Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

Having completed most of these capsule reviews well before writing this intro, I was a bit alarmed when I looked them over and asked myself how many of the B plusses, or even A minuses, I really wanted to hear again. Good records, undeniably, but they're already stranded on my shelves a month or two after release. The only one I've played since writing about it is by K.C. and the Sunshine Band, America's answer to AWB.

Nevertheless, I will persist. The presumption of this feature is that a few of my readers crave good new music as much as I do; its pretension is that it's possible to winnow the good new stuff out. As usual, a rating of A minus or above indicates a record recommended more or less unreservedly to those who share my increasingly arcane taste for all intelligent rock and roll and the very best of the other stuff. B plusses are borderline. B's show a satisfying competence or occasionally exciting brilliance, and below that I never expect to play of my own free will again.

I think when I get home tonight I'm gonna listen to that Michael Jackson again, maybe Loudon, and I think Man too. Nice stuff.

B.T. EXPRESS: Do It ('Til You're Satisfied) (Scepter/Roadshow) Boogity-shoogity. B MINUS [Later: C+]

ERIC BURDON BAND: Sun Secrets (Capitol) In this age of fiberglass, Eric's stage show appears genuinely demented--his guitar players look like head-comix versions of Chuck Berry and Panama Red, and on his second encore he holds the entire mikestand in his teeth, like a dirk. But when the poor kid was on the radio in Boston not long ago, more than one kid called in to ask how he did the guitar parts on "Layla." C [Later]

FANCY: Wild Thing (Big Tree) Especially on the tour de force title track, it sounds at first as if lead singer Ann Kavanagh might be the real Suzi Quatro, but she's not, she's just the pro. You can imagine hard-core rock? Well, this is soft-core. C PLUS

W.C. FIELDS: The Further Adventures of Larson E. Whipsnade and Other Taradiddles (Columbia) A quarter century after his death, Fields is harder to deny in the contemplation than on the TV or the stereo. Sure, he was a great comedian, but that doesn't make his films or records compellingly funny. Poppy and The Great Radio Feuds, two companion discs, suffer from limitations of format and context (radio play, complete with ingenue at swimming hole for sex appeal, running gags about Charlie McCarthy's wooden legs) that seem quaint at best. This collection, however, is so wild that to call it surrealistic is to taint it with aesthetic respectability. Laugh first, appreciate later, I say. A MINUS

MICHAEL JACKSON: Forever, Michael (Motown) I'm converted. Because it's possible to believe that their sincerity is neither feigned nor foolish, it's good in theory for children to sing romantic ballads. The reason it doesn't work is that the sincerity is so transparently manipulated from above. At 16, however, Michael's voice combines autonomy and helpless innocence in effective proportions. He also gets production help from Brian Holland (who begins one side like Barry White and the other like the Ohio Players) and a few romantic ballads (sure hit: "One Day in Your Life") that are as credible on their own terms as the rockers. A MINUS

K.C. & THE SUNSHINE BAND: Do It Good (T.K.) High-tension disco-soul from the white boys who produced "Rock Your Baby" and wrote some songs for Betty Wright, whom see. With George McCrae adding his falsetto at one strategic moment. A weirdo and a sleeper. B PLUS [Later]

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON AND RITA COOLIDGE: Breakaway (Monument) The least embarrassing LP either had made in years is a testament of what just might be a fairly interesting marriage. The way you can tell is that the love songs about separation and temptation and compulsion and good-timing work out, while the ode to romantic serenity (could it be by the same Sherman brothers who occasionally soundtrack a Disney movie?) sound like it was recorded at gunpoint. One couplet, however, encapsulates the album's failure: "I'd rather be sorry for something I've done/Than for something that I didn't do." You notice how you begin to expect some sort of rhetorical foofaraw about midway through the second line? You don't get it, do you? That's what I mean. B MINUS [Later]

ALVIN LEE: In Flight (Columbia) Considering that this live double-LP might well have consisted of eight or nine speed-rapt blues solars and a couple of shorties, it is a triumph of discipline, and Lee's countryish r&b renderings do no dishonor to the memory of Elvis Presley. But his own compositions lack bite, and the covers are never more interesting that the originals. Elvis's most always were. B MINUS

NILS LOFGREN (A&M) Lofgren has apparently regained his prodigious gift for the hook, and most of these songs catch and hold. But his visionary flash has dimmed. Somehow I expect more of this always-the-best-man never-the-popstar than a concept which demands devotion from his various women on one side while declaring devotion to his career on the other. B PLUS

MAN: Slow Motion (United Artists) If this band can put together its electric power and riffing facility with its moments of compassion and overall tough good spirits, it may turn out to be a great one. And if it does, we will turn back to this as a great album. As of now: promising, invigorating. B PLUS [Later]

MELISSA MANCHESTER: Melissa (Arista) Manchester is very sexy in a barely disciplined, almost blowzy way--maybe a touch over-enlightened, a little too liberal with her emotions--and this is a pleasant surprise. "Stevie's Wonder" is the ultimate fan letter and "I Got Eyes" nice juicy fuck music. Both transcend the rest of the album, which in turn transcends the dreariness and popped seams of the two previous LPs. B PLUS [Later]

MIAMI: The Party Freaks (Drive) Inspirational Verse: "Girl with the see-through pants on/I can see through to your bone/What I see is outta sight/Tell me, can I love you tonight?" C MINUS

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: Have You Never Been Mellow (MCA) After checking out the competition--I've given up on Helen Reddy, Anne Murray repeats herself, and Loretta Lynn's latest is a bummer--I began to entertain heathenish thoughts about this MOR nemesis, whose mid-Atlantic accent inspired Tammy Wynette to found a country music association designed to exclude her. At least this woman sounds sexy, says I to meself, but Carola soon set me straight. "A geisha," she scoffed. "She makes her voice smaller than it really is just to please men." At which point I put away my heathenish thoughts and finished the dishes. D PLUS

ROXY MUSIC: Country Life (Atco) The Teutonic textures of this music are proof negative of Bryan Ferry's deep-seated romanticism. But what happens when romanticism goes sour? And what is Phil Manzanera doing on that Nico record that closes with her version of "Deutschland Uber Alles"? Oh well, I've always said good rock has to be dangerous. But when did I say it could be slow? B PLUS

LEO SAYER: Just a Boy (Warner Bros.) Personally, I thought he was more credible in his clown suit. C PLUS [Later]

GIL SCOTT-HERON, BRIAN JACKSON AND THE MIDNIGHT BAND: The First Minute of a New Day (Arista) This poet-turned-musician suggests that white singer-songwriters could benefit from prolonged commitment to a musically sophisticated culture. He's got it, and he flaunts it. The singing will get stronger, and maybe some day every lyric will be as much a masterpiece as "Winter in America," an evocation of our despondency that is as flawless as it is ambitious. In the mean time, the free-jazz-gone-populist band carries over the weak spots. One heartfelt suggestion: no more long poetry readings. I laughed at "Pardon Our Analysis" the first time, but now I find myself avoiding side one. B [Later]

STAPLE SINGERS: City in the Sky (Stax) For no discernible reason--when last seen (on Broadway), they appeared ready to settle for Winnemucca if Vegas wasn't calling--this is their most consistent record in years. Their politics may be vague, but at least they have a history, which is a comfort--a comfort almost wrecked, however, by one literally incredible song, "There Is a God," which makes that line about stopping pollution with a handkerchief sound like W.E.B. DuBois. B [Later: B+]

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: Unrequited (Columbia) Since most people can't absorb the head-on impact of Wainwright's conjugal details--how do you confront a couplet like "You told me that I came too soon but it was you who came too late"?--the second side of this album, recorded live, tends to sound a little yockier than it should. On side one, however, the mockery has just the right edge of self-flagellation and is balanced off by a gentleness without which he might seem a little spoiled. A MINUS [Later]

JOE WALSH: So What (ABC) No artist this inconsequential should risk such a title. C PLUS

BETTY WRIGHT: Danger High Voltage (Alston) One of those left-field soul wonders that seem to emerge from some obscure studio or other at a rate of about one per year. Wright sounds bright and sassy, but she's been sounding that way since 1968, at the same damn studio, and this is the first time she ever got so many good songs to sing. Heartbreaker: "Tonight Is the Night." B PLUS [Later: A-]

Additional Consumer News

Once upon a time, United Artists supported the superb Legendary Masters Series--28-song double-LPs, fully illustrated and annotated. Then the guys who ran the project were fired, and now UA's oldies reissues, the "Very Best of" series, is the cheapest and lamest in the biz. The records include just 10 cuts, with one usually chosen only to differentiate the collection from a better one previously available. The Shirelles album, formerly a masterful 15-cut compilation on Scepter, how includes "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." The sole advantage of Very Best ofs: clear mono sound, a heritage from Legendary Masters. Avoid them anyway. . . .

The Cher special featuring Bette, Elton, and Flip reminded me of a Johnny Carson show that featured George Gobel until Dean Martin and Don Rickles showed up unannounced. I seem to recall Deano, dousing his cigarette in Gobel's drink. On the Cher show, Flip Wilson played George Gobel while the other three took turns smashing out at the screen. I loved it. . . .

Did you ever think you'd root for the Waltons? Mac Davis's tuber now competes with them. . . .

The Consumer Guide Anna Moffo Award goes to Yvonne Elliman, who recently signed with Robert Stigwood's RSO label. Stigwood put out a release that went on about "great personal pleasure . . . watched her career closely . . . major artist in her own right" without ever mentioning one thing: Yvonne Elliman is his wife.

Village Voice, Mar. 17, 1975

Postscript Notes:

This CG abandoned the series number. (It would've been number 53.) It introduced the Christgau's Consumer Guide title, with the subtitle Our music junkie grades current records. It also introduces the spotlighting of two albums: the "Fave Rave" and the "Must to Avoid." "Fave Rave" evolved into "Pick Hit," whence the icon above.

Jan. 27, 1975 Apr. 7, 1975