Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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In an age of rampant moderation, nobody wants to watch a loved one commit virtual suicide via sex, drugs, animal fat, or excess TV exposure. But since good sense is hell on entertainment value, it's a kick to reencounter reprobate acquaintances like Shane MacGowan and Warren Zevon.

Famous for his bad teeth and worse liver, MacGowan led the Irish-identified speed-folk band the Pogues until he couldn't stand up anymore, and after a long layoff he's back, undiminished and apparently unreconstructed. On The Snake (Warner Bros.), his new ensemble, Shane MacGowan & the Popes, sing the praises of whiskey, gin, "opium euphoria," fucking guys' wives but not their daughters, and the stubbornest vice of all, Roman Catholicism, here cited as The Church of the Holy Spook. The music is rough, MacGowan's defiantly tuneless voice rougher still. Sometimes the old ways are the best.

If L.A. low-life connoisseur Zevon seems a polite fellow after MacGowan, it's only by comparison. A longtime biz denizen, he's always favored a revved-up studio attack, invariably expert and sometimes lyrical but louder and rawer than the session musicians he hangs with would normally countenance. Leading off Mutineer (Giant) is one of Zevon's great bad-boy yarns, Seminole Bingo, the tale of a crooked bond trader who gets hooked on the tables at an Indian reservation while fleeing the S.E.C. Rottweiler Blues, a mean dissection of paranoia in paradise, is also classic. And the love songs are as desolate as ever. He's rock's own Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard. And he'll settle for it till he's got nothing left to settle with.

Haiti's Boukman Eksperyans are justly ranked among world-beat's most musically fluent and politically aware exponents. On Libčte (Pran Pou Pran'l!)/Freedom (Let's Take It) (Mango), they couch their virtues in songs and beats mere hedonists will know how to enjoy.

Playboy, May 1995

Apr. 1995 June 1995