Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (20)

There are still jazz fans in England who believe it isn't jazz unless it sounds as if it were recorded on Vocalion in 1926. There are still lots of jazz fans--one of them used to write me intemperate letters--who believe jazz ended with the big bands. Some of these (my correspondent included) are critics, and if you peruse the jazz journals you can find them still, gushing over the latest Woody Herman record and fulminating against bebop; BS&T tries but Ornette Coleman is a poseur and Bird lives only to torment the faithful. There is no reason why a similar myopia shouldn't overtake rock and roll, although rock and roll does seem to hang in there as a popular music. Even now, however, there are cliques that support various rock and roll's historical periods (rhythm and blues, mid-'60s punk) and put out mimeographed journals like a bunch of Trotskyites. We professional critics, of course, put on our shows of eclectic enthusiasm, but sometimes I suspect we're not much better. We'll be saying nice things about the spirit of rock and roll when the spirit of rock and roll belongs in an airplane hanger at the Smithsonian Institute.

In case you haven't caught on, I'm doing one of my self-doubt numbers. This spasm began when I looked over my latest CG and saw what nasty things I've said about performers who used to be my heroes. Are John Sebastian and the Youngbloods really making such bad music, or are they going places I don't want to go? Of course, you know the answer: they're making bad music, natch. A lot of musicians who wanted an audience turned to rock and roll in the mid-'60s because that's where the audience was, a process which seems more than legitimate to me. But the way the star system works, they no longer have to do that--not for a few years, anyway. For a while, a decent-sized audience will follow them wherever they choose to go. As Michael Lydon observed in a column in Fusion recently, that's the most elementary message of auteur theory: trust the artist. The problem with me is I'm a suspicious bastard. So this one is for all you suspicious bastards out there. I like Sunflower as much as anyone, but Surf's Up is pretty shitty.

You will recite one chorus of "Johnny B. Goode" before continuing.

THE BEACH BOYS: Surf's Up (Brother/Reprise) After many, many listenings--if I hadn't listened so hard, I wouldn't be so severe--I have to conclude that this is their worst since worstever Friends, which only goes to show that the great group trip and the transcendental meditation trip are equally enervating. I can live forever without hearing most of these songs again, although I really like two: "Disney Girls (1957)" and "Take a Load Off Your Feet." Van Dyke Parks's wacked-out lyricist meandering is matched by the sophomoric spiritual quest of Jack Rieley, and the music drags hither and yon. I will trade my copy for Surfin' Safari even up, and you'll be sorry. C PLUS [Later: B-]

JACK BRUCE: Harmony Row (Atco) Contrary to rumor, this is not an Unjustly Ignored Work of Art. This is a Bad Work of Art. Bruce's music is, yes, well-made, dense and dissonant and throbbing, but it's designed to accompany Pete Brown's lyrics, which are, arghh, overwrought, obscure and literary and clichéd. Bad lyrics meant merely to lend vocal color to somebody's boogie are forgivable. Bad lyrics enunciated and printed on a special page of the jacket are not. C [Later: C+]

THE BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND: Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin' (Elektra) I've admired Butterfield's most recent albums but never play them. This one I don't even admire. Butterfield sings infrequently, a lot of the playing is familiar experimental stuff, and the female chorus is used very badly. C [Later: B-]

LEONARD COHEN: Songs of Love and Hate (Columbia) I loved Cohen's first lp and then kind of forgot about him until McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Well, it's nice to be back. If you agree that he has a miraculously intimate voice and dig his studied vulgarity, you'll approve of this. A MINUS [Later]

FANNY: Charity Ball (Reprise) This is a vast improvement over the first lp, but the change is difficult to put down--an increase in presence plus better material. There is something intrinsically fresh about four women singing old-fashioned tight commercial rock--for them it is a challenge, while for men it would just be a self-conscious historical exercise. B PLUS [Later]

THE GRATEFUL DEAD (Warner Bros.) As a certified Grateful Dead freak, I wish some of this had been done in the studio--Bob Weir's voice tends to get lost when it's recorded live--and could pretty much do without the drum-and-guitar joint-lighting interlude that occupies most of one of the four sides, but the old magic remains, and I've been waiting for them to record "Not Fade Away" for years. A MINUS [Later: B+]

GRIN (Spindizzy) SS7. Crazy Horse phenom Nils Lofgren has come up with his own little group on his own little label. Nifty sweet-and-sour. Highlights: "Everybody's Missin' the Sun," "If I Were a Song." B PLUS [Later]

KING FLOYD: King Floyd (Cotillion) This is virtually the only good soul music to come from Atlantic in recent memory, which must mean something, probably not good. A standard solid soul lp, nothing ruinous and a couple of good singles to get off on. B

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: The Silver Tongued Devil and I (Monument) People say Kris is ruined by his producer. Note, however, that the ruin isn't commercial but artistic. That's because his pet paradox--commercial Nashville songwriter as hobo intellectual--almost demands schlock strings. Ungainly, to say the least. C MINUS [Later]

THE MOTHERS: Fillmore East, June 1971 (Bizarre) This should dispel any arguments about where Big Mother ripped off his popularity. The usual moderne clichés are packaged with a lot of adolescent sexist drivel from some ex-Turtles, simultaneously dirtier and less obscene than the Fugs. One more slick exploitation. D PLUS [Later: C-]

THE NEW RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE (Columbia) As a certified Grateful Dead freak, I probably should disqualify myself for this record, which has grown on me even though Marmaduke's vocals are weak enough to turn a lot of people off. The trouble is, I really like it, and suspect that anyone who admires the recent Dead will too. Jerry Garcia sounds good on pedal steel. A MINUS [Later: B+]

THE RASCALS: Peaceful World (Columbia) After six years the Rascals continue their seemingly effortless evolution from white punk r&b to white cosmic jazz. Only the Beach Boys have changed so much with so little strain. Jazz musicians like Alice Coltrane and Ron Carter contribute to Felix Cavaliere's seamless popularization of the kind of music that Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra and John Coltrane have been working toward for years, and they belong. Yet like so many similar attempts, this double-lp is marred by tedious and silly stretches and is sometimes too relaxed, and I'd really rather listen to the old Rascals' more tightly constructed work, such as . . . B PLUS [Later: C+]

THE RASCALS: Search and Nearness (Atlantic) Gene and Eddie, wherever you are, we remember. A MINUS [Later: B+]

REDEYE: One Man's Poison (Pentagram) And when I first heard about Crosby, Stills & Nash, I thought they were going to save rock and roll. C MINUS

JOHN SEBASTIAN: The Four of Us (Reprise) Sebastian makes the mistake of beginning this with two great blues, after which his own funk and mawk sound lifeless. The title suite (or whatever it is) is an especially sloppy example of the tie-dyed mind in action. C [Later]

STEPHEN STILLS: Stephen Stills 2 (Atlantic) Stills is of course detestable, the ultimate rich hippie--arrogant, self-pitying, sexist, shallow. Unfortunately, he's never quite communicated all this on a record, but now he's approaching his true level. Flashes of brilliant ease remain--the single, "Marianne," is very nice, especially if you don't listen too hard to the lyrics--but there's also a lot of stuff on the order of an all-male chorus with jazzy horns singing "It's disgusting" in perfect tuneful unison, and straight, I swear. Keep it up, SS--it'll be a pleasure to watch you fail. C [Later]

TEN YEARS AFTER: A Space in Time (Columbia) This is a record about the coming of age of a rock heavy.; Musically, Alvin Lee continues to grow without outgrowing the rock, but there's something so cautious--cautious, hell, just dumb--about his philosophical stance that I can't quite get off on this. B PLUS [Later: B-]

HOWARD WALES AND JERRY GARCIA: Hooteroll (Douglas) All instrumental combination of perfunctory funk and astral diversion. As a certified Grateful Dead freak, I object. C PLUS [Later]

WET WILLIE: Wet Willie (Capricorn) If any of you is sufficiently impressed by the Allman Brothers to settle for an imitation, here it is, with great cover art and a touch of declamation for flavoring. C

THE YOUNGBLOODS: Ride the Wind (Raccoon) This has to be the ultimate Marin County trip--a lot of third-hand Barney Kessel and/or Lennie Tristano noodling that wouldn't have second-billed for two weeks at the Half Note in 1967, plus some very occasional vocals from ol' Jess, who sounds like Mel Torme after 2000 mikes and three months of Diet No. 7. Country vibes don't mean spilling your seed on the ground. D [Later]

Additional Consumer News

I was curious, so perhaps you are too: "Goodbye, Media Man," Tom Fogerty's first single as a single, is unextraordinary musically, simplistic lyrically, and also Tom doesn't sing too good. Part II is better than Part I, should you run into it on a jukebox in Lodi; it's also shorter and has less words. Get back, Tom. . . .

My current fab fave is "Yo-Yo," by the Osmonds, which will be disliked by Jackson Five fans and liked by Jackson Five admirers. If only Jazz & Pop were still around I'd vote for it as arrangement of the year. . . .

I find that Buddah and Roulette lps almost invariably fail to slide down my Dual changer. Open your holes, fellas. . . .

A late social note from Women's Wear Daily: "Jan Wenner and his wife Janie had dinner recently with Rolling Stone's ex-New York Flyer editor and his wife, Lynn. Wenner's limousine was surrounded by fans in front of Mary's Italian restaurant on Bedford Street. Mrs. Wenner wore a pair of cowboy boots given her by Diane Chess, whose husband is president of Chess Records. Mrs. Hodenfield wore one of her hand-painted silk dresses, which are sold at Deborah & Claire's in London. Wenner forsook his usual three piece Great Gatsby suit for the Bob Dylan millionaire rock star look of denim jacket and bell-bottoms." . . .

The rename David Crosby contest attracted exactly one entry, from grokker Steve Ciano, who suggested Elton Zimmerman III. In the opinion of judges, which is final, this beat none of my suggestions (Roger Crosby, Rocky Muzak, Vaughan Monroe) so no prize will be awarded. But I will announce a second contest, a simple answer to the question: "Why is this Consumer Guide different from all other Consumer Guides?" Employees of the record industry and their families may not enter, and appropriate prizes will be awarded.

Village Voice, Oct. 14, 1971

Aug. 19, 1971 Dec. 12, 1971