Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide

Not long ago I was lamenting rap's future in a world where gangsta had bum-rushed the cultural rhetoric. Well, later for that shit. Except for Ice Cube and his maxisingle, there's not a gangsta (as opposed to convicted criminal) among all the rap artists honored below. And almost every one is radically unlike all the others.

GARTH BROOKS: In Pieces (Liberty) His crusade against the used-CD scourge puts him up there with Rudy Giuliani on the ever-growing list of public figures who could have gone either way and promptly went that, and like Rudy, he wants the world to know that he has no use for the welfare crowd. Nor is his music getting any purer. But it is getting Garther, which means it may soon approach wonder-of-nature status--if there's anybody trying to stuff bigger emotions into a song, he or she is a lot crazier than this professional entertainer. As garish as their titles, "Standing Outside the Fire" and "The Red Strokes" won't convert skeptics. But that kind of middle-class heat is what he's about. When he calls his Baton Rouge honey every hundred miles, you can feel his dick throbbing--probably even if you don't have one yourself, which is of course the idea. And when he constructs a soap-opera plot about how an adultery connects to a random suicide, he enters passion's twilight zone. A MINUS

DE LA SOUL: Buhloone Mindstate (Tommy Boy) They emerge from their dark night as funny and unpredictable as when they were kids, and a lot looser. With grease from Maceo and friends, the mostly jazzy beats have penetrated like liniment--for all its quick turns and fancy wordplay, at bottom this feels like a groove record. Guest MCs SDP and Tagaki Kan take pig latin to the land of the ideogram, and battling sexism is De La's own Ladybug, the effervescent (and short) Shortie No Mass. Inspirational Credo Sure To Be Quoted in Non-Family Newspapers Everywhere: "Fuck being hard, Posdnous is complicated." A MINUS [Later: A]

DIGITAL UNDERGROUND: The Body-Hat Syndrome (Tommy Boy) After three tries, here's the P-Funk album of their destiny--tasteless, compassionate, uproarious, private, cultural. Given their frat-boy tendencies, maturity suits them--if you're going to tell tales on that special friend who ate peanut butter out of your asshole, it helps to compensate with sad, shocked reports from the front. The key is "Doo Woo You," in which a smooth freaky brother talks a woman into his bed and a white guy into his head simultaneously. A MINUS

EN VOGUE: Runaway Love (Atlantic) Bizwise, this EP--comprising two versions of one new song, some Salt-n-Pepa backup, and three Funky Divas remixes--is the stopgap they had to cough up before they could get on the Luther tour. As a mere admirer of Funky Divas, I prefer the techno "What Is Love," the rap "Hip Hop Lover," and the dancehall "Desire." Qua song, "Runaway Love" cuts any of them. And "Whatta Man" is the second catchiest and first funkiest thing they've ever put their larynxes on. Backup singing may not be their vocation, but they can always pay the bills with it. A MINUS [Later]

WILLIS JACKSON: Call of the Gators (Delmark) This justly renowned tenor-sax honker's first tracks as a leader are generic music by somebody who happens to be inventing the genre. Having literally made his name on Cootie Williams's "Gator Tail" in 1949, he recorded all over the place before he died in 1987, but back in 1950 Apollo elected to withhold some of his wilder three-minute rides, including the incendiary "Blow, Jackson Blow." Gator didn't have much to say about it. He was 17 at the time. A MINUS

JUNGLE BROTHERS: J. Beez Wit the Remedy (Warner Bros.) Four years after, you can definitely discern an absence--of faith or community or existential confidence, youth or advance money or raw spiritual health. Where once hooks were a pop luxury their holistic groove had no time for, now the JB's sound as dissociated (though not as jagged) as some tortured hippie manque or privileged gangsta. So catchier would be nice. Yet they remain unique--street, street-tough, devoid of suburban patina or collegiate pretension, yet somehow free of hostility, blissed out in their blackness. Positive, I guess. And the great stuff--the beats concrète of "Blahbludify" and "For the Heads at Company Z" and "Man Made Material," maybe the headlong preclimax of "JB's Comin' Through" and "Spittin Wicked Randomness"--experiments more esoterically the Michaels D or Ivey have ever dared. B PLUS [Later]

KRS-ONE: Return of the Boom Bap (Jive) His best, because the music has finally subsumed the lyrics--with outside guidance from Gang Starr's DJ Premier and others, the rapmaster's bassy beats and monophonic hooks have never sounded more catchy or more his own. Horn blats, "Three Blind Mice" guitar, siren imitation, human beat-box, whatever--all recur hypnotically and leave you hungry for more. Nor have the words fallen off. The history he teaches is mostly his own. And a couple of times he just kills the cops. A MINUS

MEKONS: I Love Mekons (Quarterstick) Right, love songs, laid out casually across disc and lyric sheet--a country album without a happy ending. Jon and Tom are too cynical, but they're not too callow, so their scenarios generate recognizable permutations of lust if not ecstasy, emotion if not devotion, and when Sally Timms sings about that "Millionaire," they sound like the great old pros they are. Too often, though, love just doesn't seem like their subject--the only time the music achieves carnal knowledge of the message is on the sarcastic "Special" and the confused "I Don't Know." B PLUS

MOBY: Move (Elektra) Ignore techno all you want, you'll still be stuck with Moby. Surrounded by meaningless glitz, he's subtle not so he won't offend but because he thinks musical sensationalism is a means to spiritual exaltation. And because he's subtle he'll be large--sooner or later he'll devise something else as universal as "Go," and when he does his label will be prepared to cross it over. Meanwhile there's this half-hour foray into the big time, keyed to the divaesque title anthem and including electronic tribal drums, drumless atmospherics, and a six-minute symphony you can dance to. A MINUS

NIRVANA: In Utero (DGC) "How 'bout some Nirvana?" you'll say. "Oh yeah, great band," the reply will go. "Really had their own sound. What do you wanna play?" "It don't matter that much, any of the first three." "You mean Bleach?" "Nah, the Geffen albums--not that outtakes thing, but Nevermind or Bluebaby or . . . what did they call the Steve Albini one?" "You mean the really hard one. In Utero. The guitar one." "What do you mean guitar? It had songs on it." "Well, so did the outtakes thing." "The Albini one had better songs, actually. And it was real cadmium besides. Toxic." "You have to play it loud, though. And aren't you supposed to crank the treble too? I liked Nevermind better." "I liked Bluebaby a little better too. But that was a good album. Go ahead. Once Madonna conks out, she sleeps through the night. She's a good baby that way--nothing wakes her up. Come on, let me relive my youth." "I hope you don't regret it in the morning." "These days, I never regret anything in the morning. I'm too fucking tired to bother. Let her rip." A MINUS [Later: A]

ORCHESTRA BAOBAB: Bamba (Stern's Africa) Especially on the title song, which hails a hero of Islam, this will remind On Verra Ça fans of how luxuriously and site-specifically this band hears classic salsa. But in addition guitarist Barthélémy Attisso, the star of an all-star show, has been listening to Osibisa or maybe Santana and taking the bullshit out. Two five-cut '80-'81 LPs fit on one CD, each of which breaks up the way prime African albums usually do--three-four really good ones plus pleasant filler. A bargain. A MINUS

PET SHOP BOYS: Very (EMI) Fey and ironic naturellement, but I wasn't ready for baroque--techno synths, massed brass, Village People chorus boys. And I also wasn't ready for sincere. For all his "I've been a teenager since before you were born," Neil Tennant finally seems, well, ready to love--finally seems to comprehend that needing another human being is more than an experiment you perform on your feelings, a way to insure that you'll not only be ravished but ravished exquisitely. Convinced cornballs may still find his emotions attenuated, but I say the production values suit the tumult in his heart and the melodies the sweetness in his soul. And I dare anybody who still thinks he's just talking to notate his high notes. A

JUSTIN WARFIELD: My Field Trip to Planet 9 (Qwest/Reprise) Maybe some junior Beastie Boy could get away with dedicating a rap album to "my Grandmother, Betty Ann Haimowitz." But not this junior Beastie Boy. No matter how many wpm he spouts, the "rap community" would just as soon he didn't exist. And no matter how many illuminati theories he spins, he's the kind of "beatnik," "drugstore cowboy," "black Jew," and "B-boy on acid" rap as a form is ripe for. Not only does he talk funky, he plays guitar, keybs, etc., filling out his psychedelia with Sigma Sound, Lou Donaldson, and, hey, the Beastie Boys. I just wonder where the sitar breaks came from. A MINUS [Later: **]

Dud of the Month

BLIND MELON (Capitol) The biggest assholes yet to go alternative platinum share management with Guns 'N Roses and woodshedded in El Lay before moving to Durham to research their image. Musically they're kind of a cross between Rhinoceros and Savage Resurrection, although without the steamroller drive of the former or the messy idealism of the latter. They do boast better chops, however. A quarter-century down the line, that's what bizzers call progress--chops, and MTV. C PLUS [Later]

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

  • Moby, Ambient (Instinct): his best since Before and After Science ("Heaven," "J Breas")
  • Lifers Group, Living Proof (Hollywood Basic): "Fuck N.W.A, put down your watergun" ("One Life To Live," "Prison Is the Death of a Poor Man")
  • New Order, Republic (Qwest/Warner Bros.) not techno and proud ("Regret," "Young Offender")
  • Primus, Pork Soda (Interscope): quite possibly the strangest top-10 band ever, and good for them ("Bob," "DMV")
  • Kris Kross, Da Bomb (Ruffhouse/Columbia): producer's pawns, voices changing, they hang in there ("Da Bomb," "Alright")
  • Futurhythms (Medicine): midrange, steady-state, "tribal" (Leftfield: "Song of Life (Radio Edit)," the Prodigy: "Wind It Up (Forward Wind Mix)")
  • Keri Leigh & the Blue Devils, No Beginner (Amazing): forget Lou Ann and think Janis cum Bonnie--finally a voice to make Austin's dreams come true ("Locomotive Blues," "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues")
  • Freedy Johnston, Unlucky (Bar/None): new producer, so it can't be good outtakes from a great album--can it? ("For a Lost Key")
  • Welcome to the Future (Epic): squiggly when it's generic, transcendent when it isn't (Out of the Ordinary: "Da Da Da," Jaydee: "Plastic Dreams (Original Version)")
  • Ice Cube, Check Yo Self (Priority): remixed two-song Predator best-of plus nigga-devil-bitch plaint ("It Was a Good Day," "Check Yo Self")
  • Funkdoobiest, Which Doobie U B? (Epic/Immortal): potbelly beats, empty threats ("Bow Wow Wow," "Doobie to the Head")
  • Meg Hentges, Tattoo Urge (Tim Kerr): straight rock by gay women ("This Kind of Love Is," "Heaven Sent")
  • Aural Ecstasy: The Best of Techno (Relativity): Techno 101--a blaring rave comp so obvious even I knew three cuts (Holy Noise: "James Brown Is Still Alive," Pornotanz: "Cysex")
  • Tony Toni Toné, Sons of Soul (Wing): sexy liars of the year ("If I Had No Loot," "Anniversary")
Choice Cuts:
  • "Kad ja podjoh na Benbasu" (Bosnia: Music From an Endangered World, Smithsonian Folkways)
  • Raven-Symoné, "That's What Little Girls Are Made Of" (Here's to New Dreams, MCA)
  • Lesego Rampolokeng with the Kalahari Surfers, "The Desk" (End Beginnings, Shifty import)
  • Cypress Hill, "Insane in the Brain," "When the Sh-- Goes Down" (Black Sunday, Ruffhouse/Columbia)
  • Chuck Higgins, "Rock 'n' Roll AKA Oh Yeah," "Is It Real" (Pachuko Hop, Specialty)
  • Guru, Jazzmatazz Volume 1 (Chrysalis)
  • Aaron Hall, The Truth (Silas/MCA)
  • Nina Simone, A Single Woman (Elektra)

Village Voice, Oct. 19, 1993

Sept. 28, 1993 Nov. 23, 1993