Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Xgau Sez

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Robert Christgau. New ones will appear in batches every third Tuesday.

To ask your own question, please use this form.

December 20, 2023

And It Don't Stop.

An implausible hypothetical briefly considered; Taylor's rerecordings, same; PJ Harvey and the two tests; tips welcome; a jazz starter kit for toddlers; CDs welcome.

[Q] Quick one: If your 20 favorite artists formed a committee and announced their support for Donald Trump in 2024 (whatever their reasons, w/chaos being an acceptable reason), would you continue to listen/support them? -- Liam, California

[A] This is a hypothetical so implausible--forget Trump, what about "formed a committee"?--that it's not worth answering except to point that out. I suppose you could posit a situation in which his opponent was heinous in some way, but whatever the Dems' limitations that's not plausible either. And in any case, my politics are my own, which doesn't mean they won't inevitably be affected by the neverending flow of new information that can come from anyone. I read more about politics online than I do about music.

[Q] In light of Taylor Swift's nomination as the Time Magazine Person of the Year, I was curious as to your thoughts on her decision to rerecord her first six albums. What are your feelings about this significant action? -- Brad Morosan, London, Ontario

[A] Only occasionally do I even listen to rerecordings or remasters, and almost never do I write about them. These niceties may well matter to the artists, but they're also profit-takers pure and simple that tend so marginal aesthetically that except in jazz, where improvisation counts for so much, I just feel like I have better things to do with ears that work 12-18 hours a day. Maybe what I assume about Swift is obvious; maybe it's even public knowledge. I just haven't cared enough to poke around about it. But I assume that her primary reason for those rerecordings is economic, not artistic--a way to combat the sale of her catalog out from under her nose. But I will also say that having raved about her as long ago as 2008's Fearless, I personally have found Swift's recent songs of solid quality but at the same time somewhat more predictable and/or fame-specific, hence less than compelling.

[Q] Being a PJ Harvey fan since I first read about her in your reviews, I was very curious to know your thoughts about her latest album which came out in July this year. So when the December Consumer Guide came out and there was still no review of it, I started wondering if you were even aware of its release, or maybe you had listened to it but didn't consider it good enough (or interesting enough) to dedicate a review to. If that's the case, even with artists who you previously covered and showed appreciation for, I wanted to ask what's your criterion (if there is one of course) for deciding not to review an album. Also, in that regard, Paul Simon's latest album comes to mind, especially since you mentioned in a previous Xgau Sez that you were going to listen to it. -- Gaetano, Siena, Italy

[A] I've streamed the new PJ maybe four-five times, which isn't to claim front-to-back by the way, without feeling inclined to forget about it quite yet. But that's mainly because I respect the artist as much as I do. This is PJ Harvey, after all. That said, so far it hasn't passed either of my two tests: 1) Do I want to play it again just to hear it? 2) Am I ever actively and consciously enjoying what I'm hearing on some purely aesthetic level? Not as of now. The Simon, which I purchased on the grounds that it was Paul Simon after all, failed both tests, so I'm not reviewing it. I'm giving PJ the month off and will check it out again before January is over.

[Q] How do you decide which albums you want to listen to? I imagine there are artists where you listen to their new music automatically, based on their fame or their track record. What about new ones, or those you haven't kept up with before? -- Jamie, Texas

[A] I read a lot of reviews and hear many more albums than I write about. I also have advisors de facto or otherwise--my editor Joe Levy most of all, after that my sister Georgia and my daughter Nina and my webmaster Tom Hull. But I talk music with most of the people I know and will take a likely-sounding tip from anyone.

[Q] My son is just about two years old and I have been slowly feeding him a diet of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bob Seger, Knopfler (both Mark and David), Warren Zevon (who I discovered owing to your blog) and Gordon Lightfoot. He is showing a clear inclination towards them and I'd like to introduce some jazz into the mix too. Being a jazz novice (and musically illiterate) where should I start him? -- Abhinav Arora, India

[A] Louis Armstrong's 16 Most Requested Songs. Later, Kind of Blue. Maybe Dave Brubeck's Jazz Goes to College. And jazz aside, by all means get him started on the Beatles. Sgt. Pepper, why not?

[Q] After decades of fielding promos, along with whatever you've acquired on your own, how do you manage your physical collection inside of a 21st century NYC? And are you happier now that most review content is sent digitally? -- Joe Siiva, Atlanta

[A] With insufficient space and ever-increasing difficulty. Any intellectual my age has to start pondering how to dispose of his library, but usually those faced with that ever-expanding dilemma aren't also working full-time. I am. That said, it's high on my to-do list and may even be something I want to write about. And I should add that as I've indicated before here, I much prefer physicals, especially CDs--in part because they're simple to stick a bunch in a changer for an informal compare-and-contrast but also because, just as with e-books versus printed books, I find listening to streamed music different psychologically from putting CDs in a changer. In both cases I'm old enough to be somewhat disoriented by its lack of materiality.