Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Forever Changes [Columbia, 1967] A-
  • Out Here [Blue Thumb, 1969] C-
  • False Start [Blue Thumb, 1970] A-
  • Reel to Real [RSO, 1974] B+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Forever Changes [Columbia, 1967]
"Art-rock," sneers my wife, who's never heard it before. "Movie music," Greil Marcus recalls fondly. "I just played it this week," R. Meltzer tells me--and then places its release in early 1968 because it came out the day before a well-remembered abortion. All wrong. It came out November 1967, and neither art-rock nor movie music, no matter how fondly recalled, will permit a song that begins with an elegantly enunciated "Oh, the snot has caked against my pants/It has turned into crystal." Arthur Lee was always too oblique for his own good. Here he counterposes a background-music feel and a delightful panoply of studio effects against his own winning skepticism and the incipient Jaggerishness of his pseudo-Johnny Mathis vocals. Perhaps because it retains so much humor, his battle cry--"We're all normal and we want our freedom"--hasn't dated, the melodies really hang in there, and only Steely Dan has ever attempted a record so simultaneously MOR and anti-MOR. A-

Out Here [Blue Thumb, 1969]
Arthur Lee has made a good career out of anticipating and capitalizing on ideas that were natural to other people. Sometimes, as on his best Jagger imitations and most of the Forever Changes studio effects, he has seemed an almost transcendantly pop figure, and he has always written interesting songs. This time, unfortunately, he has chosen to play off the super session idea, larding the two-lp set with some of the most witless instrumentals in recording history. Har, har, Arthurly. C-

False Start [Blue Thumb, 1970]
Fired on the opening cut by some lead guitar from special guest Jimi Hendrix, the first side is new funk at its best: complex, carnal, and crazy. Arthur Lee has never sung so soulfully, and while new guitarist Gary Rowles ain't Hendrix, he's willing to fake it. Side two gets poppier, with fey moments that aren't up to what Lee has accomplished in that mode before. But since that's as much as anybody, big deal. A-

Reel to Real [RSO, 1974]
On side one the Jimi Hendrix tribute of (Arthur Lee's) Vindicator gives way to an Otis Redding, from simple songs to rhythmic gutturals, although Lee the ironic popmeister sticks his head in twice, which makes the naive optimism of "With a Little Energy" seem a little less one-dimensional. Different Lees contend for side two--Otis, Jimi, Arthur, the weirdo who thought of "Singing Cowboy," and sewer designer William DeVaughn, whose top-five hit from earlier this year Lee has the audacity to cover. Be thankful for what you've got indeed. B+

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