Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Looking Past Differences

Don't let the young Republicans put you in jail or the restless hipsters scare you away

BEASTIE BOYS: To the 5 Boroughs (Capitol) Don't let the hipsters scare you away. "An Open Letter to NYC" is as inarticulate as most love letters, so hackneyed Mike D could be gunning for an October engagement at Yankee Stadium. But from "We've got a president we didn't elect" to "It's time we looked past all our differences," many clichés here are worth recycling, as with the black (sounding) hype man who reinforces the one about differences with a faint but unmistakable "that's fresh fresh, for a Jewboy, Jewboy, Jewboy." As much as Jay-Z, and with more jokes, the Beasties are masters of their sound, of which this is the old-school variant. Like the Catskill shticksters they honor, they crack wise as naturally as John Hurt drawled, only with a better sense of rhythm (than the shticksters). They sound sharp-witted even when they mouth homilies. They sound like the reason uppity Queens boys used to think the 7 train was bound for Jordan. A MINUS

MADVILLAIN: Madvillainy (Stones Throw) No noticeable structure a dozen plays in--just a glorious phantasmagoria of flow. Give them time and Madlib's 22 bits and pieces in 46 minutes seem not just catchy but inevitable--press shuffle at your peril, although "Curls" and "Accordion" hold their own. As for Doom, well: "One scary night I saw the light/Heard a voice like Barry White/Said, 'Sure you're right.'" To emulate neither Barry White, the voice means, nor the kind of quick thinker who normally rhymes "fine, G," "hiney," "Chinee," "shiny," and "pine tree." Instead Doom sounds slow, probably because he's stoned. He loves rhyme so much that the only universe that suits him is one where a gutter ball leads straight to a butterball--and that is a stoned universe. A MINUS

MODEST MOUSE: Good News for People Who Love Bad News (Epic) Weathered now, their herky-jerk stands up smartly to interjections from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They've outgrown Bukowski if not drifters and scored a video hit in which they back into a police car without penalty, bitch proactively here and shrug passively there, and--good for them--can't resist the old trope of sampling a baby's cry onto a song. Why am I certain one of them fathered the baby? Ah, bittersweet mystery of life. A MINUS

OZOMATLI: Street Signs (Concord) In which the agitating L.A. salsa-rap collective vanquishes the tendency of rock en español's constituent parts to stick out like tree roots or TV antennas. Arab sounds from Hassan Hakmoun to dancehall diwali articulate Hispanic music's Moorishness when we need it most, yet fit right in, and the horns on "Déjame en Paz" could be ska or some Mexican ur-polka. Everything jumps, which makes the Iberian romanticism of the closing "Cuando Canto" easier to take--though it helps that, as usual with these guys, the romanticism has a political purpose, which starts with their people and radiates outward. A MINUS

EDDIE PALMIERI: Ritmo Caliente (Concord) Like Milton Nascimento and Astor Piazzolla, Palmieri enjoys a prestige based on his pretensions as well as his talent. Check 1974's pivotal The Sun of Latin Music and notice how many bases it touches. To list the obvious, there's a full-fledged suite; pianistics that recall Monk, Tyner, even Cecil Taylor; a snatch of Abbey Road; a conga workout; a salsa tour; a simple cumbia arted up with a bass-and-piano break; and--crucially--enough cheese. Times having changed, this equally far-reaching album seems less epochal (and is definitely less cheesy). But I insist that its intrinsic musicality equals if not exceeds that of The Sun of Latin Music, and suspect that it's one of Palmieri's best. The impressionistic "Tema para Renée" is an art move; so is the graceful and audacious "Gigue (Bach Goes Batá)." But in general the old man nails the good old three-and-two through a panoply of variations. You may recall that Palmieri likes to dust off his chops with a ruminative exordium. Here it's his pride to state the beat. A MINUS

THE ROOTS: The Tipping Point (Geffen) Foolhardy though it was to saddle such an uncrucial record with a title that dares the young and the restless to bitch about how it doesn't change the world, the rest of us are free to enjoy how confidently it develops a groove. Theme-setting Sly remake leads to varied confluences of democracy and Black Thought (try the hummed and mumbled hook of "Don't Say Nuthin' ") that swing up at the end through two attention getters certain to dismay the restless--Timbabeats, how 2003! Then, to remind us they're a hip-hop band, there's a bonus cut for their sole virtuoso--which means ?uestlove, not Kamal. They understand what they can do, and what they can't. That's 2004 enough for me. A MINUS

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO SALSA COLOMBIA (World Music Network import) By limiting itself to unwaveringly commercial Discos Fuentes product, this avoids not just folk and jazz but tropical ballads, because Discos Fuentes is old-fashioned enough to think commercial means danceable. Whether from veterans going back to the '50s or the Fania wannabes the label launched in the '70s or the revivalists of the '90s, the sinewy clave is locally inflected and the rhythms always take off. These are not famous names internationally, although Joe Arroyo and Fruko and Los Titanes may deserve to be. But everybody shares a commitment to the basics of salsa dura--and that collective thrust, not individual twists, is what keeps the pulse racing. A MINUS

TODD SNIDER: East Nashville Skyline (Oh Boy) At 34, Snider declares himself an "old-timer," and from the prefatory "Age Like Wine" ("too late to die young now") to the valedictory "Enjoy Yourself" (Guy Lombardo's wisest hit) proves his maturity by being funny and serious at the same time. In a decisive and let us hope permanent change, there's none of the mawkishness young fools think is deep and old fools wallow in--not even in "Play a Train Song," which appreciates corn without indulging in it. Instead a guy who spends two of these songs in jail sticks up for "tree-huggin', love-makin', pro-choicin', gay-weddin', Widespread-diggin' hippies" everywhere. Problem is, he's afraid they'll all get locked up too. Not a slacker manifesto--a slacker wake-up call. A

THE WILLOWZ (Dionysus) Old enough to vote, too young to barhop, they spend most of these eight brief songs trying desperately to catch up with themselves, and their occasional collapse into the breathy/slow/acoustic is doubly touching by contrast. It's easier to get a grip on your future when you have time to live in it for a while. Punker than the Ponys, and even more childish, but just as vulnerable. Maybe youth is feeling fragile these days. Maybe it's afraid its headlong rush is not long for this world. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

JUANA MOLINA: Tres Cosas (Domino) With Argentina well over on the European edge of "Latin"--which is mostly African whatever its Spanish antecedents--it's no surprise that this reformed television actress should trick up her boring strummed singer-songwritering with not terribly interesting electronica. With the market for both modes desperate for marginal differentiation, it's also no surprise that she gets a bump for being exotic if not literally dark-skinned. Needless to say, there are no surprises anywhere else either. That really isn't how soundscaping is supposed to work. C

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

  • The Hives: Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope): Don't care about "going down no in no history," thus wiser than those who think it matters that they won't (only they may) ("Walk Idiot Walk," "No Pun Intended").
  • Old 97's: Drag It Up (New West): The new kids have Rhett feeling down ("Moonlight," "The New Kid," "Bloomingtown").
  • The Rough Guide to Afro-Peru (World Music Network import): David Byrne didn't tell us how many males this tiny scene stars (Manuel Donayre, "Negro Carbon"; Arturo "Zambo" Cavero & Oscar Aviles, "El Alcatraz").
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Black Sex Yall Liberation & Bloody Random Violets (Trugroid): I wish Tate edited his music like he edits his copy (which doesn't mean perfectly, believe me) ("Funky Rich Medina," "No Direction Home I").
  • Franz Ferdinand (Domino): Young enough to only work when they need the money, a musical tradition worth fighting for ("Michael," "Jacqueline").
  • Mercan Dede: Sufi Traveler (Mi5): Won't upset your stomach as it heals your soul ("Nar-1 Ask," "Guilname").

  • Chumbawamba: Un (Koch): "Pissing in the wine, pissing in the wine" ("When Fine Society Sits Down to Dine," "On eBay").
  • The Rough Guide to Salsa de Puerto Rico (World Music Network import): Progger and/or blander and/or folkier than anyone but a world-music sap would prefer (Willie Colón & Héctor Lavoe, "Todo Tiene Su Final"; Jose Alberto, "El Canario," "Déjate Querer").
  • The Catheters: Howling . . . It Grows and Grows!!! (Sub Pop): Pissed off, barely tonal, and in the tradition--the fuck you say ("Natural Law," "Ravenous Animal").
  • Masta Killa: No Said Date (Nature Sounds): Kills Ghostface because RZA still rules ("Old Man," "No Said Date").
  • Cocktail Slippers: Rock It! (MTG import): Go-Go's with heft by Norwegian gals in matching outfits ("Oh Boy," "Out of My Head").
  • Mash Out Posse (Family First): The brawnier-voiced Musclehead On Parade makes a metal record ("Stand Up," "Ground Zero").
  • Jacki-O: The Official Bootleg (Poe Boy): "If I suck your dick it'll come fast/'Cause I'ma stick my thumb in your ass" ("The Watcher Remix," "Nookie Remix").

  • Salsa Around the World (Putumayo World Music): Bands from 12 non-Hispanic nations oversimplify and/or distill Nuyorican clave (Salsa Celtica, "El Sol de la Noche"; Mousta Largo, "Anna Maria").
  • MC Lars: The Laptop EP (Sidecho): "Were you really born in Stockholm, Lars?"; "No, but my family on my mom's side is Swedish American"; "Uh, OK" ("Signing Emo," "Straight Outta Stockholm").
  • The Cardigans: Long Gone Before Daylight (Koch): She'll love you as long as the chorus lasts, and if you're good the verse too--a period that lengthens as she gets older ("For What It's Worth," "And Then You Kissed Me").

Choice Cuts

  • D12, "How Come," "6 in the Morning," "My Band" (D12 World, Shady/Interscope)
  • King Missile III, "America Kicks Ass" (Royal Lunch, Important)
  • Los Pachanga Pistols, "I Don't Have a Car and I Live in L.A." (Not in Our Name, Broken Arrow)
  • Jarabe de Palo, "El Lado Oscuro"; Raul Paz, "Mulata" (Nuevo Latino, Putumayo World Music)


  • Karrin Allyson: Wild for You (Concord)
  • Eric Clapton: Me and Mr. Johnson (Reprise)
  • Dat Politics: Go Pets Go (Chicks on Speed)
  • Incubus: A Crow Left of the Murder . . . (Epic/Immortal)
  • The Playwrights: Guy Debord Is Really Dead (Sink and Stove import)

Village Voice, Aug. 24, 2004

July 6, 2004 Sept. 14, 2004