Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Making it new is the perennial challenge of rock 'n' roll.

Ashford & Simpson honed their skill as Mowtown producer-songwriters in the Sixties and originated their own high-gloss connubial soul in the Seventies. But in the Eighties, they've topped themselves only once--with the classic marriage ballad that keynoted 1984's Solid. Their follow-up album, Real Love (Capitol), may be a little more solid on the whole, but not even "Nobody Walks in L.A."--which makes good on its title but is too quirky and local for a single--takes it on home.

Folk-blues loyalist Bonnie Raitt made it new by fronting her own band on guitar for 1982's Green Light, which proved neither New Wave nor A.O.R. enough to sell diddly. Nine Lives is her contrite return to Warner Bros., a stalwart effort to adapt her unfashionable tastes to the hooky mechanics of L.A. pop. Like her previously attempted sellout, Streetlights, it falls flat. And will probably sell diddly.

The older the newer for Phil Alvin, who as lead singer of L.A.'s Blasters helped kick off the roots-rock movement. So on his first solo album, the egregiously titled Un "Sung Stories" (Slash), he just digs further back, to the Thirties at least, for country blues and country lament, Ellingtonian brass and "Brother Can You Spare a Dime." And only once does he just go through the motions--on the blues-rock "Daddy Rollin' Stone."

Playboy, Dec. 1986

Nov. 1986 Jan. 1987