Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Paul Westerberg is getting kind of old for an enfant terrible, so I'm sure he's responding to an inner urge rather than Sire's siren call. But with its maturing tempos and hooky guitar-chime echoes, Don't Tell a Soul, his third album for the major label since he triumphed over chaos for indie Twin/Tone with 1984's Let It Be, sounds like the commercial compromise his cult began claiming in 1985. His gifts are undiminished--he's pithy, tuneful, raucous, sincere. But though he proved long ago that the longing for wisdom is a winsome thing, achieving it is harder. Back when he wrote songs called "Fuck School" and "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and "Kiss Me on the Bus," Westerberg and his careening band made adolescent angst not just intellible but compelling. Summing up his ruefully jaundiced worldview in "We'll Inherit the Earth" and "Asking Me Lies" or his feelings on "Achin' To Be" and "Darlin' One," he's just pithy, tuneful, raucous, and sincere. Which is plenty, and not enough.

In age and class, Long Island's De La Soul are like the young Replacements. But the same pop cuteness and accessibility that represent a retreat for the white hardcore veterans signify an audacious eccentricity in the black rappers. 3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy) is radically unlike any rap album you or anybody else has ever heard. With its 24 cuts crammed into 67 minutes (long enough to make cassette or CD sound a must), it's playful, arch, often obscure, sometimes self-indulgent. Yes, they write songs about their "jimmies"--there's even a heavy breathing interlude called "De La Orgee." But they're also fascinated by childhood, and by high school. "Treading Water" features a squirrel, a monkeys, a fish, and a crocodile; "Transmitting Live from Mars" samples a French lesson. De La Soul's totem is the daisy. You can dance to them.

Playboy, Feb. 1989

Jan. 1989 Mar. 1989