Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

I'm writing this at Christmastime, and as always the backlog has me down. Eleven out of the 20 records below are deemed Buyable (B plus or above) by your relatively trusty rater. Seven of them are B plusses. Hence, as is my occasional wont, I will offer one of my prized within-B plus guides. In descending order of buyability, given our inevitable differences, I would say the B plusses go this way: 10 CC; Average White Band; Band; Wailers; O'Jays; Grateful Dead; Slade. Hope that helps.

Gregg Allman: Laid Back (Capricorn). In which Gregg proves that drawling slowly isn't the same as singing soulfully. C PLUS [Later: B]

The Average White Band: Show Your Hand (MCA). Who needs a white (British, even) (Scottish, even) cross between the Spinners and the Main Ingredient. You, I hope. Good melodies, they sing sweet, and when they make an album they make an album, which is more than you can say for the Spinners or the Main Ingredient. B PLUS [Later: A-]

The Band: Moondog Matinee (Capitol). Since I never expected this talented rock group to guide me through the travails of life--mostly because there was too much goddam travail in their music--I regard this album not as an aesthetic reverse but as an uncommonly well-selected and -performed buncha oldies. B PLUS

Gato Barbieri: Bolivia (Flying Dutchman). I like this better than the well-reviewed Latin America: Chapter 1 (on Impulse) because I prefer Lonnie Liston Smith and Barbieri's other Afro-American sidemen to his less disciplined all-South American band. But not by much. Both are recommended introductions to the only jazzman this side of Miles Davis to translate avant-garde into semi-popular without sounding venal. A MINUS

Charles Bevel: Meet "Mississippi Charles" Bevel (A&M). Black, 34, self-taught, upwardly mobile, Bevel has the surprising, unfakable attractiveness of the gifted semi-pro--he writes and sings as if he still revels in the rewards of getting it just . . . right. The melodies are as sensible and eloquent as the lyrics, and Calvin Carter's production augments the folk-soul voice almost flawlessly. Bathetic mistake: "Black Santa Claus." Just about everything else gets better and better. A MINUS

Bob Dylan: Dylan (Columbia). Listening to this set of rejects from what used to be Dylan's worst album does have its morbid fascination--if you'll forgive the esoteric reference, it's like watching Ryne Duren pitch without glasses. Not only are the timbre and melody off--he was always wild--but he also doesn't phrase cogently, and the songs just hit the dirt. All of which is CBS's punishment after Bobby had the bad manners to sing with another label. I wonder how he could imagine that Columbia is less than benevolent. If you must buy one, do something clever to it with a nail file, return it as defective, and request that it be turned into something useful, like a Jonathan Livingston Seagull soundtrack. E

Fleetwood Mac: Mystery to Me (Reprise). I'm rating down their best since Kiln House because I doubt the continuing usefulness (much less creativity) of such smooth-rocking expertise. They break out only on "The City," which combines a contained, "Layla" like freneticism with lyrics that explain why it's a one-shot: "I won't go back to New York City/There's a darkness all around/No I just can't handle it." Handle it or die. P.S. They just broke up. B [Later: B+]

The Grateful Dead: Wake of the Flood (Grateful Dead). Capturing that reflective, seemingly aimless part of the concert when all the boogiers nod out, which doesn't mean nothing is going on--what do the boogiers know by now? Musically, this is a demanding combination of American Beauty and Aoxomoxoa, plus some of the most seamless and inspiriting horns and Jerry Garcia is composing Weird ballads better than Weir, and the lyrics are more of the old karma-go-round, without even a hook phrase to come away with. Shape up, Robert Hunter. B PLUS [Later: B-]

Billy Joel: Piano Man (Columbia). Send this boy to the Famous Writer's School and he may yet turn into Harry Chapin. D PLUS [Later: C]

John Lennon: Mind Games (Apple). A step in the right direction--much, much better than Some Time in New York City--but only one step. It sounds like out-takes from Imagine, which may not seem so bad but means that Lennon is falling back on ideas (intellectual and musical) that have lost their freshness for him: Still, the single works, and let's hope he keeps right on stepping. B [Later: C+]

Bette Midler (Atlantic). Side two does seven great songs with umpteen instruments in just over 15 minutes, a perfectly amazing miracle of concision. But side one is less than hot. Two (why two?) just-wrong Johnny Mercer songs lead into a properly excessive intro to Ann Peebles' "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" that is destroyed inside of two minutes by an improperly excessive, funkless production. Bette's overstatement works on "Surabaya Johnny" and "I Shall Be Released," but I've heard better. Most important, why isn't there one song by a contemporary composer here? Dylan doesn't count--I'm talking about Randy Newman, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Joni Mitchell, maybe James Taylor or Cat Stevens, she's always made me believe in miracles. As it stands, this record is perilously close to the ostrich nostalgia of her dumbest fans. Me, I intend to stick with the smart ones. A MINUS [Later: B+]

The O'Jays: Ship Ahoy (Philadelphia International). Every time side two gets rolling, my ass tells my brain to go away. B PLUS [Later: B]

Orleans (ABC). In case you're interested, this band is mucho hot among Eastern rock cognoscenti (i.e., know-it-alls). Very pleasant, too, although John Hall doesn't sing as tasty as he plays. The only impressive song is "Half Moon." Anything Janis Joplin used to sing is impressive, so that may not mean much. C PLUS

John Prine: Sweet Revenge (Atlantic). Like Loudon Wainwright, the only new singer-songwriter of comparable verbal skills, Prine has to fight to keep the artistry beneath the surface, where it belongs. This time he wins--nothing here as freighted with literary ambitions as "Sam Stone" or "Donald and Lydia." Prine's virtually tuneless baritone works as well as, say, Ernie Ford's, and the songs are deep and clever, without a word wasted. Unlike Wainwright, Prine can convey emotion as well as distance from emotion, and suddenly those Dylan analogies don't sound so silly. A

Slade: Sladest (Reprise). If this looks vaguely similar to Slayed? (released earlier this year on Polydor) that's because two of the songs are identical. Some prefer this, some prefer that. I prefer that. Docked a notch for bad manners. B PLUS

Ringo Starr: Ringo (Apple). This is not a Beatle album but a Ringo album--a likable curiousity, not quite as good as Beaucoups of Blues. Ringo's droll sincerity was always good for a change of pace; his songs were wonderful in context. Here that context is provided by an occasional harmony (especially John's on "I'm the Greatest") which makes me long for much, much more. It might be different if the songs were all as good as "Photograph," but without a real singer to work with, Richard Perry cannot transmute questionable material into magic. And don't kid yourself--the Beatles could. B MINUS

Livingston Taylor: Over the Rainbow (Capricorn). The trouble with Liv is that he has a funny voice and no sense of humor. C

10 CC (UK). Maybe if I'd known that London cut "We all got balls and brains/But some's got balls and chains" out of the hit single I would have approached this more warmly. A calculated, devilishly clever version of what the Beach Boys ought to be doing, definitely worth a try. Sample: "The Dean and I." B PLUS

The Wailers: Burnin' (Island). After unfairly dismissing this Jamaican group's first American album, mostly so I wouldn't have to rack my brains over it any more, I find myself perplexed by the second one, too. It's good and strange--not mainstream reggae, certainly not rock or soul, maybe War without pretensions. Sometimes gripping, sometimes slippery. Can't play it for you, so how about this couplet: "I shot the sheriff/But I didn't shoot no deputy, ooh, ooh, ooh." B PLUS [Later: A]

Roy Wood: Boulders (VA). Old Move freaks probably own this already, just like they own all those crappy Wizzard and Electric Light Orchestra records, but what else can I do but say this is the best Move album since Message From the Country. As coldly captivating as ever, and you can imagine dancing to some of it. A MINUS

Creem, March 1974

February 1974 April 1974