Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Paranoid Style: A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life [Bar/None, 2019]
Elizabeth Nelson is a fine rock critic (Lawyers, Guns and Money, Oxford American, terse jabs and judgments on Twitter) leading an able rock group, and fuck me if these aren't both side jobs insofar as they pay anything at all--she makes her living as a literacy consultant for an educational nonprofit. So as a bandleader she's earned . . . not royalties, get real, but the right to write one that adds a parenthetical "(Economy)" to the dreamy Neil Young title "Expecting to Fly." Beyond "Turpitude," as the opener is called, every unmistakably enunciated word here is known to most Americans, which doesn't mean many of them will get the jokes--my favorite: "I learned to smoke from the Contract With America/I learned to smoke from Pulp Fiction/I learned to smoke from Mojo Nixon." Squeezing 11 songs into half an hour, her voice relaxes enough to make them a pleasure. I don't get all the jokes either--as a dual citizen, Nelson understands more about Irish history and politics than I ever will. But I do know a lot about Alan Greenspan and They Might Be Giants, whose songs establish that Nelson knows more. Every catchy number is marked by linguistic specifics, and the title tune is a rock-biz masterpiece. Subject: 11 dead at a Who concert in Cincinnati, 1979. A