Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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John Anderson

  • John Anderson [Warner Bros., 1980] B+
  • 2 [Warner Bros., 1981] A-
  • I Just Came Home to Count the Memories [Warner Bros., 1981] B
  • Wild and Blue [Warner Bros., 1982] B+
  • All the People Are Talkin' [Warner Bros., 1983] A-
  • Eye of a Hurricane [Warner Bros., 1984] B+
  • Greatest Hits [Warner Bros., 1984] A
  • Tokyo, Oklahoma [Warner Bros., 1985] A-
  • Countrified [Warner Bros., 1986] B-
  • Blue Skies Again [MCA, 1987] B+
  • 10 [MCA, 1988] B-
  • Seminole Wind [RCA, 1991] ***
  • You Can't Keep a Good Memory Down [MCA, 1994] ***
  • Paradise [BNA, 1995] Neither
  • Greatest Hits [BNA, 1996] B+
  • Takin' the Country Back [Mercury, 1997] A-
  • Easy Money [Warner Bros., 2007] *
  • Bigger Hands [Country Crossing, 2009] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

John Anderson [Warner Bros., 1980]
The songs fade on side two, but not since Hank Williams Jr. fell off his mountain and Gary Stewart fell off his barstool has anybody put so much vocal muscle into unadorned hard stuff. Convincer: Buddy Spicher's fiddle break on the definitive "She Just Started Liking Cheatin' Songs." B+

2 [Warner Bros., 1981]
In the right's first flush of power, as Nashville nostalgia merges revoltingly with El Lay schlock, Anderson's modest regard for the verities becomes not just a virtue but a treasure. Unlike, let us say, Eddie Rabbitt, he knows the difference between traditionalism and conformism, sentiment and bathos, makin' love and makin' out, fiddles and strings; he has the guts to attack "the power of the almighty dollar." A-

I Just Came Home to Count the Memories [Warner Bros., 1981]
He's smart, he's honest, but what makes him a country comer is the edge on his husky baritone, too indistinct and decorative to be called a vibrato or even a burr. His instinctively sentimental reading of "Don't Think Twice" establishes the limits of baritone, smarts, and honesty all at once, and I spent enough time pondering whether this was worth a B plus to conclude that I'd have known in a jiffy if I was as familiar with the Frizzell and Delmore covers as I am with the Dylan. Which should tell you what kind of B plus it's worth. This kind: B

Wild and Blue [Warner Bros., 1982]
Anderson is Ricky Skaggs without Jesus--his voice lowdown rather than angelic, his roots in the honky tonks rather than the mountains, his album wild and blue, a sexier way to say (and sing) highways and heartaches. But his gift for ballads is still a little soft, which means he comes up a touch short on the ones you know and can't quite turn filler into the staff of life. B+

All the People Are Talkin' [Warner Bros., 1983]
Anderson's slur manages to suggest comedy, sex, and rock and roll successively and sometimes simultaneously, and his fifth album in three years is his finest yet--the first to surround great hits with uniformly high-grade filler. Or maybe it's the first to make the filler sound hitbound--his defiant "Haunted House" surprised Warners by stiffing before his defiant "Black Sheep" took off. Suggested follow-ups: the hapfully plaintive "Look What Followed Me Home" and the undefiant public service announcement, "Let Somebody Else Drive." A-

Eye of a Hurricane [Warner Bros., 1984]
In which Anderson exercises his rights as a major country star and does nothing but show off the reason he's a major country star--his tonsils. As distinguished from, say, labelmate Gary Morris, he's blessed not just with a great instrument but with what'll pass for a great natural instrument--its intensity seems completely informal and rarely even hints at mannerism. I prefer him a little less doleful for sure. But I respect his rights. B+

Greatest Hits [Warner Bros., 1984]
Except maybe for Ricky Skaggs, this folksy eccentric sings fewer embarrassing songs than anyone in country music. Unlike Skaggs, he plays at innocence rather than striving for it, which is why there always seems to be something comic bubbling under the eager warmth of his voice. And as you soon learn from lyrics like "Black Sheep" and "Swingin'," he's unlike Skaggs in another way as well: he's not a moralistic tight-ass. A

Tokyo, Oklahoma [Warner Bros., 1985]
Anderson loves a good lyric the way David Johansen loves a good lyric, the way Willie Nelson loves a good tune--and he loves a good tune, too. With "Twelve Bar Blues" and "A Little Rock 'n' Roll and Some Country Blues" defeating their billing and the title tune crossing "Fujiyama Mama" and "Promised Land," this is the rock and roll album I was afraid he'd never make--he's allowed three slow songs, especially when one is as sad as "Down in Tennessee." A-

Countrified [Warner Bros., 1986]
What's made him the decade's premier country star artistically has been his disinclination to act like one--he's never climbed on the Nashville assembly line like Skaggs and Strait and so many smaller fry. Until now. He goes for George's intensity rather than Merle's hang-loose, but he won't convince you he thought these songs were special, and though this may mean the truth is still in him, don't bet on it--not after he yanked the difficult-to-program album he's got in the can. And just in case country radio isn't mollified, he provides a gratuitous cover of Merle's "Fightin' Side of Me." In the Vietnam era jingoistic trash at least made sense on its own neurotic terms. Who's he gonna beat up on in 1986? CISPES? Alexander Cockburn? B-

Blue Skies Again [MCA, 1987]
First side's generic Jawn: sunny title tune for a new label, "Duet of the Polyester Poets" with a new labelmate, and a song his wife worked on, which is the only reason I can forgive its country wet dream of a hook: "Every night you make my day." Second side's brilliant: titles like "His and Hers" and "Lying in Her Arms" are taken as far as they can go. Wonder if Jawn knows the difference anymore. B+

10 [MCA, 1988]
The noncommital title says a lot--about professionalism, about product. Not so much compromised as off his game, he kicks in with two winners and finishes off with a triumphant trope: "There's a light at the end of the tunnel/And for once it ain't a fast moving train." In between he goes all mushy about God, love, little children, born-to-losers, and the working man. B-

Seminole Wind [RCA, 1991]
it's no secret you feel better when you try ("Straight Tequila Night," "Who Got Our Love") ***

You Can't Keep a Good Memory Down [MCA, 1994]
but you can keep a good man in check, as these lesser hits prove ("Lower on the Hog," "Down in the Orange Grove," "Lying in Her Arms") ***

Paradise [BNA, 1995] Neither

Greatest Hits [BNA, 1996]
By now, his irreverent working-stiff warmth is both likable shtick and a precondition of his specialty, happy love songs whose notion of permanent fun combines conjugal self-sufficiency and downhome raunch. The best thing here is a rocking Georgia Satellites remake. The most surprising comes when he cops to his own careerism with a sad, loving song about a family that's functional but not altogether together. B+

Takin' the Country Back [Mercury, 1997]
Minding his market, Anderson announces his commitment to quality with the hilarious male chauvinist love song "Somebody Slap Me" ("She's into football, she likes my chili"), then slips off to the orange grove to pitch woo for a few tracks. That pleasant chore done, it's one exemplary piece of Nashville after another, many with his name on them. He sketches a generic small town, reclaims the eponymous country, rings changes on autumn and "I Used To Love Her," and ends up in one of his white-trash paradises bouncing on a trampoline. "Jump On It," that one's called--belongs right up there with Aretha, Van Halen, and the Pointer Sisters. A-

Easy Money [Warner Bros., 2007]
Aided by his godson John Rich, he achieves "funky country" once again--but not when he puts it that way ("Brown Liquor," "A Woman Knows"). *

Bigger Hands [Country Crossing, 2009]
The hands are God's, the gullet is his own, and the times are getting him down ("What Used to Turn Me On," "Shuttin' Detroit Down"). **

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