Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

Bowie: Diamond Dogs (RCA Victor). Bryan Ferry takes theatrical vocalism so far that David sounds feckless (at his worst) and sensitive (at his best) by comparison. This is much worse than best, escapist pessimism concocted from a pleasure dome: eat, snort and bugger little girls, for tomorrow we shall be peoploids--but tonight how about $6.98 for this piece of plastic? Say nay. C PLUS

Eric Clapton: 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO). As unlikely as it seems, Clapton has taken being laid-back into a new dimension. Perhaps the most brilliant exploration of the metaphorical capacities of country blues ever attempted, way better than Taj Mahal for all of side one. On side two, unfortunately, he goes a little soft. But I'll settle for two questionable live albums if he'll give us a solo record as good as this every three years. A MINUS [Later: A]

Ry Cooder: Paradise and Lunch (Reprise). Cooder holds with the human-scale sympathy and good humor of old (often rural black) songs and precise, modest arrangements. Good, we could use some. But because his voice lacks the kind of conventionally musical expressive range that a complacent clown like David Bromberg can live without, his interpretations fail to take on personal authority, and so never establish the practicability of his values in (white urban) 1974, even when the material is contemporary. B PLUS [Later: A-]

Bryan Ferry: "These Foolish Things" (Atlantic). A tour de force and you know it--"Hard Rain" is a masterpiece. But doesn't it strike you as odd that when an original as eccentric as Bryan gets a chance to put on the values of simpler chaps he blows his own music right off the turntable? A MINUS

Jerry Garcia: Garcia (Round). Garcia's willingness to strain his stringy pipes on muscular material may be a function of karmic complacency, but that doesn't mean he can't sing. His voice is as expressive as Lou Reed's or Donald Fagen's and more credible than Ry Cooder's or Robert Hunter's. The first side of this plumbs lyrics by Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson and Irving Berlin that you may never have noticed before, and Garcia's guitar spruces up the somewhat limp backing of the Marin County All-Stars. On side two, unfortunately, some other Marin County all-stars contribute songs that need another kind of plumbing. B PLUS [Later: B-]

Golden Earring: Moontan (Track). The single off this, "Radar Love," has been voted best of 1973 in England. Will it run out of radio detecting and ranging waves here? And we made "The Loco-Motion" No. 1. Yah, yah, our stupid-rock is better than your stupid-rock, especially when yours comes from Denmark. C PLUS

Etta James: Come a Little Closer (Chess). Gabriel Mekler's first record with his new property (previous: Stepppenwolf, Nolan Porter and Kozmic Janis) was called Etta James and celebrated her escape from heroin. The persona was full-bodied and bitter, hip without sounding educated about it; she sang three Randy Newman songs and two of them were never sung better. This time Meckler helped write six songs even though his three on the previous album were the dead spots. The plus is solely for the continued integrity of the singer. C PLUS [Later: B-]

King Biscuit Boy (Epic). King Biscuit Boy can be briefly described as the Canadian Paul Butterfield, a compliment, and when he sings lead with producer Allen Toussaint doing backups it's the ultimate white blues fantasy. This record, like Toussaint's two solo albums (one Scepter, one Warner Bros.) and the first LP he produced for Dr. John, is about half great--not good, great. But as before, the other half is only passable. Since this is divided into a side of Toussaint's songs (great) and a side of King Biscuit Boy's (passable), that's probably not Toussaint's fault. B PLUS

Gordon Lightfoot: Sundown (Reprise). If Gordon had dyed his hair and taken a short course at the local car wash--you think he would have lasted a week?--he might have found a new career as Jim Croce II. Instead, he scored one of his periodic hit singles, thus securing his status as a weird new kind of purist: uncompromising proponent of commercial folk music. Two songs about the lure of the sea and one about urban despair go down as easy as the usual plaints about female perfidy. Chad lives? B MINUS

Lynyrd Skynyrd: Second Helping (Sounds of the South). Still a substantial, tasteful band, but I have a hunch they blew their best stuff on the first platter. B MINUS [Later: A-]

Ian Matthews: Some Days You Eat the Bear, and Some Days the Bear Eats You (Elektra). Matthews has been our most trust-worthy folk-style interpreter--lacking Arlo's wacky originality, but always justifying the mere renditions with a cut or two that portends breakthrough--but this slides toward the homogeneity of the new schlock. Great songs by Tom Waits, Crazy Horse, Steely Dan, Joe Cocker, each of whom did them stronger. C PLUS

Curtis Mayfield: Sweet Exorcist (Curtom). No, Curtis has not latched onto another lucrative soundtrack. In fact, he claims to have written his exorcist song (about a female sexorcist) before there was an exorcist movie. He could have avoided this confusion by calling the album "To Be Invisible" after its only interesting song, from the less lucrative Claudine soundtrack, where Gladys Knight sings it better than him. Mayfield's next LP: The Great Ratsby. C

Ohio Players: Skin Tight (Mercury). Shoogity-boogity. B

Ross (RSO). As soon as I learned that Robert Stigwood, who happens to control Ross's career, thought the group worthy of opening for his prize property, Eric Clapton, I just had to hear the album. C MINUS

Roxy Music: Stranded (Atco). Any artist as oblique and ambitious as Bryan Ferry deserves an oblique, ambitious review, here provided (unintentionally) by Sidney Tillem in his "Figurative Art 1969: Aspects and Prospects": "By moral in the context of art I mean a style which executes the deeper social and psychological function of form, as opposed to a particular aspect of vanity called taste. Pop sensibility, pop consciousness, pop sentimentality have been invaluable in clarifying the provincialism and nostalgia that actually permeate a culture that has come to pride itself on sophistication. But they have not resulted in a new art simply because the requisite idealism has been lacking." B PLUS

Leon Russell: Stop All That Jazz (Shelter). The bad jokes start with the cover, which depicts Leon in a cannibal stewpot, the joke being that since he's not even tasty any more why would they bother? (Oo-ee). Leon's version of "If I Were a Carpenter" has a part about rock stars and groupies that is even dumber than the original. (Stop, my sides are splitting.) And the title is a sly reference to the horn riffs which are the only music on this record I ever want to hear again. (Stop anyway.) D PLUS

Cybill Shepherd: Cybill Does Cole Porter (Paramount). Her voice is surprisingly pleasant, but you'd never know how these songs sparkle. Since Cole didn't like it with (or "to") women very much, maybe the "do" is as hostile as it sounds. D MINUS

Velvet Underground: 1969 Velvet Underground Live (Mercury). Published reports to the contrary, this is not as good as any of the four studio Velvets LPs, though it beats Max's live simply on the strength of its adequate sound. But it does more justice to Lou Reed than any of his solo albums and adds a few minor new songs and choruses to what is already a major body of work. B PLUS [Later: A-]

The Edgar Winter Group: Shock Treatment (Epic). Good, sclocky rock and roll. B [Later: C+]

Bill Wyman: Monkey Grip (Rolling Stones). In a moment of short-lived sympathy, I theorized that maybe this record bore the same ironic relationship to laid-back International Pop Music Community country-rock as the Stones' records bear to ordinary heavy metal. If so, the irony is that this is doubly sexist and Bill really doesn't know how to sing. D

Creem, September 1974

August 1974 Sept. 12, 1974