you view these three live sides plus one 33-rpm single (the fourth version of "Don't Ask Me Questions" Parker has put on disc) as music, or as product. Regard it instead as a gambit designed to obtain for Parker the distribution and tour support he thinks fitting. The music that fleshes out the gambit isn't as uninspired as has been rumored--its nice intensity actually induced me to listen one more time to "The Heat in Harlem." But none of the songs are new and none of the remakes revelatory. I'd be pleased if the gambit worked--Parker deserves some first-class hype. But I bet it could have been done some other, better way. B MINUS [Later]

THE POP (Automatic) Jesus, another one of those self-motivated hard rock bands putting out its own album. These guys are from L.A., with OK lyrics and better everything else; little things like breaks and bridges mean a lot to them, and so do big things like guitars. Intense (rather than inflated) and understated (rather than wimpy) at the same time. I'm going to get jaded around such stuff eventually, but it hasn't happened yet, and this is too good to do the evil deed. B PLUS [Later]

IGGY POP: TV Eye (RCA Victor) In the great tradition of Uncle Lou, here's a live quickie for you--four songs from the two recent RCA albums, plus a classic or two from each hard-to-find Elektra, plus the collectors' single "I Got a Right." You get to hear "Lust for Life" without the laff-a-line chorus. "Funtime" with anti-Semitic flourishes, and lots of irrelevant bombast and concert-hall echo. Much of it works anyway, but that doesn't mean I can't dock it a notch for pissing me off. C PLUS

PROFESSOR LONGHAIR: Live on the Queen Mary (Harvest) Roy Byrd's pianistic intricacies--which inspired Fats Domino, Huey Smith, Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and other New Orleans luminaries--come through better on this live recording than on the (now out-of-print) Atlantic compilation from the '50s." This I credit to the hazardously busy (and uncredited) bass-and-drums accompaniment, which provides enough movement down below to allow Prof to really get rolling up top. Blues backup isn't supposed to work that way, but these guys get away with it, and good for them. P.S. Prof sings off-key a lot. P.P.S. This time, it doesn't matter. A MINUS [Later]

GERRY RAFFERTY: City to City (United Artists) A miraculously homogeneous album--except for the breakthrough sax refrain on "Baker Street," neither voice nor instrument ruffles the flow of hard-won axioms and sensible hooks. Very nice, I mean it--if yin and yang is your meat, this beats Percy Faith by a mile. But Fleetwood Mac it ain't. B MINUS

TALKING HEADS: More Songs About Buildings and Food (Sire) In which the Heads become a quintet in an ideal producer-artist collaboration--Eno contributes/interferes just enough. Not only does his synthesized lyricism provide flow and continuity, it also makes the passive, unpretentious technological mysticism he shares with the band real in the aural world. In fact, there is so much beautiful music (and so much funky music) on this album that I'll take no more complaints about David Byrne's willful screechiness. Every one of these 11 songs is a positive pleasure, and on every one the tension between Byrne's compulsive flights and the sinuous rock bottom of the music is the focus. I have more doubts than ever about Byrne's work ethic positivism--on one new song, he uses the phrase, "wasting precious time" without a trace of irony--but if it goes with music this eccentric and compelling I'm damn sure going to hear him out. A [Later]

THE VILLAGE PEOPLE: Macho Man (Casablanca) Watch out, Ted Nugent, or these you-know-whats (I'm sure I don't) are gonna knock you off the cover of Creem. You're not the only one who can make up stories about eating it raw. C MINUS [Later: C]

Additional Consumer News

A brief report on six New Wave import albums currently on my shelves--debuts by the Buzzcocks, 999 (both UA), Magazine, XTC (both Virgin), and MX-80 Sound (on English Island, although they're based in Bloomington, Indiana), as well as V2, the second LP by the Vibrators. Pretty good records, mostly--but not one I'd miss if it disappeared. The biggest disappointments are the Buzzcocks (except for the classic "Fast Cars") and Magazine (marred by conventional arty-rocky discursiveness), because if Howard Devoto hadn't left the Buzzcocks to form Magazine a stronger amalgam would almost certainly have resulted. The most consistent is V2, but it doesn't have the undeniable kick of the debut; and for flying weaponry I prefer B-52s. XTC does a harsh-tough power pop, while 999 is more harsh-nasty; naturally I prefer the XTC, which hits three or four times on one side. I'm also partial to side one of MX-80 Sound, who offer pithy drone vocals over a fluid hard-rock backing and somehow manage to insert some hooks into the formula. I'm proud to be an American. . . .

Speaking of which, Stiff's Akron Compilation is also available as an import, with domestic release by Arista possible this fall. Any sampler that juxtaposes Tin Huey's "Chinese Circus" and Rachel Sweet's "Truckstop Queen" is going to be even more frustrating to listen to than most samplers, and me, I'd wait for the Tin Huey, Bizarros, and Rubber City Rebels albums, buy the single (on Clone) of the Waitresses' "Slide," and let the rest do just that (slide, I mean, or at least wait).

Village Voice, July 31, 1978

June 26, 1978 Sept. 4, 1978