Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

Beach Boys: Carl and the Passions--So Tough/Pet Sounds (Brother/Reprise). If you're a Beach Boys freak you already own Pet Sounds, although not in its pristine mono form, except that if you're a Beach Boys freak you've already grabbed this, poor soul. If you're not a Beach Boys freak, Pet Sounds is still available on Capitol (in its sullied duophonic form) in a three-record boxed Beach Boys Deluxe Set. It will cost more, but the difference may be worth it, because at least one side of the new material here is almost totally unlistenable. The other side has a nice Brian Wilson oeuvre called "Marcella" and a funny gospel song for the Maharishi, but it ain't so hot either. C PLUS

Chuck Berry: The London Chuck Berry Sessions (Chess). Though his back-up for this promotion was less than stellar, Chuck Berry finally has an L.P. on the charts, which is certainly overdue recognition for the number one genius in rock and roll history. Only trouble is, the record is lousy. The live side is Chuck at his hoarsest, and "My Ding-a-Ling" isn't even funny the first time. The studio side is pure filler. Buy Chuck Berry's Golden Decade, More Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry's on Top, St. Louis to Liverpool, even Back Home. This doesn't do him justice. C MINUS

Harry Chapin: Heads and Tales (Elektra). This young man takes his lost loves very seriously. Breaking up is hard to do--Lesley Gore said that, but she didn't make a career out of it. Stash that bill in your shirt while the stashing's good, Harry. C MINUS

Ray Charles: A Message From the People (ABC/Tangerine). Like many geniuses, Charles isn't exactly long on taste, as a glance at the cover (which he supposedly chose for himself, whatever that means) will indicate. But his versions of Melanie's "What Have They Done to My Song, Ma" and John Denver's "Country Roads" are so inspired they carry the whole side. The other side is less exciting. B PLUS

The Flying Burrito Brothers: Last of the Red Hot Burritos (A&M). With Chris Hillman rocking through previously unrecorded standards from "Orange Blossom Special" to "Don't Fight It," Gram Parsons' original country soul concept for the Burritos lives again and what seemed likely to be a throwaway live LP from a disbanding group becomes a fitting tribute to its never-realized potential instead. Hooray. A MINUS [Later: B]

Funkadelic: America Eats Its Young (Westbound). How're you gonna get respect if you haven't cut your process yet? Hank Ballard said that. C MINUS [Later: C+]

Joy of Cooking: Castles (Capitol). As those who know know, this is a great group, invariably bright and easy but somehow never false for more than an over-ambitious image or two. This flows more swimmingly than the second LP but isn't as overwhelming as the first. A MINUS

John Mayall: Jazz/Blues Fusion (Polydor). Old blues guys plus old jazz guys? I always thought a fusion was something new. C MINUS

Anne Murray: Annie (Capitol). Pop music at its most unaffected, nice in all the obvious ways--intelligent, cheerful, warm, even wholesome. A few unnecessary strings are made up for by the material, which is realistic and deeply felt, although songs by Carole King and Paul Anka sound a little tired. B PLUS [Later: B]

The New Riders of the Purple Sage: Powerglide (Columbia). On the first New Riders LP, the very strong original material seemed designed for the thin vocals, and even then the combination didn't wear very well except as downhome Muzak. This time the original material is unoriginal, and the juxtaposition of various country/Motown/rock classics makes the singing sound pathetic. C [Later: C-]

Randy Newman: Sail Away (Reprise). Like most aesthetes, Newman is an ironist. This is fine when you're singing about human relationships, which tend to be problematic, but it's rarely sufficient morally to the big political and religious themes he favors these days. If 12 Songs was Winesburg, Ohio (or even Dubliners) transported to 1970 Los Angeles, Sail Away sometimes has the tone of Tom Lehrer transported to 1972 Haiphong. Nevertheless, Newman is a true genius, and this is the best of his four lps musically, which is saying a lot--all that orchestral command has been yoked to Newman's piano. Also, the cosmic ironies work in the title song, a masterpiece as strange as Newman's other masterpieces. A MINUS

Raspberries (Capitol). A clever stickum label on the cover wrap smells the way people who make stickum labels think raspberries should smell, which means this one is doubly guaranteed to stink up your collection. Slick as shit. Suggested name-change: Air-Wick. C [Later: C+]

Buffy Sainte-Marie: Moonshot (Vanguard). This anti-folkie could never quite relegate Buffy into the crystal teardrop category, because there was something almost perversely machinelike about her vibrato--she's closer to Yoko Ono than to Judy Collins. In fact, she's so weird that I'm not quite convinced by this unique attempt at a rock record. I'll keep listening though. B [Later: B-]

Strawbs: Grave New World (A&M). An acoustic-gone-electric work about cosmic verities, many of them glum. It even comes with its own woodcuts...they're not really woodcuts, but that only goes to prove how plastic everything is these days. I should bless those who cause me pain, it says here, but that surely doesn't apply to a record that gives me the blahs. D

The Stylistics (Avco). I try to be hip and think like the crowd, but when it comes to harmony I'll take a black falsetto group over some privileged anti-barbershop quartet any time. Even the pastoral fantasy ("Country Living") sounds right, maybe because the back-to-nature rhetoric and the extreme artifice of the form clash so vividly. B PLUS [Later: A-]

The Supremes: Floy Joy (Motown). Smokey wrote and produced this miracle of homogeneity, which always bounces along happily in the background, brightening the room with a riff or a harmony or a phrase, but never taking over. Gets my highest Muzak rating. B [Later: B+]

B.J. Thomas: Billy Joe Thomas (Scepter). B.J. might be the Johnny Rivers of the Leon Russell generation--he was born in Texas, after all--if only he had better taste in material. Some pleasant stuff complements the two really great songs here--"Rock and Roll Lullabye," the hit, and the suppressed Carole King nasty, "A Fine Way to Go"--but anyone who'd choose to record "We've Got to Get Our Ship Together" is in need of some brain-caulking himself. B MINUS [Later: C+]

Muddy Waters: The London Muddy Waters Sessions (Chess). Like the Berry, this attempts to cash in on the reputation of The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions, only instead of corralling a lot of Rolling Stones types into the studio Chess came up with Rory Gallagher, Rick Grech, and Mitch Mitchell. Inexplicably, some horns were taped on in New York, but Muddy sounds better than he has in a while. B PLUS [Later: B]

Bob Weir: Ace (Warner Bros.). Side two is pretty fantastic--especially the big ballad, "Looks Like Rain," and Weir's own rockabilly epiphany, "One More Saturday Night"--and new pianist Keith Godchaux sounds like a cross between Little Richard and Chick Corea, which could make him the best ever. Side one, however, is almost ruined by a collection of post-hippie know nothingisms, "Walk in the Sunshine," which make Kahlil Gibran sound like Compassionate Buddha. A [Later: A-]

ZZ Top: Rio Grande Mud (London). Significant that the only memorable song from this no-organ Allmanesque trio--"Francene," a small hit--was not written by the principals. C

Creem, September 1972

August 1972 October 1972