Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Among those who consider themselves hip, the Spin Doctors inspire a lot of ridicule just for considering themselves hippies--although having the gall to sell six million of their debut album can't have helped. But despite the carping, their music is rarely annoying and often fun--certainly not worth getting het up about. Figure them as white bohemians doing for funk syncopation what the original hippies did for blues shuffle, or as the modern equivalent of a Seventies boogie band, with Chris Barron doing a cute Gregg Allman homage. On Turn It Upside Down (Columbia), such homely ditties as Laraby's Gang (their diehard fans), Cleopatra's Cat (metaphysical pussy), and Hungry Hamed's (breakfast) make up for the loose talk about big fat funky booties. Groove bands get a lot shallower than this--including ones with deeper grooves.

Groove bands get a lot shallower than the airy funk-lite of El DeBarge as well. A decade ago, DeBarge was the smart choice for black pop's next great love man, and though it didn't work out that way, the likes of Babyface and Jerome Dupri help his unreal tenor reclaim its genius on Heart, Mind & Soul (Reprise). Read the lyric sheet and you'll suspect he's a refugee from a greeting-card factory. Listen to him sing those same icky words and you could find yourself falling in love, not to mention digging a groove.

Fast Cuts: Recorded in the Forties and Fifties, Slim Gaillard's Laughing in Rhythm: The Best of the Verve Years (Verve) is the hep, hilarious testament of jazz's greatest comedian. If the words Flat Foot Floogie mean nothing to you, they ought to. Etta James's Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday (Private Music) is torch music that does less for the object of its veneration than for her often misguided devotee, who benefits from the focus.

Playboy, July 1994

May 1994 Aug. 1994