Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Turkey Shoot 2003

Putatively musical sounds from hunger, for the fan of the future in a very disastrous year

AFRO CELTS: Seed (Real World) Another U.K. band Americans don't need--musically, we're all Afrocelts, and uilleann pipes have nothing to do with it. Not that they have much to do with this oleaginous fusion unit, where a predictable surfeit of Celts--or at least white people, given headman Simon Emmerson's highly Anglo-Saxon surname--have long favored electronics and such pan-world signifiers as bouzouki, tabla, and flamenco guitar. Right, the aim is spiritual deep down--a way for Wiccans who only go to church on Halloween to get in touch with their inner shamans. So two Africans beat their "tribal drums," as one admiring review ID'd them, while Emmerson and a late Pogue and a formerly Gaelic-only vocalist position themselves alongside a kora player whose hometown in Guinea has been electrified by a portion of their earnings. Next they should chip in some samplers. Music may come of this yet. C MINUS

CLAY AIKEN: Measure of a Man (RCA) Thank "God, the Alpha" and "Jesus Christ, the Omega." Also Clive Davis, the Phi Beta Kappa. Plus several people named Simon. After whom come Chris Braide, Danielle Brisebois, Gary Burr, Andreas Carlsson, Jess Cates, Desmond Child, Cathy Dennis, Kara Dioguardi, David Eriksen, Jeff Franzel, Pete Gordeno, Jimmy Harry, Darren Hayes, Wayne Hector, Enrique Iglesias, Ty Lacy, Dennis Matkosky, Steve Morales, Aldo Nova, Rick Nowels, Lindy Robbins, David Siegel, Shep Solomon, and Reed Vertelney, who among them somehow managed to write all of this would-be idol's 12 songs. D

ASHANTI: Chapter II (Murder Inc.) Thug moll no more, Ashanti posits the musical question, "Why do gangsta boys go out with candy-pop girls?" Beyond some Mary moves and her sample-ready "awww baby," the sole outright attraction of her pathologically modest follow-up is "Then Ya Gone," which turns out to be about lovers dying rather than lovers leaving--although at Murder Inc., leaving is all they do, right? C

RY COODER/MANUEL GALBÁN: Mambo Sinuendo (Nonesuch/Perro Verde) Before deciding whether you really want the new Ry Cooder album, try an easier question--do you really want the new Manuel Galbán album? That is, the solo debut (well, duo debut) by the guitarist-arranger of the "great" (I keep reading but not hearing) old Cuban doowop group Los Zafiros. Unless you're one of those guys who keeps up with Dick Dale, probably not. Which clears up the Ry question without even referencing clunky drummer Joachim Cooder, who should never be allowed to back one of his father's discoveries again for as long as he lives. B MINUS

EVANESCENCE: Fallen (Wind-Up) The one and only rock breakthrough of this disastrous year is less dire than you'd think. They're Christians, but goth-metal Christians. I mean they're goth-metal, but goth-metal Christians. I mean they're Christians who told a webzine that "the world is filled with hateful people who parade the name of Christ like a badge that grants them immunity to destroy anyone that disagrees with them," celebrated their megahit debut with Dom Perignon, and were yanked from Bible stores for using bad words in Entertainment Weekly. Their faith, as embodied in Amy Lee's clarion sopralto, lends their goth-metal a palpable sweetness. Now if only it wasn't goth-metal at all. B MINUS

BETH GIBBONS & RUSTIN MAN: Out of Season (Sanctuary) No longer deploying dolor for art points, Gibbons takes her aestheticism up an order of difficulty. From tasteful simplicity to dramatic vibrato to cracked slur to Badu-does-Holiday to "water-coloured memories/Soft as a summer breeze" to precision whisper to country-soul sincerity to loose-whisper-gets-busy to frail-drawl-achieves-grandeur to filtered weirdness to total mannered live bollocks of "Candy Says," she and her hands-on arranger achieve whatever dramatic perspective they map out. But to what end? Gibbons's failure to leave the likes of "And I only hear/Only hear the rain" and "Time is but a memory" in her notebook suggests one limitation of her songcraft. But the selling point for her admirers is the deal breaker for me: a hard-earned refinement that by the nature of its ambition claims more universality than it has any right to. B MINUS

JOSH GROBAN: Closer (143/Reprise) I prefer this hunky purveyor of semiclassical ear massage to his polar coordinates, John Raitt and Andrea Bocelli--lacking the voice of either, he rarely shows off, and the ease is a relief. But the critique his label treasures comes from an actual consumer analyzing his two previous multiplatinums: "I bought 4 of each. One each to play in my house, my office, my car, and for my portable CD player." The fan of the future! C PLUS

JUNIOR SENIOR: D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat (Chunky Frog/Atlantic) Between fun and the idea of fun falls the shadow--in a word, self-consciousness. Self-consciousness doesn't stop Fannypack, but these Danes aren't tuned-in enough for stereotype play. It didn't stop the B-52's, ditto, plus the Danes lack Fred, Cindy, Kate, and especially Ricky. If anything, their model is the much simpler and purer KC and the Sunshine Band, who upon direct comparison prove not so simple and hence purer. Pardon my poop. But I'm out of this party. C PLUS

DANIEL LANOIS: Shine (Anti-) Born September 19, 1951, Lanois has mortality on his mind, and "I Love You" nails it: "Come sure, come soon, come leave just one song/One song, one beat, one dust, one end, one for all/One stone for the marking for the dream when it falls." But this isn't literature, and since true fatalism requires a steely resolve that the failed humility and fake passivity of Lanois's gauzy sound don't comprehend, I pray somebody makes those lines worth hearing. Or no, not pray--there's enough of that in "Shine," a hymn to Sol, and "Falling at Your Feet," a hymn to God. C PLUS

THE MARS VOLTA: De-Loused in the Comatorium (Universal) The most unrepentantly prog band to break in years began when Puerto Rico-born guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Mexican American vocalist Cedric Bixler Zavala rejected At the Drive-In's post-hardcore strictures, with Rodriguez citing salsa as a crucial influence. But his guitar montunos aren't salsa any more than Jon Theodore's Haiti-inflected heavy-muscle drumming is vodun. Salsa requires a groove, which the old people know embodies the community to which each individual is subordinate--such as At the Drive-In's forward thrash, which subsumes the complex songforms and explosive guitar from which the Mars Volta audibly proceed. In the case of Rodriguez's phrases and noises, romantic individualism has its uses. But Bixler's highfalutin inanities--the imagined dreamlife of a suicidal artist, all clotted surrealism and Geddy Lee theatrics--need whatever subordination they can get. C PLUS

LISA MARIE PRESLEY: To Whom It May Concern (Capitol) The first surprise is that the Glen Ballard AOR isn't worse. The second surprise is that she wrote the intense if clumsy lyrics herself. The final surprise is that seven months after its No. 5 debut nobody remembers it ever existed except Elvis fan clubs, the Church of Scientology, the president of Capitol Records, and maybe, just maybe, Jann Wenner. C

TRACHTENBURG FAMILY SLIDESHOW PLAYERS: Vintage Slide Collections From Seattle, Vol. I (Bar/None) "There are those who would say that we're full of ourselves/Well we'd have to agree as we strongly believe in what we do," preen the father and daughter who front the archest musical act ever to beguile connoisseurs of the naive, the homemade, the outside, the ironic, and the godawful. Illustrated folk-rock ditties that could make a Langley Schools Music Project fan blow lunch if he hadn't already blown his lunch money. If only Sub/Pop had signed Dad's real band. C MINUS

OBIE TRICE: Cheers (Shady/Interscope) Likes his mom more than his boss likes his, and will need the house he plans to buy her sooner than he thinks. C PLUS

ANDREW W.K.: The Wolf (Island) Median track length, I Get Wet: 3:07. Median track length, The Wolf: 3:59. The steroids or the frat boys have gone to his head. C PLUS

DARRYL WORLEY: Have You Forgotten? (DreamWorks) So united are we that few Voice readers are even aware of the title song, which spent seven weeks atop the country chart hawking the Iraq war with the doubly misleading refrain, "And you say you shouldn't worry about bin Laden/Have you forgotten?" (To be perfectly clear, no sane American says don't worry about bin Laden, and no honest one claims he had anything to do with Iraq before we devastated it.) Also included are permission to a P.O.W. to cut Darryl off on the interstate, a white-collar grunt screwing a Mexican hooker, a blue-collar grunt running away with his cashier girlfriend, a lament that the Civil War was ever fought, and "Those Less Fortunate Than I," a rare and convincing argument that he and his listeners bear some responsibility for the inner city. Nor does this last seem a p.c. smokescreen. More likely Worley's just a thoughtful guy who watches too much Fox News. Which doesn't make his smash an iota less evil. C MINUS

Village Voice, Dec. 2, 2003

Nov. 18, 2003 Dec. 30, 2003