Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (48)

When I initiated the Consumer Guide in these pages a little more than five years ago, I used to wonder what it would feel like to write Consumer Guide (47) at the top of a page. I guess I'll never know. For the past two-and-a-half years, while I ministered to the diaspora in Newsday, my "record caps" have been collected as Consumer Guides in the Detroit-based rock mag, Creem. (Strictly speaking, Creem is not a rock mag. It calls itself "America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine," a nice permutation of pretension. Creem will continue to reprint the CG from the Voice, a month or two late. In Creem, the CG was not numbered, and by my own perhaps inaccurate count the last one I put together was the 47th. Thus I miss a unique opportunity for deja vu. Not that there won't be some other opportunity tomorrow. At times we seem to be living in the middle of a deja vu so vast that I have second thoughts about eternal recurrence.

For instance, here we go again. The uninitiated are hereby informed that the Consumer Guide is a compulsive record critic's and listener's way of dealing with product flow. Each CG review and rates 20 records whose timeliness varies because the critic tries to live with a record before judging it. The ratings go from E minus to A plus, with As recommended and B plusses borderline. Ratings tend to cluster in the B-B minus-C plus area because the critic ignores bad records whenever he can. In a musical environment pervaded by competent product, there's all too much C plus-B minus-B stuff to write about anyway.

My ratings of course are not objective. They reflect prejudices that will become clearer in the months to come. For the moment allow me to report that rote boogieing has eroded my granite allegiance to hard rock and roll. Without abandoning my radical democratic pop populist pretensions, I have come to value unabashed intelligence more than seemed appropriate amid the post-utopian vibes of 1969. This means I am listening to jazz and sometimes even learn from a lyric. Time are hard. We'd better hit the fuckers with the best we got.

PAUL ANKA: Anka (United Artists) Sure "You're Having My Baby" is a cute little single. But the rest of the album is the usual abortion. C MINUS

BOBBY BLAND: Dreamer (ABC/Dunhill) A pop blues primer featuring prefabricated intros worthy of Three Dog Night and prefabricated songs worthy of Bobby Bland. Highlight: "Yolanda," by the same guy who wrote "My Maria" and "Shambala"--only this one's about a red Cadillac woman in Charleston, S.C. A MINUS [Later: B+]

JOE COCKER: I Can Stand a Little Rain (A&M) If Jim Price were a producer worthy of the artist, or even of the artist's memory, he would have asked Jerry Lee Lewis to play piano instead of Nicky Hopkins. Not that Jerry Lee could replace Chris Stainton, who on Cocker's previous lp, supposedly a piece of stop-gap, not only defined the man's rock and roll but combined with him to write more good songs than all of Hollywood's finest produced for this make-work project. C PLUS [Later: C]

JOHN COLTRANE: Africa Brass, Vol. II (Impulse) Those who've listened to them all assure me that this is indeed the first Coltrane lp since his death that isn't tainted with rip-off. I gave up listening to them, but I listen to this one all the time. A

SANDY DENNY: Like an Old Fashioned Waltz (Island) Five years ago, Denny sang lead with an immensely promising English "folk-rock" group, Fairport Convention. Soon, however, she left-to-pursue-her-own-career. The group remained interesting enough to hold a following, but never broke through artistically or commercially, and although credible observers believed Denny had the stuff to become one of the finest women singers in the world, she didn't. One four minute masterpiece on this otherwise sluggish album--the opening cut, written by Denny, called "Solo"--deals obliquely with these losses. Now one hears that Fairport and Denny are regrouping. And so are Steppenwolf and John Kay. I dare you to predict which will mean less. C PLUS [Later]

THE EAGLES: On the Border (Asylum) Though I still detect strains of the closet misogyny and new reactionary frontierism that have always put me off this group, I am forced to admit, as I scrape off the tar and feathers, that I enjoy this. More rock than country, recollected in a seemingly uncomplacent tranquility. Current favorite: "My Man," Bernie Leadon's tribute to Gram Parsons. B PLUS [Later]

LORRAINE ELLISON (Warner Bros.) In which the open-pit value of a reputed gold mine comes up bust. I loved her previous album in 1969, and I liked this for a while in 1974, but the more I listen the more I notice how much she shrieks, and when I play the previous album, it sounds more limited than I had remembered. C [Later: B-]

THE FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS: Close Up the Honky Tonks (A&M) This repackaged best-of-Gram is baited with five previously unreleased Parsons vocals. These are nice, but since even an unreconstructed Parsons nut like me can reel off more interesting cover versions of "Sing Me Back Home" (the Everlys), "Break My Mind" (the Box Tops), and "To Love Somebody" (initials: JJ), maybe they were unreleased for a reason. It also puts the six greatest cuts off Gilded Palace of Sin on one side, a convenience I'd appreciate more if Gilded Palace of Sin, the only full-fledged country-rock masterpiece, weren't still in the catalogue. Your local record retailer will no doubt order you one if you take the trouble of kidnapping his daughter. B MINUS [Later]

THE DAVE HOLLAND QUARTET: Conference of the Birds (ECM) This is what I believed Ornette Coleman meant by free jazz when I memorized Change of the Century 15 years ago--free as loose, loose as pliant and relaxed rather than sloppy and untethered. I even enjoy "Q&A" which sounds like it should go with an arty cartoon, and the title cut is so exquisite it makes my diaphragm tingle. A

HUDSON-FORD: Nickelodeon (A&M) "Complain about pollution, the downfall of man/And half-grown humans may be your fans/Add your shit to the pile while you still can/Cause it's hell on earth." Hudson-Ford, "Burn Baby Burn" (Slick Cynic Music, ASCRAP, additional lyric by R. Christgau, Two Minute Songs, LAMF). C

KEITH JARRETT: Treasure Island (Impulse) If Jarrett's Solo Concerts are too statusy and static, then this moves with a suspiciously unambitious ease--it's true to all its own assumptions, only it assumes too little. When he is on (e.g., Fort Yawuh) Jarrett can conjure beauty out of chaos and agitation out of peace. All he comes up with here is pleasant little surges of melody. B

B.B. KING: Friends (ABC) In which Dave Crawford, hero of the latest Mighty Clouds record, turns villain. Maybe the difference is that the Mighty Clouds are principally showmen and B.B. an irreducible original, or maybe the Philadelphia sound meshes better with gospel than it does with blues. In any case, King sings Crawford's ditties with all the lack of conviction they deserve and hardly plays at all. Catchy only insofar as it is annoying. D PLUS [Later: C]

NILSSON: Pussy Cats (RCA Victor) Only the Umpteenth Beatle could juxtapose "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Loop de Loop" without giving off the sweet stink of a Bryan Ferry parody. With producer John Lennon keeping him honest, Harry goes raw, playing even the ballads for ugliness. But at the same time, no joke, he plays it all for laughs. A MINUS

MARTHA REEVES (MCA) This attempted masterpiece doesn't make it because Richard Perry has failed the fundamental test of the interpretive producer--matching performer and material. To an extent, this is Reeves's fault--her gorgeous voice has trouble gripping complicated ideas. But it's also true that the competition for undiscovered song gems has stiffened since the early days of Cocker and Three Dog Night, so that even a prospector as wily as Perry hopes to dig one out of a slag heap like Vini Poncia. The strongest cuts here ("Wild Nights," "Imagination") have been recorded definitively elsewhere. Which makes this the modern, big-budget equivalent of a second-rate Motown album. C PLUS

THE EARL SCRUGGS REVUE: Rockin' Cross the Country (Columbia) Bonnie Bramlett lives, singing backup. B MINUS

SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: Small Talk (Epic) Sly's first flop is a bellywhopper, its only interest verbal, its only memorable song a doo-wop take-off. Back to which roots? C [Later]

THE SOUTHER, HILLMAN, FURAY BAND (Asylum) Complaining, complaining--when you're not lying, you're complaining. C PLUS

10CC: Sheet Music (UK) Points for studio mastery and general literacy--"Oh Effendi," about the vicissitudes of Middle Eastern trade, is Cole Porter-ishly clever--but demerits for a detachment that might seem pathological if it weren't so damned expert. Great satire communicates a feeling--most often hatred or anguish, although it can be kinder, as in "The Dean and I" on 10cc's first lp--that is lacking from this too-too apollonian (cerebral? professional? glib?) endeavor. C PLUS [Later: B]

WENDY WALDMAN: Gypsy Symphony (Warner Bros.) Waldman, one of our tougher female singer-songwriters, here provides a cautionary paradox for her sisters and herself, to wit: "Don't let your love get in the way/My good lover said." C PLUS [Later]

THE WILD MAGNOLIAS (Polydor) Get funked, Dr. John. This is not only what I always wanted the polyrhythm kids on the bandstand and benches of Tompkins Square Park to sound like, it is also what I always wanted Osibisa and the Ohio Players (not to mention the Meters) to sound like. The most boisterous recorded party I know, chock full of dancing fun, which is not to imply that Snooks Eaglin and Willie Tee and Uganda Roberts and Bo Dollis and Monk Boudreaux aren't pro-fessionals. A MINUS [Later]

Additional Consumer News

The recent Times editorial contrasting "a source of civilized pleasure for many New Yorkers in search of fine classical music" against "the endless barrage of country, rock and Western music [what would Ali Akbar Khan think that meant?--RC] that rules the air" almost had me glad Rosko the Prophet and Murray the K were taking over WNCN-FM. Upon mature reflection, however, I once again ask, "Who needs it?" It's going to take one hell of a programming wizard--the avatar of WFMU-FM, only slicker and with better taste--to convince me that New York can use another rock station. Especially one that makes money for James Buckley's brother. . . .

My advice to anyone enticed by the recent Motown "Anthology" series is to seek out the earlier "Greatest Hits" records, still to be found in occasional discount bins. The Anthologies are fine, but in general, the Greatest Hits are even better, and cheaper. . . .

Trude Heller's recently received a second warning from the Health Department: no hot water in one of the johns, unsanitized glasses at the bar, poor food protection. A final inspection will occur between the Voice's deadline and its sale date, so unless the place is closed you can assume Trude finally earned a clean bill of health. But I'd check out the hot water anyway. . . .

A well-fed woman in '50s decolletage, said to be sitting with friends of the new owner, during a recent Patti Smith set at Max's: "I can't stand to see show business dragged down this way."

Village Voice, Sept. 12, 1974

September 1974 October 1974