Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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When John Lurie introduced the Lounge Lizards to downtown New York in 1980, he billed them as "fake jazz," and for the longest time it was hard to describe the band without using the words "sleazy," "lounge," or both. Influenced by Thelonious Monk, Henry Mancini, and postpunk attitude, Lurie wrote music for an android to get drunk to--tuneful, swinging, dissonant, proudly soulless, decorated with patches of chaos to help the postmodern nightcrawler feel at home. But even though you'd hope he'd know better, that wasn't enough for him--he also wanted to be taken seriously as a saxophone player.

Decent records on three different labels failed to win fortune or respect for Lurie, who instead became mildly famous starring in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger in Paradise and Down by Law. But he proved he was no fake by sticking with music. The Lounge Lizards Mark II featured second saxophonist Roy Nathanson, who combined straightforward jazz chops and sensibility with an instinct for Lurie's strange notions of presentation. When two good-to-excellent albums for Island also failed to break the band Stateside, Lurie found himself unable to convince another major label to give him what he deserved. So he released Voice of Chunk CD/cassette-only on a DIY label called 1-800-44CHUNK, which is what to dial on your phone to purchase a copy.

So why doncha? This is the strongest music of Lurie's career, combining the old fake lounge sleaze with the avantish musicality he's always aspired to. There's a tango and a Brechtian chorale and arty intros you find yourself humming two days later, and Lurie's embouchure has gained muscle. These days musicians who love jazz are hard-pressed to express their feelings without sounding reverent or received. Voice of Chunk does the trick. Anybody from downtown anywhere will recognize its sonic reality.

Playboy, Mar. 1990

Feb. 1990 Apr. 1990