Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

Last month I was faced with the unpleasant prospect of a Consumer Guide full of rejects, and I skunked out. Such a bunch of shitty records. I even considered trying to put together a whole column of oneliners. Some examples. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: Bap-Tizum (Atlantic). I don't know much about art, but I know what I like. C minus. Cass Elliott: Don't Call Me Mama Any More (RCA Victor). How about Fatso? D. Chip Taylor: Last Chance (Warner Bros.). Guess whose brother he is. Wrong. Jon Voight's. C. As you may have noticed, it's hard to make that idea funny for three consecutive records, much less 20, and in any case the idea of verifying my bile by running through the crap a couple of times--which I generally feel constrained to do, by the way--discouraged me until deadline time was too close. The result is a Consumer Guide that is nicer to the record industry than the interests of truth require. As I write (mid-November) there is an encouraging blush of good records from all over, just in time for Christmas, with Mitchell and Midler and John and Ringo still expected. Don't be misled. We continue to be immersed in garbage, and most of the mediocre junk won't even be recycled. Just think how many Lynyrd Skynyrds MCA could make out of all that Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Never happen.

Ashford & Simpson: Gimme Something Real (Warner Bros.). Can this marriage be saved? The problem: Good-but-not-great songwriters whose lush sentimentality would have been unforgivable had they worked for a white company instead of Motown leave Motown for white company. The doctor replies: If they develop the intestinal fortitude to go along with their own vocal limitations, they may not end up like the Peaches & Herb of bourgeois soul. What did they say? "Time is the space between you and me"? Well, sounds like a breakdown of communication as well. C

David Bowie: Pin-Ups (RCA Victor). I like "Friday on My Mind" (screaming frustration on the nine-to-five) but agree with those fanatic enough to know the original version of every mid-60s English chestnut here revived. Namely, this just isn't very good. C PLUS [Later: B-]

Jackson Browne: For Everyman (Asylum). The singer-songwriter folk are lining up behind this as album of the year, but even though I'm intrigued by Janet Maslin's suggestion that Browne fuses New York and California sensibilities--clever, no?--I don't get it. Something in the reflective evenness of his delivery sets up an expectation of cogency which is satisfied only by his least ambitious songs. He's good, and this is better than the first one, but not that much better. Graded with trepidation. B

Paul Butterfield's Better Days: It All Comes Back (Bearsville). The first Better Days album was so relaxed it. sounded as if none of those genius musicians had left Woodstock for a year or so. This is closer to the imperfect Butterfield tradition, with his miraculously unaffected but colorless singing providing pleasant valleys from which his weirdo sidemen can peak. Geoff Muldaur's version of Bobby Charles's "Small Town Talk" beats Charles's, and Ronnie Barron's version of "Louisiana Flood" beats his own. Superb arrangements. A MINUS [Later: B+]

Dennis Coulson (Elektra). A good interpretive singer who needs writers a little better than Gallagher & Lyle. A lot better also recommended. High point: "Job on the Tyne," which he helped write himself. Keep trying. B MINUS

Grand Funk: We're an American Band (Capitol). If it takes the better part of three months for me to decide that this is a listenable hard rock record, how listenable can it be? Well, a great single, and I'm glad Don Brewer is singing more, and they're supposed to be stupid sometimes. B [Later: B-]

Dobie Gray: Loving Arms (MCA). Mentor Williams Assoc. gave Dobie some interesting songs last time, and the result was an interesting album. These songs are dull. C MINUS

Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (MCA). About two albums ago, Bernie Taupin paused on the way from obscure banality to clean well-lighted banality to write a batch of imaginative lyrics, and set to those lyrics, John's music sounded eclectic but not confused. Now it gibbers anonymously. There is some great assembly-line hard rock here, and I like "Bennie and the Jets" when I don't think about what it means (not even nothing, just bleh), but this set is at least three sides too long. C PLUS [Later: B]

Gladys Knight & the Pips: Imagination (Buddah). Damn right "Midnight Train to Georgia" is a great single, so why not buy it? A lot of excess schlock here. B

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Pronounced Leh'-nerd Skin'-nerd (Sounds of the South). Extensive comparison testing (with ZZ Top, Marshall Tucker, Wet Willie) indicates the best Southern boogie band this side of the Allmans. Lyrics, melodies, arrangements, roots, and savvy production from Al Kooper. B PLUS [Later: A]

Taj Mahal: Oooh So Good 'n Blues (Columbia). Taj can make "Dust My Broom" sound like something new, and anyone with the smarts to revive Willie Dixon's "Built for Comfort" deserves a medal from fat liberation, but he seems driven to spoil every one of his albums. So here we have "Teacup's Jazzy Blues Tune," featuring a virtually inaudible upright bass solo and the all-too-audible Pointer Sisters. Say it isn't so, Taj. B PLUS [Later: A-]

Dave Mason: It's Like You Never Left (Columbia). Funny you should put it that way, Dave, because for me it's like I was never here in the first place. C

Roger Miller: Dear Folks Sorry I Haven't Written Lately (Columbia). I mourned Miller's writing block actively; now I wish it would come back. He's turned into one more Nashville sentimentalist. Example: This album transforms "My Uncle Use to Love Me But She Died" into "My Mother Used to Love Me But She Died" and adds superfluous soulettes. D MINUS

Elliot Murphy: Aquashow (Polydor). The music here sounds so middle-Dylan that it inspired me to play Blonde on Blonde, after which unfair comparison I began to suspect Murphy of glibness. But although his themes aren't new and he does come at them like a know-it-all, that's not his fault--he does know quite a bit, maybe more than is good for him, and the quick phrases merely shield a plausible sincerity. Special concern: interrelations between women's self-knowledge (and lack of it) and the emotional disappointment of sexual love. None of which you're obliged to notice until you enjoy the music a dozen times. A [Later: A-]

Bonnie Raitt: Takin' My Time' (Warner Bros.). I hear people asking when Bonnie is going to do something new, but anybody who can convey songs from Calypso Rose and Martha Reeves into the new women's music is new enough for me. I do vote for an embargo on the likes of Eric Kaz and Joel Zoss--too pretty, too ordinary. A MINUS

Lou Reed: Berlin (RCA Victor). I read where this song cycle about two drug addicts who fall into sadie-mazie in thrillingly decadent Berlin, is a . . . what was that? artistic accomplishment, even if you don't like it much. Well, the category is real enough--it describes a lot of Ornette Coleman and even some Randy Newman, not to mention a whole lot of books--but in this case it happens to be horseshit. The story is lousy--if something similar was coughed up by some avant-garde asshole like, oh, Alfred Chester (arcane reference for all you rock folk who think you're cool cos you read half of Nova Express) everyone would be too bored to puke at it. The music is only competent--even Bob Ezrin can't manufacture a distance between the washed-up characters and their washed-out creator when the creator is actually singing. Also, what is this water-boy business? Is that a Buddhist cop? Gunga Din? Will Lou lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it? C

Linda Ronstadt: Don't Cry Now (Asylum). Just when Ronstadt has me convinced that she was really raunchy and country she got caught in David Geffen's homogenizing machine, manned this time by John David Souther, who must have told her that "Sail Away" was just another purty song. Or maybe she got so used to playing the dumb chick that she turned into one. C PLUS

Loudon Wainwright III: Attempted Mustache (Columbia). First he was a failed poet. Now he's a successful comedian. Maybe soon he'll put it all together and become a successful poet, but this will do. As I recall, Chuck Berry made do with something similar for a good long time. A MINUS

Wendy Waldman: Love Has Got Me (Warner Bros.). Q: How can I, when I admit that she's over-folkey and I just gave Jackson Browne a B? A: Female chauvinism. B PLUS [Later: B-]

Neil Young: Time Fades Away (Reprise). He actually came back. Finally we understand why Young refused to storm the top with the super-tough band on his last tour--it was just one long recording session, with audiences for atmosphere, and Young knows those big moves don't come across on record. All is forgiven--they sound like they're having fun up there. In fact, I can't remember the last time a veteran rocker released such a spontaneous-sounding record. And anyone who complains about his voice cracking--which it does, all the time--should listen to Maria Callas, or Three Dog Night. A

Creem, February 1974

December 1973 March 1974

Postscript Notes:

No title given for Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wendy Waldman records. Correct titles substituted above. Waldman actually did release an album titled Wendy Waldman, but that was in 1975.