Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

Attentive readers may have noticed that this Consumer Guide and the one before have been more out-of-date than usual. Out-of-datedness is a built-in drawback of the Consumer Guide anyway--it really is supposed to approximate what it's like to live with a record, and living with takes time--but for the past few months I've had to be especially leisurely because I've been on the road. Not that I was without phonographic equipment--my hundred-dollar GE portable served me mightily from Berkeley to Florence, S.C.--or records, even Consumer Guide records. But the normal promotional facilities were more or less cut off. So I had to replace my normal systematic listening with a more selective, irrational and probably representative method. The 20 records below were chosen from a field of 40 instead of the usual 120 or so. I wonder whether I missed anything. Well, it'll get back to me eventually.

Capital City Rockets (Elektra). Take a fad that has already peaked--punk-rock, say--and then trick it up with a gimmick that is simultaneously corny and outre, like dressing your group in roller derby outfits. Make sure the music is crummy. Then hand over your record company to David Geffen so you can goof off seriously. C MINUS

Jimmy Cliff: Unlimited (Reprise). What can I say? No record all year has disappointed me so much. C MINUS [Later: B-]

Charlie Daniels: Honey in the Rock (Kama Sutra). For a sideman-turned-sortastar, Daniels kicks out genuine jams, and for a novelty single, "Uneasy Rider" maintains genuine interest. Genuinely not quite boring. B MINUS

Spencer Davis Group: Gluggo (Vertigo). Davis has been putting out moderately enjoyable records for as long as I've kept track. This is a little less folky, worth investigating for non-charismatic, professional rock and roll. B

Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Columbia). Two middling Dylan songs, four good original Bobby voices, and a lot of Schmylan music. C [Later: C+]

Roberta Flack: Killing Me Softly (Atlantic). Q: Why is Roberta Flack like Jesse Colin Young? A: Because she always makes you wonder whether she's going to fall asleep before you do. C

Garfunkel: Angel Clare (Columbia). Wanna know why you always hated Simon & Garfunkel? C PLUS [Later: C]

Marvin Gaye: Let's Get It On (Tamla). This is post-AI Green What's Going On, which means it's about fucking rather than the human condition, thank the wholly holey. Gaye is still basically a singles artist, and the title track, his masterpiece to date, dominates in a way "I'm Still in Love With You," say, doesn't. Then again, it's a better song. A MINUS

The Grateful Dead: Bear's Choice: History of the Grateful Dead (Vol. 1) (Warner Bros.). This is really a Pigpen memorial album, although the Dead would never be so mundane as to put it that way. Recorded Fillmore East, February 1970, and you had to be there--I know, because I was. C PLUS

The Isley Brothers: 3 + 3 (T-Neck). I was going to compare this to a rose in a fisted glove, but a killer orchid in a gauntlet of male, is more like it. (I may not have perfect rhythm, but my images mean something.) The singing siblings home in on the most gorgeous lies known to yoot kulchuh--where this side of a Warner Bros. promo could you find "Summer Breeze," "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" and "Listen to the Music" on the same record?--while Brother Ernie zooms around all-too-thrillingly on his magic guitar, which I love. Dishonest shit, but you sure can dance to it. B [Later: B+]

Mott the Hoople: Mott (Columbia). I feel funny not giving this one an A, since I loved All the Young Dudes as much as all my old friends seem to love Mott. I've tried it on different systems, in different situations, reading the lyrics, putting it away for a while, but I'm not convinced that Mott has earned my credence as the failed band of the new loser mythology. B PLUS [Later: A-]

Maria Muldaur (Reprise). Cut by cut, this is remarkably intelligent and attractive, but the overall effect is insubstantial. Maybe it's just Muldaur's quavery voice, which has never driven me to attention, or the low-risk flawlessness of the Lenny Waronker/Joe Boyd production. Or maybe it's just the curse of jug bands--not knowing how to make good on your flirtation with nostalgia. B PLUS

The Pointer Sisters (Blue Thumb). It doesn't take long to get really sick of this. Great technique and all, but those harmonies repeat and repeat and all sparkle is killed by the calculated sophistication of the contest. Big tuneout: "Wang Dang Doodle." B MINUS [Later: B]

Helen Reddy: Long Hard Climb (Capitol). Item: "Don't Mess with a Woman," which wins this-cut-only producer Jay Senter and arranger Jim Horn a special in-record award for vacuity through bombast, is also distinguished by its unlikely inclusion of the word "sisterhood." Item: Reddy's most effective dramatic quality used to be her unaffectedness. Now it sounds as though she learned to sound natural on the stage. Which of course she did. Item: California disc jockeys are playing Bette's version of "Delta Dawn" on top of Helen's and chortling. Item: For almost two years I've had a picture of Helen Reddy on my wall. It's coming down. And I'm sorry. C

Smokey Robinson: Smokey (Tamla). This is a good bad record and you'll just have to forgive Smokey in advance. It turns out that he didn't split with the Miracles for domestic reasons--somewhere in his heart, he wanted to be Isaac Hayes--and yet somehow he's beyond all his own bullshit. Listen to "Harmony," about the Miracles, or "Just My Soul Responding," a landmark of post-psychedelic soul protest, or "The Family Song," an astrology lyric that ought to be covered by Shirley Ellis, or Grace Slick. B

Diana Ross: Touch Me in the Morning (Motown). One advantage of imitating Billie Holiday's vocal style is that you get to sing Billie Holiday's material. Another is that you get to sing like Billie Holiday. C

Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstasy (ABC). So slick they're positively difficult--studio-perfect licks that crackle and buzz when you listen hard and vocals suspiciously reminiscent of the Grass Roots (singing words that beneath their poetritty obscurity are invariably malicious). "Bodhisattva," for instance, sounds like a jazzed-up "Rock Around the Clock"; it also shines like China and sparkles like Japan. A MINUS [Later: A]

B.W. Stevenson: My Maria (RCA Victor). How does this pudgy Texas hippie get one great single that sounds like Jay and the Americans ("My Maria") and another that is covered by Three Dog Night ("Shambala")? Somebody named Daniel J. Moore helps him. C PLUS

Marlo Thomas and Friends: Free to Be . . . You and Me (Bell). I have been giving this high-minded feminist kiddie record to various young Americans on the theory that it is not necessary, or easy, to like the Dolls at age five. I figured it would be good for them, like baths. Surprise number one is that they all love it, to a person. Surprise number two is that I myself would much rather listen to Carol Channing on housework than to Robert Klein on dope. Worth looking for. A MINUS

Stevie Wonder: Innervisions (Tamla). I find this record baffling because I'm a critic. For critics, it is an article of faith that one can be baffled by a record--which is to say, it is an article faith that all music can be analyzed, or anyway, puzzled out. I'm trying to right now--it's my nature. Not only doesn't Stevie agree--most musicians don't--but he proves his point, or would if proof were one of his categories. It isn't. The discipline his uniquely aural world requires is technical, not logical or even conceptual, and technically it's unexceptionable. Which brings me to my gut. According to my gut, there's nothing here as exciting as the best of Talking Book. B PLUS [Later: A]

Creem, December 1973

November 1973 February 1974