Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Maybe if I knew more about contemporary composition I wouldn't think Spring Heel Jack was so special. Maybe if I knew more about techno flavors of the month I wouldn't either. But maybe I know enough about these areas of musical endeavor to recognize a band that's good at both simultaneously--or a band that's better at each because it's better at both. Ashley Wales is the raving electro-wiz who attends every new-music premiere in the U.K., John Coxon the pop pro who makes sure things never get too forbidding. No vocalists, sampled or otherwise, and despite an early fondness for string sounds, not much fluff. Just rockish synth noises over superfast drumbeats, augmented by a musical pallette that ranges from rumbling subbass to electronic carillon and set into long structures that sure sound like compositions to me. I'm not betting the college fund, but I doubt there's classical or techno much like it. The U.S debut was 68 Million Shades . . . ; Busy Curious Thirsty (Island) is somewhat less dancy and every bit as good. You know?

"My mother's husband is a pretty good guy/They were lovers since before my daddy died," begins one ditty on Lonesome Bob's Things Fall Apart (Checkered Past), which ends up being about compromnise, not revenge. A New Jersey native buried hip deep in the Nashville underground, he mines country music for its darkest truths and isn't afraid to put them across with words like "overidealized." Also, he rocks.

Finley Quaye is half Scottish, half Ghanaian, so naturally he sings reggae. It's 1997, so naturally his Maverick a Strike (550 Music) skanks despite its light pop feel. True star or U.K. hype, the music is all there.

Playboy, Oct. 1997

Sept. 1997 Nov. 1997