Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

I am keeping my intro short to get in as much Additional Consumer News as possible. Who needs premortems when there are six count-'em six A records below two in Additional Consumer News not counting reissues. Rejoice! REJOICE!

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA: A New World Record (United Artists) Sure this is Moody Blues with brains, hooks and laffs galore, but it's also Move without balls. Recommended to those who really got off on music appreciation in high school. B [Later: B+]

ANDY FAIRWEATHER LOW: Be Bop 'n' Holla (A&M) Andy's up to his old tricks. With the help of some lilting Caribbean-style percussion, as infectious as Victoria II, he abandons the attack that's always put a hard edge on his cheerful rock and roll. The result is a tuneful, sexy album, and oh so frivolous--"Lighten Up" sounds like a theme song. But frivolity turns desperate when you listen hard: in the theme song, for instance, Andy identifies himself as a stranger, a slave, and a prisoner to his lonely grave. Such a joker, this boy--makes it sound like Rocky Raccoon had it coming to him. A MINUS [Later: A]

FLEETWOOD MAC: Rumours (Reprise) Why is this easy-listening rock different from all other easy-listening rock, give or take an ancient harmony or two? Because myths of love lost and found are less invidious (at least in rock and roll) than myths of the road? Because the cute-voiced woman writes and sings the tough lyrics and the husky-voiced woman the vulnerable ones? Because they've got three melodist-vocalists on the job? Because Mick Fleetwood and John McVie learned their rhythm licks playing blues? Because they stuck to this beguiling formula when it barely broken even? Because this album is both more consistent and more eccentric than its blockbuster predecessor? Plus it jumps right out of the speakers at you? Because Otis Spann must be happy for them? Because Peter Green is in heaven? A MINUS [Later: A]

DEAN FRIEDMAN (Lifesong) He tells us right off that he's got "a rich man's dream" and "a poor man's needs"; in other words, he's got the soul of a middle-class kid who hopes he's hitbound and doesn't have the faintest idea what rich men dream about. Hitbound he may be--this is replete with nice reflections nicely melodized. But only once, on the transcendent "Ariel," does he sound as cute as he wants to. B MINUS

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Lasso from El Paso (Epic) The clue to whether this guy deserves his reputation as a wit is that Joe Cocker, who doesn't even know what the words mean, does a funnier version of "Catfish." Personal to Loudon Wainwright: Rescue that song before it is discovered by the Earl Scruggs Revue. C [Later]

ANDREW GOLD: What's Wrong With This Picture? (Asylum) Well, let's see, a quick survey of the relevant ones: guitar plugged into telephone, forty-five on tape deck, calendar opened to November 31, copy of People with Gold on the cover, and this record, with its borrowed life--anyone can make "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" sound OK--and authentic self-pity. Big insight: On "Lonely Boy," the source of L.A. weltschmerz is revealed to be siblings. C MINUS

GARLAND JEFFREYS: Ghost Writer (A&M) Four years is a long time between LPs; if Jeffreys sounded like a talented cult artist on Atlantic in 1973, by now he's collected so much material he sounds like the most fecund singer-songwriter since whoever. Well, save that for the next time. Meanwhile, the racial paradox is dramatized audaciously, the dreams of showbiz glory rendered with an uncommon knowing subtlety, the reggae natural-born, the voice fuller and more passionate, and the album a great buy. A MINUS

KANSAS: Leftoverture (Kirshner) Q: How do you tell American art-rockers from their Yurrupean forebears? A: They sound dumber, they don't play as fast, and their fatalism lacks conviction. The question of humor remains open: Impressed as I am with titles like "Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat" and Leftoverture itself, I find no parallels in the music. D PLUS [Later]

THE KINKS: Sleepwalker (Arista) Ray Davies's temporary abandonment of theatrical concepts may have ruined his show, but it's freed him to write more individually inspired songs at one time than he's managed since Everybody's in Showbiz. It's also freed his band to play up to its capacity, which unfortunately falls midway between professional virtuosity and amateur fun. Doubly unfortunate, at least half the songs are in a similar range. Recommended: "Jukebox Music" and "Full Moon." B MINUS [Later]

KISS: Rock and Roll Over (Casablanca) Those who dismiss them as unlistenable are still evading the issue: they write tough, catchy songs, and if they had a sly, Jagger-style singer they'd be a menace. But they aren't a menace, my wife and my sister assure me; the kids get off on the burlesque. Does this mean that when the cartoon hero in the platform shoes bellows an order to grab the rocket in his pocket all the twelve-year-olds are aware that this is a caricature of sex, and macho sex at that? Really, I'd like to know. But I'm not getting down on my knees to find out. B MINUS

MARY MACGREGOR: Torn Between Two Lovers (Ariola America) I consider it significant that Peter Yarrow's first commercial success of the decade is an Olivia Newton-John substitute, albeit one who's willing to admit she fucks around. C

BAT MCGRATH: From the Blue Eagle (Amherst) Unlike so many singer-songwriters, McGrath sounds like he comes from somewhere--upstate New York, as it happens. Instead of attaching generalized reflections to the most surefire melodies available, he writes lyrics that evoke specific locales and situations--like Jimmy Buffett when he's good, or Tom T. Hall with a more literary flair. Granted, anyone who believes a wino is "free" should check in his thesaurus under "nothin' left to lose," but the abundant compassion, humor, and detail of these brief ballads make you want to hear them again. A small find. B PLUS

ELLIOTT MURPHY: Just a Story from America (Columbia) If anyone can write a rock ballad to a deposed Russian princess made famous by Ingrid Bergman it's Murphy--the image sums up the F. Scott Fitzgerald/Rhett Butler (and Eva Braun?) side of a boy-man who's also heir to the traditional reverence for Jimi Hendrix and James Dean. Instead, the song is the embarrassing epitome of a record on which Murphy sounds spoiled instead of sensitive, presumptuous instead of ambitious, and about as comfortable with rock and roll as Roderick Falconer. C MINUS

PARIS: Big Towne, 2061 (Capitol) Here's Robert Welch, the American rock singer who joined Fleetwood Mac in 1971 and quit in frustration in 1975. His second LP--smooth and hard-rocking, or course--is perfect for Fleetwood Mac fans nostalgic for Mystery to Me. Wherever you are. B

STEVE REID: Rhythmatism (Mustevic) Here's what happens when you oblige jazz artists to record themselves. The music is terrific; personally, I prefer this sampling from the forceful alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe to David Murray's work on Low Class Conspriacy, probably because it's simpler. Leader Reid, a drummer, always provides what the title promises, and like so many of the new players Blythe isn't limited to modern methods by his modernism--he favors fluent, straight-ahead Coltrane modalities, but also demonstrates why he belongs on a tune for Cannonball. But the sound is really lame--the drums are mixed up front without any gain in clarity or presence, and the horns could be coming through the bathroom door. A label like Blue Note, say, hasn't first-released any music this solid in years; I wonder how much just one album a year of it would cost. B PLUS

THE RUNAWAYS: Queens of Noise (Mercury) I'll tell you what kind of street rock and roll these bimbos make--when the title cut came on I thought I was hearing Evita twice in a row. Only I couldn't figure out why the singer wasn't in tune. C MINUS [Later: C]

SON SEALS: Midnight Son (Alligator) Were it not for the brash reentry of Mr. Waters (whom see), I could wax superlative; as it is, let's call it the finest Chicago blues record recorded in Chicago (get it?) since the second Hound Dog Taylor (also on this label). Seals performs the thrillingly paradoxical trick of keeping a raw guitar style under impeccable control and sings much better than his serviceable voice would seem to permit. In other words, he really knows what he's doing, and knowing doesn't stop him from doing it to it--it helps. So vibrantly conceived that I'm not even sure I should complain about the horns. A MINUS [Later]

JAMES TALLEY: Blackjack Choir (Capitol) Populism always has a sentimental side, but here the received images take over: bluesmen singin' sad songs and everybody lovin' love songs, lasses from Georgia and broken dreams from Chicago. His voice is richer, and "Magnolia Boy" and "When the Fiddler Packs His Case" are as great as anything from the first two albums, but I hope this is a lapse. B MINUS

TELEVISION: Marquee Moon (Elektra) I know why people complain about Tom Verlaine's angst-ridden voice, but fuck that, I haven't had such intense pleasure from a new release since I got into Layla three months after it came out, and this took about fifteen seconds. The lyrics, which are in a demotic-philosophical mode ("I was listening/listening to the rain/I was hearing/hearing something else"), would carry this record alone; so would the guitar playing, as lyrical and piercing as Clapton or Garcia but totally unlike either. Yes, you bet it rocks. And no, I didn't believe they'd be able to do it on record because I thought this band's excitement was all in the live raveups. Turns out that's about a third of it. A PLUS

MUDDY WATERS: Hard Again (Blue Sky) Since the heyday of Chicago blues was midcentury, most of the classic blues LPs are collections of cuts; except maybe for B.B. King's Live at the Regal and Otis Spann's Walking the Blues (oh, there must be others, but let me go on) I can't recall a better blues album than this. The songs run the length of live performances--four of the nine over five minutes--without any loss of intensity, because their intensity depends not on the compression of the three-minute format but on the natural enthusiasm of an inspired collaboration. Waters sings as though his life depended on it, Johnny Winter proves with every note how right he was to want to do this, and James Cotton--well, James Cotton doesn't open his mouth except to make room for the harmonica, which sounds just great. A [Later: A-]

Additional Consumer News

Another A record: Alex Chilton's The Singer Not the Song, a 10-minute seven-inch LP on Ork (available from Disconnection or at better Village shops) that I play consecutively with Big Star's long-lost Radio City. Chilton tends to fade into the diaspora--you missed Radio City, didn't you?--so for two bucks you should give this dirty-sound tribute to Beatles '65 a try. . . .

And yet another: Except for Atlantic's Disco-Trek, a valuable collection of individual tracks, Casablanca's Get Down and Boogie is the first disco sampler worth the plastic it's pressed on. Unlike Disco-Trek, it works the way real disco works--moods are carefully modulated, with faded segues reinforcing the thematic continuity. Music includes memorable cuts from forgettable albums by Jeannie Reynolds and Margaret Singana, Giorgio's what-did-he-say classic "I Wanna Funk With You Tonight," plus Donna Summer and Parliament, in tasty doses. . . .

Last year Chess reissued its blues masters (most notably Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson) in twofers boasting garish new covers and the same old garish reprocessed stereo--technically imperfect collections, unevenly programmed, but recommended. Now we have single-LP followups from Dale Hawkins (the forgotten rockabilly) and--here's the good part--both the Moonglows and the Flamingos. On this evidence, both groups rank ahead of the Clovers and perhaps even the Heartbeats among '50s harmony groups; I prefer only the Drifters to the Moonglows. . . .

One best-of and one reissue have me listening to two jazz artists I never paid much mind before: the Crusaders (ABC) and Wes Montgomery. Verve's The Small Group Recordings (many reclaimed from schlock arrangements) is the first time I've ever heard Montgomery when he didn't sound subdued to the point of subjugation.

Village Voice, Mar. 21, 1977

Feb. 14, 1977 Apr. 25, 1977