Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide (50)

I happened to switch on the radio a couple of weeks ago just in time to hear Scott Muni enthusing about the sudden wealth of new albums. We'd gone through a bad period, Scotso recalled sadly, but things were righting themselves. It was hard to fit in all the good stuff these days, but have no fear, eventually we'd hear them all you-know-where. I don't remember what he played to illustrate this point--could it have been David Live? I do remember that I soon turned it off.

That was an exercise of privilege, I know--I had already found out for myself that although David Live was not the lamest live album ever released, as a few alarmists had assured me, there were still better things for me to do with my ears. Basically, it was my chore to ascertain how badly Scotso was deluded. My conclusion: plenty. Never in my experience have so many pusillanimous albums by theoretically responsible artists zoomed up the charts at one time. The response to the economic scare is as predictable as the formulas everyone tries so desperately to stick to, and the result is tired music.

Once I'd worked my way through the must listen stuff, however, I was delighted to discover that there is still good, lively rock an droll coming from newcomers who haven't yet found their formulas or less established artists who haven't yet worn theirs out. Both strains are found in outline form below, with grade of B plus or above indicating levels of recommendability, and those of C plus and below indicating the opposite. In a throwback to the days before every album was larded with "arrangement" one record has been penalized for running under 30 minutes. It is also larded with "arrangement."

BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE: Not Fragile (Mercury) These vulgar Americans, have they no culture of their own? The Who, plodding slightly, is here rotated to reveal . . . guess who? Black Sabbath, that's who, without the horseshit necromancy. And I love every stolen riff. B PLUS [Later: B]

CARMEN: Fandangos in Space (ABC) A record so dreadful I listened to it all the way through just so I could note its passing, which I trust will be instantaneous. The worst of at least four modes: concept-rock, theater-rock, space-rock, and Anglo-Iberian, with a real live Spanish Person on castanets, vibes, and high heels. Olé. And cha-cha-cha. E PLUS

JIMMY CLIFF: Music Maker (Reprise) Yes, I loved him in The Harder They Come, even more the second time, and the soundtrack album is the bestest they come. It also contains only three Jimmy Cliff songs. All his other good ones are on Wonderful World Beautiful People (A&M), first released in 1969. The hookless homiletics of this album, albeit better-realized than those of Struggling Man (Island), portend a non-star of the future--or a false one. C [Later]

ANDY FAIRWEATHER LOW: Spider Jiving (A&M) Lean, direct, catchy, introspective hard rock songs by (ta-ra) the former lead singer of the Amen Corner. He would do us a favor by not disappearing for another five years--unless that's how long it takes to produce another album this satisfying. B PLUS [Later: A]

THE J. GEILS BAND: Nightmares (Atlantic) I blame myself for this reactionary exercise in self-imitation--I should have given Ladies Invited a B plus. Sorry. C PLUS [Later]

MILLIE JACKSON: Caught Up (Spring) Jackson rights the flaws of a promising career with this concept album about infidelity. The other woman starts an eleven-minute version of "If Loving You Is Wrong" by talking big, briefly allows herself some typical other-woman complaints, reasserts her independence, then suddenly finds her predicament untenable. She gets better lines than the wife's, which are on side two, but any artist sharp enough to cut through the overstatement of Brad Shapiro (production) and Bobby Goldsboro (one lyric) won't let that ruin her record. If you liked Quadrophenia (or still recall "A Quick One"), you have no excuse for not liking this. A MINUS

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS: I Feel a Song (Buddah) Gladys has never been in better voice, and the material is more consistent than usual, but as usual this sounds more conventional than it is. B PLUS [Later]

LOVE UNLIMITED: In Heat (20th Century) The most tuneful way to feed a Barry White jones. Although lyrics, hence persona, remain constricted (titles, side two: "I Needed You--You Were There," "I Belong to You," "I Love You So, Never Gonna Let You Go," "Love's Theme") the vocals have taken on enough personality to qualify as anonymous, as opposed to non-existent. Anyway, the Supremes have been gone for a long time, and no matter what Diana Ross does they ain't coming back. Docked a notch for time: 29:07. B [Later: B+]

O.B. MCCLINTON: If You Loved Her That Way (Enterprise) Inspirational Verse: "She found a way to raise her child and make a livin'/But no man wanted Dixie for a wife/Some folks said she was a wanton woman/But all she wanted was a better way of life." C MINUS

JAMES MOODY: Feelin' It Together (Muse) On Parker-Gillespie's "Anthropology" (astonishing) and "Kriss Kross," the anguish and wit of Moody's second-generation bop reed playing sounds as fresh as if black humor hadn't come to mean something quite different, and when he chooses to divert or soothe he is often intelligent and sensuous. But sometimes (acceding, I suspect, to the more trivial imagination of pianist Kenny Barron) his lyricism becomes so lightweight that its intricate sophistication serves only to disguise its lack of substance. Or maybe I mean that the man should give up the flute. B PLUS

MARIA MULDAUR: Waitress in a Donut Shop (Reprise) In which a new '50s nostalgia, beatnikism, is manipulated to exploit reasonable doubts and fears about sex-role redefinition. No woman hip (or even tasteful) enough to love Skip James has the right to pretend there's such a thing as an earth mother. And if the production last time was too safe, this is what it was guarding against--ecch-lectic cliches. C PLUS

BILLY PRESTON: The Kids & Me (A&M) True enough, his songs have become less offensive, but his instrumentals remain in the novelty phase and he still sings like Soul Synth No. 1. Take "Nothing From Nothing" as this year's "You're So Vain"--proof that a great single can come from any fool. But don't be quite so positive he won't make an album you want to hear some day. B MINUS

SUZI QUATRO: Quatro (Bell) Dumb, yes. Repetitive, too. Leiber-Stoller's "Trouble" sounds silly--even in that chrome sweat suit, Suzi can't convince me she's evil. But she's going somewhere she wants to go, and I'd rather hear Quatro shouting out "Keep a Knockin'" than a whole album of Maria Muldaur stylizations. B MINUS [Later]

THE RASPBERRIES: Starting Over (Capitol) I don't quite believe it myself, but this album really does epitomize '60s rock and roll pop division, without slogging into nostalgia. Full of great singles for a more singular time. Doubly exceptional: a drumless John-and-Paul takeout from the time of the white album and a song about being in it for hit records rather than money. A MINUS [Later]

THE ROLLING STONES: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (Rolling Stones) Since Altamont, at least, the Stones' history has engulfed each album they've released, so that it took at least three months to suss out Sticky Fingers and Exile and Goat's Head Soup. This will no doubt be the same. I hear enough new hooks and arresting bass runs and audacious jokes to stretch over three ordinary albums, but I also hear rhymes that sound lazy without communicating with Father Time. This is definitely no Exile or Let It Bleed, but they haven't ever made a grade B lp, and there's no reason to pin the rap on this one. I don't think. A MINUS [Later: B]

SANTANA: Borboletta (Columbia) Old Santana fans beware. Ad copy to the contrary, the only Latin roots this revives have already flowered in Sergio Mendes. Basically a less experimental (and more listenable) extension of Caravanserai and Welcome, which I rated higher because their pretensions bamboozled me. Sorry. C PLUS [Later]

DEVADIP CARLOS SANTANA/TURIYA ALICE COLTRANE: Illuminations (Columbia) Sri Chinmoy kicks this off with an om, which gives me the right to note that his om has nowhere near the punch and resonance of Allen Ginsberg's om. (If by "punch and resonance" I really mean "ego" I can only add "yay".) Then Carlos attempts once again to reproduce his own alpha waves on guitar and Mrs. Coltrane contributes background music barely worthy of "Kung Fu". C MINUS

ROD STEWART: Smiler (Mercury) The elusiveness of this album's failure doesn't make it any less real--spiritual tone, energy, something like that--and for me, the better part of valor is to give up before the Elton John tracks wears out the way the Sam Cooke stuff and "Dixie Toot" have. C PLUS [Later: B-]

THE WHO: Odds & Sods (MCA) This collection of leftovers, most of them between three and seven years old, sounds better when you read the words, but not that much better, because this time the intellectual interest isn't tied to anything specific--a concept, a theme, even a period in the group's history. Is this hard rock literature? Was that what we wanted? C PLUS [Later: B]

DUKE WILLIAMS AND THE EXTREMES: Fantastic Fedora (Capricorn) Sub-average white band. C MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Notes on the new Dylan album, Blood on the Tracks, heard on tape in an office at CBS (where he belongs?). Folkies will probably like this album, which reminded me that he hadn't released a six-minute track since Blonde on Blonde, and also reminded me that I've never concentrated on "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" all the way through. I like some of it, with all judgments subject to change. I also had no difficulty tearing myself away for a screening of Earthquake.

Best-ofs from some poppish MOR favorites whose albums are usually worth ignoring--not because the singers themselves are less than compelling, although I wouldn't preclude the option, but because album standards among such artists are as low as those among concert rock groups. On United Artists, Dionne Warwick (condenses the two Scepters, a small crime) and B.J. Thomas (condenses the two Scepters, a small favor-although "Rock and Roll Lullabye" remains among the missing). On MCA, Sonny & Cher (many unrecommended remakes) and Cher (a much better representation of her Acapulco brass than the older UA collection). On ABC, Jim Croce's Photographs & Memories (his best). . . .

RCA Victor has taken Elliott Murphy away from Polydor; my best to both. But David-Clayton Thomas has left RCA to rejoin Blood, Sweat & Tears on Columbia. You win some, you win some. . . .

Classified as in Melting Pot, the disco deejay monthly: "Dear George McCrae, You put on a fabulous show at the BEACON, but next time, please leave your wife home. Sincerely, New York Fags."

Village Voice, Nov. 21, 1974

Oct. 24, 1974 Dec. 23, 1974