Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Not Hop, Stomp

By popular demand and professional compulsion, it's an Easter makeup (2002 albums only) for last year's thankfully averted Turkey Shoot. In this time of rejoicing, with Christ risen and men of God headed for Iraq bearing revealed truth and badly needed building materials, it may seem in poor taste to call it the Bunny Stomp. But I'd rather have blood on my feet than on my hands.

BLACK DICE: Beaches & Canyons (DFA) Two years ago, when they were licking broken cymbals and mixing in keyb groans from a reel-to-reel, I told my diary they reminded me of the Swans and were as likely to go classical. So who've they been listening to? Somebody tinklier than I would have figured. Elliott Carter? Stockhausen to lay some arid accessibility on your ass? "Original" of them if so, they are that. Novelty records--rock and rollers can never get enough of them. C PLUS

DIRTY VEGAS (Capitol) The main thing I know about Mitsubishi is that until a few years ago I couldn't rent one without upsetting the rainforest people, so I didn't. But since then it's anted up some eco-yens and gone pop by advertising a track on this deeply anonymous Britsynthpop full-length. I kept playing said full-length, expecting a big pickup four titles in. Only it never came--the whole thing got catchier, but "Days Go By" just didn't stand out like it does on TV. Maybe it's just me. On the other hand, maybe it's people who watch too much TV. C

FOO FIGHTERS: One by One (RCA) Poor Dave. First he was going on about he had a right to sing da grunge. Then he was going on about his wreck of a love life. Now he's going on about going on. It happens to all of 'em--most of 'em, anyway--and rockin' harder than a motherfucker won't get 'em out of it. Pretty often, rockin' harder than a motherfucker is what got 'em into it. B MINUS

FAITH HILL: Cry (Warner Bros.) Celine Dion comparisons are too huge to mean a damn thing, but only huge will do. Hill's singing is more "human-scale"--like the female CEO of a Birmingham-based health-maintenance operation. Her drumming rocks--like RoboCop on steroids. She's an SUV that seats five linebackers across, a radio signal that grinds the competition into static, the megabomb they'll drop on anybody who doesn't get liberated on their timetable. At this horrible moment in history, she's American overkill as popular music. One thing you can say for Dion--she's Canadian. C

LAURYN HILL: MTV Unplugged 2.0 (Columbia) Probably not the worst album ever released by an artist of substance--there are all those Elvis soundtracks. But in the running. Full-length double-CD of wordy strophic strolls that often last six, seven, eight minutes, accompanied solely by a solo guitar Hill can barely strum (the first finger-picked figure occurs on track 10, where it repeats dozens upon dozens of times, arghh). Unlike Hill herself, who during one of many spoken-word breaks tells the adoring multitude that her singing voice has been roughed up by a late night (but not how weak it is when she gets her eight hours), the melodies do not assert themselves. Inspirational Patter: "Every single one of these songs is about me first." Makes them realer, aight? D MINUS

I AM THE WORLD TRADE CENTER: The Tight Connection (Kindercore) If they changed their name, that would mean the major labels had won. Also that seekers after the dark wouldn't buy bad laptop Blondie by mistake. C

TOBY KEITH: Unleashed (DreamWorks) With America lighting up one too many places like the Fourth of July, I went back and tried to hate "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" like I oughta, but it was still too pithy and heartfelt, and the album still gave up a colloquial aptness and easy masculinity I'd overlooked. But obscured by the uproar is a piece of work as immoral as "One in a Million" or "Black Korea"--no, worse. I can forgive duet partner Willie Nelson almost anything, but I'm appalled that he lent his good name to "Beer for My Horses," which not only naturalizes lynching but makes it seem like fun on a Friday night. True, the horses the mob rides evoke Hollywood westerns. Right, there is "too much corruption," though somebody should tell these yokels that "crime in the streets" dropped in the good old days when we had an economy. But the racial coding of the "gangsters" the song sends to their maker needs no explanation. And those "evil forces" who "blow up a building" ain't bomber pilots, now are they? B/E

LUDACRIS: Word of Mouf (Def Jam South) It was ludicrous for an employee of the Fox Network, especially a lying bully like Bill O'Reilly, to criticize anyone else for coarsening public discourse. It was amusing to watch the Britney pimps at Pepsi cave first to O'Reilly and then to Ludacris, who with the help of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network held Pepsi up for a few million to "support the arts in communities at risk," a matter in which I eagerly await the Ludacris Foundation's audited progress report. Also, he raps and rhymes with gusto, and I like his Timbaland beat so much I don't want to know how real its Glocks are. Nevertheless, he is or impersonates a no-class pimp motherfucker, and if he never reached a one of the nine-year-olds O'Reilly yammers about, he would still be coarsening public discourse. Song after song pumps the pimp theory that all women are whores. Rotate good-humored dance songs in which the best thing you say about female persons is that they crave your tallywhacker and the worst is that you'll murder them if they bother, and you'll change how real human beings of both sexes think and behave. Anyone who claims different is certainly a liar and probably a bully. B MINUS

AIMEE MANN: Lost in Space (SuperEgo) I've never understood this ice queen thing myself. What's the big thrill--getting to see them bite their lip when they come? All I know is this poster girl for the DIY fallacy is still the ultimate NPR middlebrow, addressing disillusioned love songs to the biz the way Christians address illusioned ones to the Lord Jesus. For her fans, the news is that she's invested her profits in studio musicians. Takes talent to make that more boring than solo acoustic, no? C PLUS

PAUL MCCARTNEY: Back in the U.S. (Capitol) The broad arena-rock of expert nonentities robs the Beatle songs that jam this tour merch of all quirk and precision. Yet the Beatle songs still dwarf the proofs of his solo existence, which get lamer as he gets older. Either way his relentless smiley smile cloys on contact. And when he whips up some now-the-fellas now-the-ladies on "Hey Jude," it is to cringe with dismay at the survival of a generation. D

TIM MCGRAW: Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors (Warner Bros.) Unlike his wife Faith, McGraw committed no egregious sonic offenses on his way to the top of the country charts, and given the kneejerk disdain Middle America elicits from my bicoastal cohort, I'd as soon leave him alone. But in a nation polarized far more cynically and effectively by the ruling class than the shallowest alt ideologue could dream, he has to be called on his love song to a Lady Liberty whose America includes no urban places, on his imperialist assumption that Mexico is for runaway spouses ha ha, even on his domestic bedrock, as if that's as socially responsible as rugged individualism need be. And then there's the matter of "Who Are They," which goes so far as to blame "safe sex" and the replacement of "what the hell" by "what the heck" (I swear) on the owners of this newspaper (honest, named as such), called "funny boys" when he means "faggots" because "They" so decree. Fuck that. I don't much like how David Schneiderman treats unions, but I'm here to tell Timbo that my boss is a better family man than any damn country roadhog. "I wonder if They like to fight," muses Timbo on his way to finding out where "They" live. Me, I use my words. If any Nashville thug lays a hand on me, I'll sue him within 50 cents of his ignorant life. C PLUS

TOM PETTY | HEARTBREAKERS: The Last DJ (Warner Bros.) The guy who once revealed on national television that rock and roll died with Buddy Holly steps up and confronts the key social issues of the day: radio, stardom, and record executives, plus don't forget teen violence, child abuse, and satyriasis. His hero "don't want to change/what don't need to change," and fuck you if your needs are different. Does Petty have the tunes? Sure, he always has the tunes. Does he whine them in that weird, self-pitying child-drawl? Sure, he regresses every time out. So which would I rather hear, catchy good-guy cant or a Clear Channel jock hyping some mythical Svengalified "angel whore who could learn a guitar lick"? More angel whores, please. Hell, I'll even take an angel. C PLUS

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: By the Way (Warner Bros.) How desperate rock scribes are for shows of quality by bands of any remaining commercial clout. This piece of let's-slow-it-down-a-little isn't terrible unless you're expecting thee funk, but though it was greeted with hosannas in a slow news month, it's certainly a turn or two slacker than Californication. When you're an energy band, wisdom don't make much nevermind. But melodies, harmonies, and so forth are supposed to drag some spiritual stuff along with them. It's not enough for Anthony Keidis to get all mature--he's supposed to say something interesting about maturity. And he's never had thing one to say about anything else. B MINUS

SIGUR RÓS: ( ) (MCA) ?_;@$.is C

TENACIOUS D (Epic) Of course Jack Black makes me laugh sometimes. He's got serious comic gifts. But the meanness of his joke band proves how much easier it is to act a role than inhabit a persona. I can imagine him playing a sympathetic character in a movie somebody else scripted. But I can't imagine him writing a song I cared about, even as a laugh, because he treats music the way his songs treat women--as a means to an end. What end, though? Getting laid is a snap, after all. Maybe just believing his life means a damn thing. C PLUS

THE WALKMEN: Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone (Startime International) Just what we always wanted--Jonathan Fire*Eater grows up. Put some DreamWorks money into a studio, that was mature. Realized Radiohead was the greatest band in the world, brainy. Stopped playing so fast, hoo boy. And most important, switched vocalists from Nick Cave imitator to Rufus Wainwright imitator. Wainwright makes up better melodies with a dick in his mouth, and not only that, Cave has more literary ability. New York scene or (hint hint) no New York scene, DreamWorks isn't buying. C PLUS

WEEZER: Maladroit (Geffen) Down from 48 percent to 35 at, not because they're less annoying but because they're less successful. Annoying they remain, and not, annoying webmaster, because they gigged as Goat Punishment or--who cares?--lost their bass player to the Rentals. They're annoying because Rivers Cuomo is the punk Tom Scholz--a solitary genius in love with big and precise. In Boston's arena-rock, this made sense even though it was annoying. In Weezer's arena-punk (slightly more arena on this outing, and less annoying as a result), it totally misses the point, which from the Ramones to the Libertines has been to achieve concision and economy while just barely remaining erect. Onstage, that is. How Cuomo has comported himself in other areas of endeavor I haven't a clue. B MINUS

WOW HITS 2003 (Sparrow) Christians--they're back, they're bad, get mad at them. Not that the pap on this annual bestseller suggests the lust for power of the new suburban zealots--just their slickness, their bad faith, and their skin color (with Cece Winans tokenizing as hard as she can). What unites all 30 "hit songs from Pop, Rock, Adult Contemporary and even Worship genres" is derivativeness--a year or a decade behind the times, these artists live and breathe music like Bush lives and breathes freedom--and their use of the second person to refer to Jesus. So far, their bestseller status is strictly relative--triple-platinum P.O.D. sound like Nirvana plus Public Enemy by comparison. In a nation tipping evangelical, this failure to move units is a blessing. But the new suburban fascism being what it is, don't bet it'll last forever. E PLUS

Village Voice, Apr. 29, 2003

Apr. 1, 2003 June 10, 2003