Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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With their strange haircuts and hello-Dali lyrics, the Pixies are deja vu rebels, college radio's latest great white hopes. Rosanne Cash, on the other hand, is an X factor in the most conservative of pop subgenres, accepted in Nashville because she's Johnny's daughter even though she's never fit the Nashville mold. The Pixies are up-and-comers who play to a cult, Cash a name who plays to an an audience. And on their new albums--Bossanova, the Pixies' third, and Interiors, Cash's sixth--both artists test the faith of their followings, who are now muttering about sellout. Don't you believe it.

Although it's said alternative types love the Pixies for Black Francis's associative verse, ordinary people notice the slashing riffs of Joey Santiago, a guitarist equally enamored of punk attack, metal power, and pop melodicism. Bossanova's perceived overtures to the corrupt world beyond are embodied by a slight shift in the balance of these interests--there's a grand hookiness to the guitar parts that makes Francis's ironic, doomed romanticism seem more like the lingua franca it very well could be. The music never stops. For doomed romanticism, it's triumphant stuff.

It could be said that Interiors also traffics in doomed romanticism, but without the grandeur. Known as an interpreter, Cash writes every lyric; ordinarily produced by husband Rodney Crowell, she takes the reins herself. Under the circumstances, it's not too surprising that every song is about marriage trouble. What is surprising is how sharp they are--obsessed though it is with monogamy and its discontents, even country music rarely produces such unblinking songs, and obsessed though it is with hummability, it rarely produces such tuneful ones. Straight and narrow fans will complain that her ideas are too modern, just like her quiet improvements on Crowell's L.A. country-rock. Ordinary people will treasure her smarts and soul.

Playboy, Oct. 1990

Sept. 1990 Nov. 1990