Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Mine Enemy the Turkey

Add to the many things not to be thankful for this year 13 CDs that will make your gorge rise

JAMIE CULLUM: Twentysomething (Verve) This Brit is good enough at what he does to make you wonder why he bothers. With Norah Jones putting young-person-with-old-ideas shtick in the bank, the commercial logic we get. But beyond a cross-generational reach achievable in any genre and a swinging musicality he negotiates with too much heavy breathing, what's the artistic payoff? Writingwise he ain't Sondre Lerche, much less Nellie McKay. Interpretively, "Blame It on My Youth" exploits his age for good cheap irony, "The Wind Cries Mary" is a nice Mitch Mitchell tribute, and that's it. You say Harry Connick Jr. would never try a Radiohead cover? Score one for New Orleans. B MINUS

GOOD CHARLOTTE: The Chronicles of Life and Death (Epic) Like a thousand hit bands before them, they've seen the great big world and feel wiser, and like a thousand hit bands before them, they've forgotten the wisdom--strike that, the knowledge--that made them a hit to begin with. Beyond some rich-and-famous irony, not a single suburban detail soils an hour of good intentions. And you know the music overreaches too. C PLUS

R. KELLY: Happy People/U Saved Me (Jive/Zomba) His productivity isn't exuberance, it's greed; his PG rating isn't scruples, it's cowardice. Happy People only gets steppin' when it flaunts his wealth, only achieves consciousness on a closing diptych that observes, "We're so quick to say God bless America/But take away 'In God We Trust'/Tell me what the hell is wrong with us?" Nice segue, Mr. Accused, right into the gross God-pop of U Saved Me, which points out that if you believe in God you'll earn a law degree and play for the Bulls, reflects humbly on divine forgiveness as it pertains to R. Kelly, and goes out on an anti-war hymn that shouts out to many African nations. Blatant consumerist fantasy-mongering from the tunes on down, and I believe that somewhere there's a court that'll convict him for it. D PLUS

KID ROCK (Atlantic) Turned into Ted Nugent pretty quick, didn't he? Only who told him that meant not being funny? Like a clown who longs to play Hamlet, the fake pimp who got lucky is out of his depth in swamp-rock--especially with this stiff of a drummer, her p.c. points notwithstanding. C PLUS

LOS LONELY BOYS (Epic) "A cross between Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Valens," guitarist Henry Garza suggested modestly last year, and strangely, the big problem isn't that Henry is no Stevie Ray Vaughan. It's that these three Chicano brothers lack the main thing the forever incomparable Hendrix and prematurely sainted Valens shared--youthful pizzazz. The Lonely Boys' dad, Ringo Sr. (Ringo Jr., make of it what you will, plays drums), has been touring them so long that by now they're old pros--assimilated, acculturated, attenuated. So the obvious comparison is also dead accurate: Los Lobos tamed. You want something fancier, call them a cross between Santana and Air Supply. C PLUS

LYNYRD SKYNYRD: Lyve (Sanctuary) Maybe the Allmans supported Bush too, though I bet not; maybe that fox Ronnie Van Zant would have turned into Charlie Daniels, though he would have nuanced it. But Daniels is Donald Fagen up against the backup-singer cheerleading and golden-oldies smarm of Johnny Van Zant, and where the Allmans replaced their mythic front line with Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, who jam at least as tight and hot, Gary Rossington didn't anchor that peachy a guitar section to begin with. A few of the post-Ronnie songs are surprisingly decent--"Red, White and Blue," for instance, is about Johnny's neck, hair, and collar. But you know what else it's about, and in case you don't he has four or five ways to rub it in, including thanks to God for the lovely Nashville night. Not Memphis, not Jacksonville--Nashville. C PLUS

JOE NICHOLS: Revelation (Universal South) You have to hand it to jingoists Darryl Worley and Montgomery Gentry--they evince heart or hair. This bland, well-respected tastenik is neocon in neotrad clothing. Coding as cannily as Alice Cooper, he opines: "There's nothing wrong with people singing about stuff they believe in, but to get up and give a political speech and give your political views and forget what we came to the show for, that's ridiculous." As for hits bewailing Christ's disappearance from the classroom, that's just stuff he believes in. And the title tune, about sinners saved by a dream of the rapture, why, Waylon Jennings did it once. How tasteful do you want? C PLUS

PATRIOTIC COUNTRY (BMG/Music for a Cause) For the record, and records must be kept, the vilest thing on Fox News' Music Row takeover doesn't come from Lee Greenwood. Lee Greenwood is just the beginning. It's by a onetime Bob Dylan fiddler: Charlie Daniels's rockin', racist "This Ain't No Rag It's a Flag" ("And we don't wear it on our heads"), its climax a child lisping the Pledge of Allegiance while a band of braggarts chants "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A." Runner-up is the Warren Brothers' dim, toadying, putatively nonpartisan "Hey Mr. President," which tosses "those guys in the House and the Senate" out on their nitpicking asses and reflects how hard it must be to tell a mother her soldier son has died as if our CEO does it all the time. Educational: Dusty Drake's deeply felt plane-going-down "One Last Time" versus Lonestar's militantly sentimental "I'm Already There," where some damn country singer calls home from his hotel room. Honestly conflicted: Hank Williams Jr.'s "America Will Survive," the rare post-9/11 country song that knows New York is more than the ex-towers and the Statue of Liberty. "Big business" dis: Blackhawk's "Days of America." Sign of hope: token female Martina McBride's involuntary manslaughter of "God Bless America." C MINUS

THE POLYPHONIC SPREE: Together We're Heavy (Good/Hollywood) Granted his major-label production budget in the sky, Tim DeLaughter hones his tunes and dispels woozy comparisons to the Flaming Lips. He's on record as wondering why his collective can't have hits like the Association and the 5th Dimension. And when history batters those dreams as it will so many, he'll still have the herewithal to mount a long-running local production of Hair. Even in Dallas, America always makes room for the culture of dissent. B MINUS

MICHAEL W. SMITH: Healing Rain (Reunion) Dubya is the earthly king of Christian rock, returned to the pop fold after several profitable forays into the worship scene. His voice both strong and pleasant (though he's no Amy Grant), he commands an unusually detailed palette of stale CCR studio techniques ("Eagles Fly" sports a sitar). He rocks mechanically hard on songs about perseverance and aspiration that don't mention the Lord's name and sounds sad about AIDS in Africa, or maybe famine (or animism). "I Am Love" is pretty mystical, and he essays "Bridge Over Troubled Water," by the Jewish songwriter Paul Simon. In general, though, the words are not a plus. D PLUS

ULTIMATE WORSHIP MUSIC (BMG Strategic Marketing Group) All I know about worship music is that it's the hottest Christian subgenre--otherwise content-free "vertical" songs of praise to the Almighty in many modern (i.e., dated, white) pop and rock styles. So this came in the mail, and with Christians on the warpath I played it, and it sounded like goop to me, but it would, wouldn't it? The $12.98 or so price for a triple-CD that would fit on two discs canceled out the all-too-redolent label name. Still, I wondered why the credits listed only composers. An Amazon post from Stephen Putt of Warren "Vacate Our Election Board, Journalistic Terrorists" Ohio put me straight: "I bought this cd at walmart. there was no indication on the cd that the songs were not sung by the original bands. I tried to return this cd at walmart and they wouldn't take it back. basically if you want a collection of worship music done by the original bands and singers. Dont buy this cd." How "naive," shot back a co-religionist who'd attended a camp run by compiler Joel Engle: "Believe it or not, the vast majority of these songs do not 'belong' to any one band, but have been written by songwriters and can be sung by anyone who gets permission." Or doesn't get permission, actually. Strategic marketers have long known that sacred truth. Just like Christian retailers know what's nine-tenths of God's law. E

THE VINES: Winning Days (Capitol) The reason these Aussies saved neither Capitol Records nor rock and roll isn't this duff follow-up. It's their duff debut. Inferior to not just Nirvana but Oasis, led by a spoiled jerk who can't sing the lyrics he can't write, and of negligible musical interest beyond the stray hook, they demonstrated the biz's conceptual bankruptcy by parlaying a fluke hit into brief next-big-thingdom. Trash a few dressing rooms to a tune some a&r cornball can hum and you always stand a chance of convincing him you're a genius in the rough. C PLUS

XIU XIU: Fabulous Muscles (5 Rue Christine) The musical parsimony, cultural insularity, moral certitude, and histrionic affectations of these lo-fi artier-than-thous promise indie ideologues whole lifetimes of egoistic irrelevance. "Why should I care if you get killed?" Jamie Stewart asks a "stupid" "jock" Iraq G.I. he makes sure remains out of earshot. He gets closer to the title sex object: "Cremate me after you come on my lips honey boy." But somehow one doubts things will end so exquisitely. C

Village Voice, Nov. 30, 2004

Nov. 16, 2004 Dec. 28, 2004