Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide: Turkey Shoot

Thanksgiving time is here again, and with it the now annual, God help me, Consumer Guide Turkey Shoot, which is nothing like shooting fish in a barrel. Dozens of dubious but insufficiently offensive artists were considered but didn't make the cut (rappers initials BDK and DOC, chanteuses initials ME and KB, country stalwarts initials WN and DP, and please now let me stop). Almost all those included not only make bad or obstreperously mediocre music, but enjoy unwonted recognition on the charts and/or in the public prints as well. And I listened to all of them again and again just to make sure. Be thankful you didn't.

JULEE CRUISE: Floating Into the Night (Warner Bros.) This new age chantoozy is no mushmelon: her sentimental schlock and quasiclassical quietude are at the forefront of the latest hip convolutions. And when admirers claim she sounds best in a dark room at three in the morning, I wonder whether she puts them to sleep too. B MINUS

THE CURE: Disintegration (Elektra) With the transmutation of junk a species of junk itself, an evasion available to any charlatan or nincompoop, it's tempting to ignore this patent arena move altogether. But by pumping his bad faith and bad relationship into depressing moderato play-loud keyb anthems far more tedious than his endless vamps, Robert Smith does actually confront a life contradiction. Not the splintered relationship, needless to say, although the title tune is a suitably grotesque breakup song among unsuitably grotesque breakup songs. As with so many stars, even "private" ones who make a big deal of their "integrity," Smith's demon lover is his audience, now somehow swollen well beyond his ability to comprehend, much less control. Hence the huge scale of these gothic cliches. And watch out, you mass, 'cause if you don't accept this propitiation he just may start contemplating suicide again. Or take his money and go home. C PLUS

THE DEL FUEGOS: Smoking in the Fields (RCA) Bless my stars if it isn't clubland nostalgia--these gumsuckers have hung in long enough to pose as avatars of a great tradition that never was. "I've got the strangest feeling we can do it again," they announce, alluding to the halcyon days when real men danced to the Real Kids. Will teenaged radio programmers fall for it? If not, there's always the romantic "I'm Inside You." C PLUS

GLORIA ESTEFAN: Cuts Both Ways (Epic) I was perplexed to catch myself enjoying parts of this until I recognized the feels-so-good-when-it-stops syndrome--who wouldn't perk up at a sleek salsa montuno or tap-dancing synperc break when the alternative is Karen Carpenter with an unlocked pelvis? "Get On Your Feet" importunes too much--these rhythms aren't gonna get you. C [Later]

GREAT WHITE: Twice Shy (Capitol) Sucked into the business when their girlfriends took them to see This Is Spinal Tap, they're the most physically unprepossessing glam boys in history except Kiss, and beneath the red satin and airbrushed navels are workaday attitudes, riffs, and yowls. The Ian Hunter-penned hit puts their artistic achievement in perspective--closest they come to a detail like "And the heater don't work" is "Hiway lights/Freeway sights," closest they come to a metphor like "Before he got his hands/Across your state line" is "Let the small head rock her." No smaller than the one on your shoulders, dude. C

DON HENLEY: The End of the Innocence (Geffen) Bitch bitch bitch, bloat bloat bloat. Six of 10 tracks run over five minutes, and not 'cause he's building a groove, although the anti-ripoff "Gimme What You Got" does appropriate a JB riff, which I guess is ironic, or totally unconscious. Nope, Don wants drama and plenty of it--seven of 10 instrumental intros are 30 seconds plus, with three up around an L.A. minute (as distinguished from a "New York Minute," 'cause Don says your life can change in one of those). Theme: "This brave new world/Gone bad again." (Again?) Solution: love--only don't blame him if it falls through. C PLUS

HOODOO GURUS: Magnum Cum Louder (RCA) One of the enduring kicks of college radio's minor-league "underground" is young believers and venerable adepts extracting something fresh from the same old fours. One of its nagging annoyances is headstrong faithful and professional guitarists claiming that competent variations on the truths they hold to be self-evident are brand new fun. B MINUS

HOUSE HALLUCINATES: PUMP UP THE WORLD VOLUME ONE (Vendetta) Take it from your Uncle Bob--even at the time, no one thought hallucinogens enhanced gross motor function. Self-expression, utopian possibility, all that good stuff that went nowhere--maybe. But as the hippie girls (not to mention boys) freaking through Woodstock and Monterey Pop remind us, acid didn't go with dance crazes. And with their hooks vanishing into the mix, the trickily rhythmic, subtly incremental, frustratingly one-dimensional synth doodles that dominate this two-disc acid house compilation are about as engrossing as a Greg Elmore drum solo. I observe admiringly that the music is kind of avant-garde. I note that the lyrics are mantralike. And I concede that all of it must connect better in context. But I doubt I'd take a shine to the context even if I didn't have to get up in the morning. So I advise the curious to check out the context first. C [Later]

INDIGO GIRLS (Epic) "I am intense, I am in need, I am in pain, I am in love": from the state that could have given us Oh-OK, two folkies whose big declamatory voices convince people to take their verse seriously, which is the only way they want it. As with Tracy Chapman, the strategy is to hire extra instruments and still sound like folkies, though when Jay Dee Daugherty adds a climactic fill to "How much further, if you are smooth" (a stone-skipping reference), rock dreams clearly beckon. Docked a notch for dropping the name of the Jeu de Paume. C MINUS [Later]

JERMAINE JACKSON: Don't Take It Personal (Arista) As he turns 35, the 5's original teenthrob undertakes to fill little brother's shoes. Having dominated songwriting as well as lead vocals on the family's 2300 Jackson Street, a perky piece of disposable pop-funk that failed to go gold, he's forced to hand-pick black-crossover hacks from Surface to David Z on his (huxtry, huxtry) "first solo album in over 3 years." A mild-voiced journeyman whose heyday is 10 if not 20 years behind him, he's equally bland as love man (title hit promises they can still be friends) and stud (though he does thank six foals on the back cover). Docked a notch not just for muttering, "Hey baby, I'd like to buck you," but for having some hired b-boy chime in with the requisite "Word." C MINUS

DEE DEE KING: Standing in the Spotlight (Sire) He does have his own style--not even Deborah Harry would dare rap over such one-dimensional beats--and I like "Too Much To Drink," the latest in the surprising spate of rock temperance anthems. But Dee Dee, we German-Americans believe in grammar. You're not "the baddest rapper in Whitestone, Queens"--you're "the worst rapper in Whitestone, Queens." C

BERNIE KRAUSE & HUMAN REMAINS: Gorillas in the Mix (Rykodisc) "Every sound on this record has been created from the voices of animals except as noted in the credits," claims the credits intro, which goes on to list six different keybmen and no other players. And sure enough, the coyotes, dolphins, whales, walruses, and (yes) turkeys who carry the electrofunky tunes all sound like synthesizers. Now is that sick or what? Hi-hat chores go to the snapping shrimp, kick drum to the ruffed grouse, and so forth, with the key copout "from the voices," for rarely are the voices of animals heard on this disc; whenever a horse or crow or pig or otter is allowed an untreated interjection it comes as a moment of grace. You don't have to be an animal rightser to believe that only a hairless biped could conceive anything so cosmically cutesy. C PLUS

MILLI VANILLI: Girl You Know It's True (Arista) Frank Farian's great Eurodisco experiment Boney M didn't go over Stateside for the simple reason that it was too Euro. His Eurorap is hipper, sexier, even a teensy bit soulful--in short, indistinguishable from the highest quality Amerischlock give or take some snazzy sound effects. The title cut is the best cut. The remix of the title cut is the second-best cut. C

PUBLIC IMAGE LTD.: 9 (Virgin) Johnny's gotten so tired and cynical he can't cut to anywhere new: no matter how hard he tries (and as a working professional he does try), he's stuck with his own ideas. Stephen Hague is a tabula rasa--when he does the Pet Shop Boys he seems smart, when he does Spigue Spigue Sputnik he seems false, when he does Erasure he seems blank. So when he does PIL he seems blank with a few harsh cross-rhythms. And if you consider it corny of me to pick on Johnny's electrodance record, let me observe that if he'd gone to Iggy Pop or George Clinton things would be just as bad. Maybe worse. C PLUS

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS: Mother's Milk (EMI) Punks who loved Hendrix and P-Funk way way back, they're finally cashing in on their good taste, and though unbelievers dis their sincerity, execution's the problem. They didn't have the chops to bring it off then, and by pushing the guitar up front they sound even cruder now. But they're perfectly nice fellas, really--mention "compassion" in the very first verse. C PLUS

SKID ROW (Atlantic) Bio plays up their anti-"formula" "bad-itude," leaving open the question of whether any of these double-platinum Jerseyoid bar boys has recorded professionally before. Sounds like someone knows the formula: metal guitar plus amped-to-10 frontman times pop structure equals East Coast G N' R. Class animus is their excuse, the 9-to-5 dead end rejected for salvation by sleaze. Female characters include three hookers, a junkie, a classy bitch, a shotgun bride, a cheater who catches the back of her man's hand and the next train to Kalamazoo, and a crybaby craving "more, more, more." And at least they're characters rather than objects--by the standards of the subgenre, this is not an offensively sexist band. Sheesh. C PLUS

SOUNDGARDEN: Louder Than Love (A&M) This AOR reclamation job isn't retro because so many of their culturally deprived boho contemporaries have pretty much the same idea. It isn't Led Zep because they're interested in (good at?) noise, not riffs. Covertly conceptual, arty in spite of itself, and I bet metal fans don't bite. C PLUS

10,000 MANIACS: Blind Man's Zoo (Elektra) Natalie Merchant has her own prosaic prosody, with off-kilter guitar accentuating its eccentric undertow. The whole second side makes politics not love, and sometimes--like when the lottery-playing mom of "Dust Bowl" rubs her fevered youngest down with rubbing alcohol--she brings you there. But somehow I knew that when she got down to cases she'd still be a fuzzy-wuzzy. This is a woman whose song about Africa (called "Hateful Hate," now there's a resonant phrase) brushes by slavery on its way to elephanticide and ends up condemning "curiosity"--again and again. No wonder she won't listen to "common sense firm arguments." B MINUS

THE 2 LIVE CREW: As Nasty as They Wanna Be (Skyywalker) The ACLU may not want it advertised, but this record is pornographic; that's one of the few good things about it. Hooked by two Hispanic/Asian working girls uttering rhythmic fuckwords, the number-one rap single "Me So Horny" packs the gross eroticism of a good hard-core loop. Romance isn't an issue; liking women isn't even an issue. Thus there are few distracting rationalizations about how this or that bitch did them wrong--these Miami knuckleheads are just normal red-blooded American misogynists. They like it "rough and painful"; they tell men how to "give her more than she wants"; they never touch a woman anywhere but between her legs. And only rarely do their raw samples generate the heat of the single. So in the long run, they're almost as unlikely to inspire good sex as a sermon by Daniel Wildmon. They don't belong in jail. But remember John Holmes: he who lives by the dick shall die by the dick. C

WHITESNAKE: Slip of the Tongue (Geffen) They got lucky, and they don't intend to let go. With fast-gun-for-hire Steve Vai operating all guitars and who knows what other geegaws, they've consolidated their sound into essence of arena: all pomp, flash, male posturing, and sentimentality, this is now the Worst Band in the World. So you just move over, Journey. (Hey--where is Journey?) D

Additional Consumer News

I played Starr Struck: The Best of Ringo Starr Volume 2 (Rhino) just in case I'd missed something--like his Joe Walsh-produced Old Wave (1983, Canada-only, how sad). But the ex-Beatle has been El Lay for most of his adult life, and his dogged directness can't cut it. You'd be better off with George Harrison's Best of Dark Horse 1976-1989. Or Joe Walsh.

Village Voice, Nov. 28, 1989

Nov. 21, 1989 Dec. 26, 1989