Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

In which Consumer Guide gives up the funk. Below find a preliminary, retrospective re the recorded Parliafunkadelicment Thang, omitting Fuzzy Haskins solo, the Horny Horns, and God knows what other spinoffs. That all this great music has been passing-me by illustrates some shortcomings of CG method. Not only must I depend on publicity departments which do not necessarily regard a Greenwich Village newspaper as crucial to their marketing strategy--a tragic error, of course--but I also become a sucker for "good albums." Funkaelic is a great group that doesn't make "good albums." Not that they're into singles, unfortunately--just that they're weird and inconsistent. And so those P-Funk albums that happened to come my way, obviously deficient in taste and strangely made, rarely crossed the threshold of my consciousness--although I did give Take It to the Stage a B plus once. And now I have some catching up to do. So do you.

ASSALAM ALEIKOUM AFRICA VOLUME ONE (Progressive and Popular Music of West Africa) (Antilles) Unlike John Storm Roberts's Africa Dances anthology, this LP and its companion come from one location--Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Thus, they're a little limited. On this one, the same musicians tend to reappear in different permutations, and their interests are more specifically "progressive" than "popular" (which can mean almost anything in a place where folk culture still thrives). That is, they like horns--great sax break on the catchy "Dogbo Zo N'Wene"--and are fascinated by electric guitars. Something called "Ode to Hendrix" is pretty remarkable, as is the title cut and much of Charles Atagana's bass playing, but the same cannot be said of "Live in Peace," which clocks in at a progressive 11:39 and supports neither its length nor its English lyric. Even the middling music here is interesting by definition, and a lot of it is more than middling, but some of it is less. B [Later]

ASSALAM ALEIKOUM AFRICA VOLUME TWO (Traditional and Modern Folk Music of West Africa) (Antilles) Once again there's a key word in parentheses--"modern." A lot of this would seem to be popularized folk music in the manner of the Weavers if not the Kingston Trio, which might bother an ethnomusicologist or a tribal loyalist but needn't concern ignorant people like you and me. Basically, this is a selection of time-tested melodies translated into our (musical) language--and translated roughly enough to convey authenticity, since what passes for slick in Abidjan wouldn't last a hairdresser on Lenox Avenue till coffee break. B PLUS

BOOTSY'S RUBBER BAND: Ahh . . . The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! (Warner Bros.) This isn't as rich in riffs as Stretching Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band. But although Bootsy's comic concentration takes a certain toll in tightness and drive, this record does about 90 per cent of what a good funk album does instrumentally while offering priceless insight into obscene phone calls and cannabis cunnilingus. Free your ass and your mind can come along for the ride. B [Later: B+]

BURTON CUMMINGS: My Own Way to Rock (Portrait) As RCA's most recent Guess Who anthology (Greatest of as opposed to Best of) demonstrates, this transparent egoist has always had a way with a song, and although it took me eight months to own up to it, I rather liked his solo debut--the first hit, "I'm Scared," a skeptic's uncommitted prayer for faith, was downright interesting, and the jazzy mock-up of former bandmate Randy Bachman's biggest hard-rock smash an inspired joke. But here Cummings himself moves toward hard rock, which always seems to bring out the sexism in him--a sexism especially repellent because it serves as an outlet not for taboo class animosities but rather for the familiar old bourgeois arrogance/self-hate. So it's only poetic justice that his way with the song should desert him this time out. C [Later]

DETROIT EMERALDS: Feel the Need (Westbound) The first version of the early disco classic this album is named after, then entitled "Feel the Need in Me," moved like a crack diesel: it quickened one whole side of what would have been a pretty good LP in any case. The LP was called You Want It, You Got It. It's now out of catalogue, the remade track moves more like a monorail, and while in the end I don't appreciate the streamlining (especially since the B side is quite schlocky) it's the only Detroit Emeralds you've got. Still sounds pretty good. B [Later: B-]

BRYAN FERRY: In Your Mind (Atlantic) Ferry's best-realized solo album makes clear that his problem isn't so much his coldness as the hopeless romanticism of his half-realized dreams. I suspect that if he ever convinced large numbers of people to care about his obsessions, the result would be escapism on a distressing scale. B PLUS [Later]

PETER FRAMPTON: I'm in You (A&M) Like Steve Miller, Frampton is a medium-snazzy guitarist taking no chances on an absurdly salable formula this time out; the only development is that this album has a kinda "live" feel, you know? Yet although Miller is more the rock an droller, it's him I can't stand. For one thing, Frampton sounds completely unsmug, an achievement in a star of his magnitude. Also, he doesn't need a facelift. I mean, if you want to be cute you might as well go all the way. C PLUS [Later: C-]

ARETHA FRANKLIN: Sweet Passion (Atlantic) When I work at listening, I can tell that she still sings real good. C PLUS

FUNKADELIC: Hardcore Jollies (Warner Bros.) It may be that the Parliafunkadelicment Thang has made more good music than any other rock group in America over the past five years. But even Cosmic Slop, their best LP, is inconsistent, while Tales of Kidd Funkaelic links my favorite of their songs with 16 minutes of organ-dominated instrumental (which is quite listenable, actually). Perhaps The Best of the Early Years: Volume One, newly available on Westbound, is the ideal introduction, especially for the song-oriented. But this debut for Warners, released last fall and graced by exemplary Mike Hampton guitar on the title cut and exemplary post-backlash soul-group harmonies throughout, gives a better sense of how their raunchy, surrealistic black vaudeville flows. Other Funkadelic LPs are showing up in discount bins; buy whatever you find. A MINUS [Later: A-]

BOB HADLEY: Tunes From the Well (Kicking Mule) I love John Fahey, but I'm no aficionado of the school of solo guitar he's inspired--attempted visionaries like Robbie Basho and Leo Kottke lack his courage and clarity, while most of the others are just folkies with new chops. Hadley's a folkie, too--his vision is more earthbound than Fahey's. But it does deserve to be called a vision. B

JOHN L.: Stay Up! (Virtu) For me, this is a first--a calypso artist who sings about subjects I know something about in an accent I managed to understand. Granted, I can't really judge how he stacks up against competition--no more than adequately would be my guess--but I suspect that if "Alien" were on the same side as "Identity" and (yes) "Meshuggener" I'd get more than a mild kick when this showed up at the end of the stack. B MINUS

BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS: Exodus (Island) As with so many black artists from this country, Marley's latest lyrics seem a little perfunctory, mixing vague politics of dubious depth with hackneyed romantic sentiments of dubious depth, and so what? Marley is not obliged to devote himself to propaganda. As with so many black artists from this country, the music is primary here, a message appropriate to his condition is conveyed by the unrushed rhythms and the way the sopranos share equally with the instruments and the new wariness of his phrasing and dynamics. Some of the cuts are flat, but if the O'Jays were to put five or six good ones on an LP--including two as striking as "Jamming" and "So Much Things To Say"--we'd call it solid and enjoyable at least. That's what this is. B PLUS

MIGHTY DIAMONDS: Ice on Fire (Virgin) Just as an assassination attempt doesn't commit Bob Marley to propaganda, so the best reggae album of 1976 doesn't commit the Mighty Diamonds to the music of Jamaica. Here they bid to become just another black harmony group, yoking Allen Toussaint's production to the Kingston beat and covering "Tracks of My Tears" (well). We could use another black harmony group, but unfortunately. Toussaint isn't noted for his work with groups, and like most harmony-group albums (not to mention reggae albums) this sounds samey even as it switches unpredictably from Toussaint songs to Mighty Diamonds originals. B

PARLIAMENT LIVE/P-FUNK EARTH TOUR (Casablanca) The most successful house of the Thang is also the least interesting. The voices and instruments are too strictly defined, the humor to doo distinct from the musical gestalt. This live double LP is attractive not only because it includes snatches of Bootsy and Funkadelic but because it's dirtier than Parliament Studio. Those suspicious of the live double LP as a form should probably start with Chocolate City or Mothership Connection, but for me, getting to like George Clinton's music was mostly a matter of loosening up, and this helped a lot. B PLUS [Later]

SCARLET RIVERA (Warner Bros.) Those who call this the worst record of the year (I've met two) must only listen to sidepeople's albums when the sidepeople are Dylan's (or "his," as the notes here would have it). In fact, many sidepeople stretch out one or two acceptable melodies and some should-be ones into an instrumental LP. Although come to think of it most of them come up with eight cuts, not six. And most of them can improvise some. Hmm."); ?> D MINUS [Later]

JAMES TAYLOR: JT (Columbia) James sounds both awake--worth a headline in itself--and in touch; maybe CBS gave him a clock radio for opening an account there. "Handy Man" is a transcendent sex ballad, although we may be weary of it by Labor Day, while "I Was Only Telling a Lie" and "Secret o' Life" evoke comparison with betters on the order of the Stones and Randy Newman, so that the wimpy stuff--which still predominates--sounds merely laid-back in contrast. Best since Sweet Baby James, shit--some of this is so wry and lively and committed his real fans may find it obtrusive. B [Later]

38 SPECIAL (A&M) For this group, booked by Ronnie Van Zant's agent, managed by his manager, and led by his kid brother, some special Inspiration Verse: "It's a Saturday night ordinary/All the pros know what dues to pay/Ain't really good for nuthin'/'Cept to take some other rocker's chance away." D PLUS

PETER TOSH: Equal Rights (Columbia) What's most impressive about this music is its sinew. The tracks are strong, yet although they usually include at least seven instrumental parts, they never sound lush, full, or even jubilantly multipercussive, which given Tosh's increasingly ominous lyrics is a good thing. Yet while Tosh's lyrics are more correct politically than Marley's, they're only marginally more eloquent. His singing is rather less eloquent. B PLUS

STEVE WINWOOD (Island) Combined with Stomu Yamashta's ersatz electronic classicism on Go, Winwood's chronic meandering seemed vaguely interesting. On its own again, it just seems vague. C MINUS

NEIL YOUNG: American Stars 'n Bars (Reprise) The first side, recently recorded, is Young's rough-and-tough version of L.A. country rock, featuring a female backup duo called the Bullets and climaxing with "Bite the Bullet," his sharpest cut since "Tonight's the Night." The second is a journey through the past that perhaps should have stayed in the outtake can. On one tune, Neil turns into a salmon while masturbating in front of the fireplace; on another, he and Crazy Horse somehow take the wind out of "Like a Hurricane," which blew everybody away at the Palladium last fall. B PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Although I don't find the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" bo "Did You No Wrong," available on Virgin as an import single with a small hole (underclass anarchism for the album market?), as overpowering as "Anarchy in the U.K." (five bucks on Macdougal last time I looked), it convinces me that this is some kind of great group. That it's also some kind of frightening group should go without saying; so should the unlikelihood that any of the other British punks are in their class, although I like what I read about the Clash. . . .

Two good domestic singles: the Ramones' "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," which indicates that their next-step potential lies in the general direction of the Dovells, and, "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," by Ronnie Spector and the "E" Street Band, the most powerful exercise in (Phil) Spectorsound since "River Deep--Mountain High." Phil didn't produce it; "Sugar Miami Steve" gets the credit. . . .

Those foolish enough to believe that Al Green's last four albums aren't worth owning separately now have no excuse--Al Green's Greatest Hits Volume II has been released by London, probably to commemorate the new distribution agreement between Hi (Green's--and Willie Mitchell's label) and Cream Records of Los Angeles. My only complaint is that it foregoes such collectibles as "Keep Me Cryin'," "Glory, Glory," and "That's the Way It Is" for two early-period standards, "Love and Happiness" and "For the Good Times."

Village Voice, Aug. 1, 1977

June 27, 1977 Sept. 5, 1977