Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Head Thompson Twin Tom Bailey says he's tired of complaining about the problems of the world, so on Here's to Future Days (Arista), he's decided to add to them instead. Yup, it's another one of those English positivity albums, and what hath Howard Jones wrought? What Bailey hath wrought is a much less graceful record than that horrible, negative old Into the Gap, which I always thought was pretty lightweight myself. Love is great stuff, but beware of rich pop stars telling you it's all you need--which Bailey does in so many words on this record.

ZZ Top's Eliminator was a loud boogie album in heavy-metal overdrive that sold 5,000,000 U.S. copies almost by accident after it found its legs on MTV. The follow-up, Afterburner (Warner), is nowhere near as modest or as pure--it's expressly designed to become the biggest-selling rock LP ever, and the only thing that holds its songs together is airplay potential. There's an imitation of Glenn Frey ballad on top of an imitation AC/DC screamer, synthesizers and syndrums all over the place and--just to prove they haven't lost their sense of humor--a new dance called the Velcro Fly. In short, scattered stuff from three guys who've never exactly made eclecticism a byword.

In the Seventies, Tom Waits was an L.A. beatnik manqué who drank too much and made cult inroads in the let's-get-wasted market. But his music lurched from hip to bathetic, and he needed an editor more than Jack Kerouac. Now he lives sober in New York with his wife and kid, and for once, virtue has been rewarded. Rather than losing his edge, he's gained one: The jazzy accompaniment he usually favors has taken on a Weillish abrasiveness that underlines his almost Brechtian lyrical distance from the underworlds he once celebrated so soggily. His new Rain Dogs (Island), all 19 tracks and 53 minutes of it, proves that straightening up and flying right doesn't always turn you into a cornball.

Playboy, Feb. 1986

Jan. 1986 Mar. 1986