Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Christgau's Consumer Guide

ATTITUDE: Pump the Nation (Atlantic) Produced by the System, a/k/a Mic Murphy and David Frank, they got the juice--all three of these young people possess more mellifluous voices than Murphy, and more singing technique as well. But they don't have as much personality--Murphy's synth-compatible vocal style is far more idiosyncratic and engaging than their postsoulfulness. And in the great artist-producer tradition, Murphy & Frank give up two great conceits for the singles and save the rest for themselves. B

AZTEC CAMERA: High Land, Hard Rain (Sire) At first I did the obvious thing and pigeonholed this as high-grade pop--richer and truer than Haircut 100 or even the dB's or the Bongos and ultimately feckless anyhow. Now I think it's more like U2 with songs (which is all U2 needs). For sheer composition--not just good tunes, but good tunes that swoop and chime and give you goosebumps--Roddy Frame's only current competition is Marshall Crenshaw, and unlike Crenshaw he never makes you smell retro. His wordcraft is worthy of someone who admires Keats, his wordplay worthy of someone admired by Elvis C.; he sings and arranges with a rousing lyricism that melds militance and the love of life. These are songs in which sweet retreat can't be permanent, in which idealism is buffeted but unbowed--songs of that rare kind of innocence that has survived hard experience. So far, anyway--Frame is still very young. How unusual it is these days for youth to add resonance to what used to be teen music. A [Later: A-]

BIG COUNTRY: The Crossing (Mercury) With its bagpipe guitars and Celtic blues lines, Stuart Adamson's Skids-U2 hybrid avoids any hint of rock purism. Although "Chance" is the only fully realized song here, the rest sound good from a distance. But I wish Adamson didn't sing like Colonel Bryan Bowie and, even worse, write like Bishop Kahlil Masefield. Regaled with martial rhythms, I always feel safer knowing exactly what the war's about. B

KURTIS BLOW: Party Time? (Mercury) If Kurtis's strongest album has a problem, it's Kurtis, who despite his quick lips and habit of command doesn't sound entirely at home with all this lovingly streetified social-awareness-you-can-dance-to. But who ever said rap was about words? The muscular funk that powered the sound systems when Kurtis was coming up combines with the digitalia that shakes the B-boxes now and some well-placed hook riffs to get him through the hyperconscious patches. Time 27:35. A MINUS

CHAMPAIGN: Modern Heart (Columbia) This clean, middle-American pop-funk's commitment to quality is so modest that its "concept" may well be not to stand out. So it takes forever to penetrate. But where most merely professional tunesmiths get irritating with prolonged exposure, Champaign start to glow--modestly, of course. B PLUS

BERNARD EDWARDS: Glad to Be Here (Atlantic) Edwards's career training as a bass player doesn't suit him for lead roles, which means that what is basically a rather subtle Chic album may never sneak up on you the way it did on this fan. For what it's worth, the two Chic-est grooves on the album features Nard as vocalist but not bassist, leaving that role to synth whiz Ray Chew. Could this be magic? B PLUS

BRIAN ENO: Apollo: Atmospherics & Soundtracks (Editions EG) Designed to help a moonshot documentary "present a set of moods," this is ambient Eno at its most accessible--often very pretty, and not without guitar. Still, I expect mood music to sustain a mood, and while as you might expect none of this is unlistenable, some of it is very nearly inaudible, which can be almost as annoying. Left to itself, "Drift" does just that, and "Stars" and "Under Stars" sound like sleep sequences. B PLUS [Later: B]

AL GREEN: I'll Rise Again (Myrrh) This isn't great Al--it doesn't come through with the spiritual charge of a Call Me (secular) or Higher Plane (religious). But it is good Al, and after much soul-searching I've stopped worrying about what kind of gospel music it might be. If Green wants to attribute his positivity to romantic bliss, either, though I did find it easier to suspend disbelief. And while Christ and Eros are both more rewarding objects of faith than music, my guess is that at this point music is Al's bottom line--his very personal road to religious and secular glory glory. A MINUS

HERBIE HANCOCK: Future Shock (Columbia) As a guy who likes his funk obvious, I think those who esteem "Rockit" as highly as Head Hunters are too kind to Head Hunters. Small thanks to Herbie, lots to Material and Grand Mixer D.St., it's the best novelty instrumental in years and the best pop of Hancock's life. Elsewhere various bright ideas, such as Pete Cosey, are obscured by the usual aura of set-piece dink--jumpy enough and often fun, but fusoid nevertheless. B PLUS

JONZUN CREW: Lost in Space (Tommy Boy) I love "Space Cowboy," in which hooks from Tom Tom Club and Clint Eastwood converge on the ghost of Gary Numan. Elsewhere, however, Numan's shade has all too much space to him/itself. Sure the cross-rhythms are niftier, and I know Bambaataa has given this kind of silliness his blessing. But not everybody can be blessed--or silly. C PLUS

JULUKA: Scatterlings (Warner Bros.) The musical and political strengths and weaknesses of apartheid-fighters Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchuna are best understood if you think of them as folkies. Beginning as a biracial guitar-and-voice duo committed to Zulu traditionalism, which many apartheid-fighters consider objectively counterrevolutionary, they've become a rock band out of commercial happenstance. Like most folkies, they're often corny--"Simple things are all we have left to trust" and so forth. But being a folkie in South Africa takes a lot more guts than it does in liberal societies, and that's audible all over this album--as are the melodic resources of the Zulu tradition, which happen to be vocal rather than percussive. B PLUS [Later: B]

MOFUNGO: Out of Line (Zoar) Where hardcore kids rail against empty leisure and media images, these working bohemians ground an analysis in the dismal daily grind. Their politics more or less match thick, uningratiating music that is dissonant but not quite amelodic, industrial but not at all mechanical. The match isn't exact because their lyrics are sometimes so simplistic they deserve a single dumb folkie guitar, while the music gets thin in a more unavoidable way, reflecting their blocked access to the means of production. And though I doubt anything would render their "We're gonna change the world" literal, my analysis is that a few extra tunes wouldn't hurt. B

NEW EDITION: Candy Girl (Streetwise) In which amassed svengalis manage an album that won't leave those captivated by the big hit feeling ripped off--the rap is cute, the recitative is cute, and "Popcorn Love" is a neat kiddiephile conceit. But the kiddies don't sing that good. And they're not even related. B

GRAHAM PARKER: The Real Macaw (Arista) In which Parker finally justifies his abandonment of rock and roll outcry for self-referential studiocraft by more or less acknowledging the private sources of his bitterest protests. The male chauvinism he mocks in the opener is almost certainly his own, and the love he can't take for granted right afterwards is probably his wife's, which in the end proves more durable than he's afraid it will. That's why he's glad to have a glass jaw, why he's advised to ignore everything that sounds like chains, and why except for one misplaced complaint side two is a happy-to-ironic-to-credibly-sappy paean to a marriage that has lasted--talk about your miracle a minute--one whole year. A MINUS [Later: B+]

QUEEN IDA & THE BON TEMPS ZYDECO BAND: On Tour (GNP Crescendo) Since these Grammy winners have bagged a rep on the folk circuit, where drumming is still regarded as one of the arcane arts, I feel obliged to point out that their exploration of groove is pro forma, their singing uninspired, their material trite, and their bonhomie strictly show business. Even Clifton Chenier has never made great records, and when this battle is over, it won't be Queen Ida wearing his crown. C PLUS

BOB SEGER & THE SILVER BULLET BAND: The Distance (Capitol) I had filed this as unlistenable until the amazing tuneout power of "Roll Me Away" piqued me into determining why. The songs aren't half bad--adequate melodically and with moments of good writing. But Seger's romantic individualism is a little simpleminded, more late-outlaw than Bruce, and it's suffocated by overstatement. Almost any country singer could show him how to approach a cliché kinda easy like. In fact, with his connections Seger could probably get lessons from Willie himself. But with his taste he'd probably choose Waylon instead. C PLUS

TALKING HEADS: Speaking in Tongues (Sire) With Eno departed, the polyrhythms no longer seem so portentous--this funk is quirkily comfortable, like the Byrne-produced B-52's or the three-piece of Byrne's earlier primitivist period. Unfortunately, the polyrhythms no longer seem so meaningful, either. Though God knows there's no rock and roll rule that says playfulness can't signify all by itself, the disjoint opacity of the lyrics fails to conceal Byrne's confusion about what it all means. Yet side two lights me up nevertheless, sandwiching the purest anticapitalist song he's ever written and the purest prolove song he's ever written around two pieces of typically ironic-optimistic futurism. A MINUS

STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN AND DOUBLE TROUBLE: Texas Flood (Epic) People who think white guitarists with the blues are the essence of rock and roll never fully account for Alvin Lee, not to mention Robin Trower. I think rock and roll's essence inheres in momentum and song form, and find my attention wandering after the kickoff originals "Love Struck Baby" and "Pride and Joy." B

NEIL YOUNG: Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks/Everybody's Rockin' (Geffen) If Ronnie and Nancy are the only everybodies rockin' by name on the less than rousing title finale, then maybe what Neil means to say is that basic rockabilly isn't worth too much all by its lonesome. I agree, but expect the argument would be more convincing if Neil plus Ben Keith could match Brian Setzer chop for chop. The covers are redundant or worse, as are all but two of the originals. I hope Robert Gordon or somebody rescues "Kinda Fonda Wanda." And I hope Neil realizes that for all the horrible truth of "Payola Blues," nobody's three thou's gonna get this on top forty. Time: 24:36. List: $8.98. C PLUS

ZZ TOP: Eliminator (Warner Bros.) Arena-rockers who never forgot heavy metal was once white blues, they took a long vacation and resurfaced as a damn fine fine white blues band. Their third piece of product since then shows them devolving back into metal, albeit with a sharper groove and a guitarist who sounds like himself. B MINUS [Later: B+]

Additional Consumer News

Swamped by EPs and 12-inches, get-rich-quick configurations that are spreading like videos right now, I've paid scant attention recently to the seven-inches that are still my sentimental favorites, though probably more than most deejays. Too little and too late (several of these appeared in 1982), here's a rundown of a few personally guaranteed obscurities in descending order as usual. Tommy Keene's "Back to Zero Now"/"Mr. Roland" (Avenue) is the richest and catchiest neo-'60s studiocraft I've heard since Stands for Decibels, all electric lyricism and admonitory dolor. The Pedantiks' "Boy Most Likely"/"Cry Cry" (Pedantiks) may be slilghter, but it's just as catchy and a lot more danceable, a pointed sendup of post-youth disillusion. Little Foxes' girl-group one-shot (forget the B and the follow-up) "Crossed Line" (CD/Phonogram import) would send Bananarama running for their boyfriends' thrift shops in a saner world. Limbo Race's "Ina's Song" (Limborations) is a terse, self-lacerating piece of club-scene gothic. Liliput's "You Did It"/"The Jetz" (Rough Trade import) isn't the instant classic I always hope for from them, but does stand as a satisfying piece of high eccentricity. Bad Checks' "I'm Paranoid"/"Hurting Is Love" (Loretta) would have sounded slow in 1977 but is ace punk nowadays. And the Speed Boys' "Girls Girls Girls" (I Like Mike) is a "Louie Louie" rip that Robert Bobby [ . . . ]

Village Voice, Sept. 27, 1983

Postscript Notes:

Bottom line of photocopy is smudged, obliterating one line (presumably the last) in the Additional Consumer News.

Aug. 30, 1983 Nov. 11, 1983