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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: March, 2020

Two herstories and two youngish MCs, avant art and arrant art, Malian "rock" and grrrlpunk "rock," old Duke and new Pet Shop Boys and a lil something else

Mary J. Blige: Herstory, Vol. 1 (Geffen) Blige's catalogue is so vast and so crammed with remixes that comparing this 16-track best-of to 2006's 15-track Reflections reveals only that the "I'm Goin' Down"s are identical and the "Real Love"s and "Be Happy"s different before the vastness takes over--no other song is repeated at all. Nor is anything but the always welcome "I'm Goin' Down" on the live The Tour, still my go-to Mary but now 22 years in the past. I miss The London Sessions's searing "Whole Damn Year," presumably adjudged too disruptive for a placeholder celebrating a woman who despite her famous ups and downs--the one she blithely called "Therapy" set her habit at "two times a day"--has been turning out quality albums every other year since 1992. Here be iconic cameos by Biggie, Method Man, Nas, L.L. Cool J, Jay-Z and fleeting ones by Grand Puba and Craig Mack and Smif N' Wessun. Here too be a voice of confident sweetness and clarity in a music where size and grit are the currency, a voice that as she nears 50 has gotten rounder rather than thicker. For three decades Mary has fought hip-hop sexism from within. She may not mean much to Soundclouders with grandmas younger than she is. But she's been a force for good, and you can hear it. A MINUS

Control Top: Covert Contracts (Get Better) Betrayed by a present that is fleeing so fast, shrieky-punky g-b-d vent 11 times in 29 minutes ("Covert Contracts," "Office Rage") **

Martin Creed: Thoughts Lined Up (Telephone) Although the New York Times praised Creed's 2016 Park Avenue Armory show, I'd never heard of this Turner Prize-winning neo-dadaist until, miraculously, I pulled his super-skinny promo on a random five-CD grab: 24 frail, weedy ditties also revealed to the public in 2016, although few Brits and no American known to the internet gods reviewed it. The opening "I'm Going to Do Something Soon" having attracted my attention, I knew I'd tripped over a winner as Creed veered into "Princess Taxi Girl"--the outpourings of what sounded like an insecure, overexcited 14-year-old boy even though he was already 47 back then. Always a visual artist with a musical side, Creed led a punk band long ago and kept his hand in right up to this catchy folk-punk w/ femme-cum-kiddie choir. Again and again down-to-basics wordplay subverts simplistic lyrics. "Let's Come to an Arrangement" repeats "I want to make an announcement" four times before proceeding to "I don't want to make an appointment/I don't want to make a commitment/I want to come to an arrangement/I want to come to an arrangement"; the words "agreement," "adjustment," "amendment," "accountant," "argument," "accident," and "assailant" all arise later in the minute-and-a-half song. Two tracks later, the title "Border Control" shrinks down to "border con," "border," and "bore." Like that. A MINUS

Duke Ellington: Money Jungle (Blue Note) As a fan of Ellington's 1972 This One's for Blanton session with bassist Ray Brown, I resisted this earlier date with bassist Charlie Mingus and drummer Max Roach. I feared that while paired solely with supportive pre-modernist Brown Ellington was free to wax literal about such solid tunes as "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" and "Sophisticated Lady," showboating aesthete Mingus would depth-bomb the proceedings with his genius. But instead, Mingus hews the course, his lines venturing about harmonically with no appreciable loss of bottom--Roach's drums do at least as much bombing. So both sidemen-as-equals complicate rather than undermine the tracks' melodic allure as Ellington honors the songs, at his most disruptive like Monk in a mellow mood. But I must add that the four perfectly OK bonus alternate takes on the CD release, the 1962 session's third iteration, disperse the impact of an album that initially omitted the three fine new Ellington blues that surfaced second time around. My iTunes gets an 11-track version. A MINUS

Jealous of the Birds: Parma Violets (Big Space) Unusually literate songs attentively melodized but too seldom anything more ("Tonight I Feel Like Kafka," "Marcus," "Purple Octopus") ***

Jealous of the Birds: Wisdom Teeth (Atlantic) With arrant singer-songwriter aestheticism coming back strong, arty songs that ponder imponderables lucidly are an up. As County Armagh's Naomi Hamilton announces so winsomely, there is indeed a "chasm of language" "between the thought and the taste of this sandwich." But she has the brains to know that that's not the end of it: "Don't cast aside, dare to cleave/To the marrow of belief." If you're not quite getting what she's driving at, think it over as she compares Mozart to Sgt. Pepper, gives props to a Japanese goddess, and pursues love in Finland and on Long Island--all on one arrantly intelligent and unapologetically melodic EP. A MINUS

Oumar Konaté: I Love You Inna (Clermont Music) This singer, songwriter, and above all guitarist from northern Mali made his first album in 2007 and his mark with 2014's Addoh. Three more albums followed, one studio and two live with few titles repeated. But except for the Leila Gobi-aided "Bisimillah," which brings 2013's multi-artist, anti-jihadist Festival au Desert to a climactic pitch, nothing I've heard from him equals these 10 new songs. Tougher than jam-band and more lyrical than metal, desert guitar has long been the most engaging extension of the arena-rock idea. For two distinct variations, compare the gentle "I Love You Inna" to the skanking, mournful, interactive, slow-climaxing "Almounakaf." Inna is his wife's name. "Almounakaf"'s summary reads: "Hey you! You brought all this destruction to our country. Get out!" A MINUS

Lil Wayne: Funeral (Young Money) Out a mere 15 months after the long-awaited, redolently branded, widely reviewed, 88-minute, two-disc Tha Carter V, this 76-minute collection has been downplayed by most of the few outlets that bothered to review it at all--five mostly kindish notices are nonetheless stuck down in Metacritic's dread 50-60 zone, with only Rolling Stone's a takedown pan. Cherishing no vested interest in hip-hop's musical progress, if any, I enjoy the shit out of it while admitting it's more a collection than an album, its parts more impressive than what they add up to. But it had me from the superb lead/title track: "Welcome to the funeral/Closed casket as usual/Soul snatching, that's usual/Amen, hallelujah though/Whole family delusional/Niggas cryin' like two-year-olds." With Adam Levine's and 2 Chainz's cameos better fits than XXXTentatcion's and The Dream's, I say this is his best since 2010's No Ceilings. You say you don't remember that one? Go to school. A MINUS

Mannequin Pussy: Patience (Epitaph) Rookie indie-rock bands untouched by roots mannerisms are automatically tagged punk just because they're fast, concise, and palpably unvirtuosic, a slot that well suited this Philly g-g-b-d's frantic 2016 Romantic. Several notches slower and graced or bedizened by hooky lead-guitar riffs, this is something else: to wit, "rock." The romantic preoccupations of resident genius Marisa Dabice jibe with this formal commitment, and while I can't be sure that the relevant guitar noises come from Athanasios Paul ("guitar & keys"), that's usually how such byplay goes. Don't get the wrong idea: on "Drunk 1," "High Horse," "Clams," and the hoarse, embattled "F.U.C.A.W." she's plenty pissed. But she closes with the near-anthemic "In Love Again" because that's where she wants to end up, and why shouldn't she? A MINUS

Okay Kaya: Watch This Liquid Pour Itself (Jagjaguwar) Attaching titles like "Asexual Wellbeing" and "Mother Nature's Bitch" to soft, spare, relaxed, femme music is a cool gimmick that would be so much cooler if the songs proper kept the promise ("Psych Ward," "Insert Generic Name") *

Pet Shop Boys: Hotspot (Kobalt) "Happy people/Living in a sad world," they celebrate their good fortune by setting it to music both stirring and contained--music that never conceals its limitations ("I Don't Wanna," "Wedding in Berlin," "Will-o-the-Wisp") ***

Jay Som: Anak Ko (Polyvinyl) Quiet alt-rock mood music that begins so beguilngly you may never notice it flattening as it goes on ("If You Want It," "Superbike") ***

Young M.A: Herstory in the Making (M.A Music/3D) It's a woman's voice with a brawny, low-pitched masculinity to it, articulated with no show of care and every well-chosen word distinct. The hook-free beats are as utilitarian and accomplished as vocals that always take the rhymes where they want to go: "I learned to stack up every dollar that I earned," "I put food on the table/And I did that without a cookbook," "I had one bitch, few side hoes/Takin' niggas' women with my eyes closed/I was runnin' like a snot nose," "It's a kold world/Brr, brr, buy fur." She's proud of how much she's accomplished without pretending it's made her happy or complaining it hasn't. I have a weakness for "Stubborn Ass," where the proprietor of said ass is mad Young M.A didn't take out the trash only how come Stubborn Ass always turns on the vacuum when Young M.A wants to sleep only, well, "Come here rub my head/While I rub your ass." Soon, however, she's recognizing a "depressional phase" when one comes along. For a self-made hip hop millionaire, real. A MINUS

Young Thug: So Much Fun (300 Entertainment/Atlantic) From the unusually irresistible lead "Just How It Is" to the J. Cole- and Barack Obama-certified closer "The London," his first "official" album after over a dozen "mixtapes" of similar sonic and social signature is certainly top-tier, although I still prefer the wacko Cluds-and-Brips Black Portland. In alphabetical order, it's alienated, all-embracing, catchy, complacent, crass, dirty, dissolute, facile, fucked up, funny, hedonistic, insular, licentious, light-hearted, materialistic, mumbly, rich, scared, sexist, "trap," unpretentious, woozy, and wrong. Almost a decade in, I do enjoy and even respect the fella. But I don't admire him. Not enough there there. B PLUS

And It Don't Stop, Mar. 11, 2020

Feb. 12, 2020 Apr. 8, 2020