Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Christgau Consumer Guide

Aerosmith: Get Your Wings (Columbia). Musicianly (all things are relative) inheritors of the Grand Funk principle: If a hard rock band is going to be dumb, it might as well be American dumb. B [Later: B-]

Blue Oyster Cult: Secret Treaties (Columbia). Sometime over the past year, while I wasn't listening to any of their albums, I realized that a cross between Uriah Heep and the Velvet Underground was not my idea of a good time. Free Buck Dharma! B MINUS [Later: B]

Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band: Unconditionally Guaranteed (Mercury). I always suspected that underneath the naive surrealism the Captain might be a dumbbell, and now that he's singing Andy DiMartino's lyrics he's proving it. C [Later: B-]

Deep Purple: Burn (Warner Bros.). The hot shit news is that the Purps have a new lead singer who can actually write songs. The dry turd of reality is that the music sounds the same, as ominous and Yurrupean as a vampire movie, only not as campy. Their best. C PLUS

The Doobie Brothers: What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (Reprise). The quotation originated with Seneca. Very impressive. But don't you think it would have a better beat, boogie chillen, if it were phrased "what once were vices now are habits"? Oh well. Unlike Three Dog Night, whom they might just as well emulate, they've never shown any flair with outside material. C MINUS

Earth, Wind & Fire: Open Our Eyes (Columbia). At the moment, this group leads my personal post-Sly sweepstakes, beating out Kool & the Gang (culturally deprived) War (bombastic) and hosts of others. They do everything from deep soul to cocktail jazz, but you know what I say about jacks of all trades. Can I call them professional? B [Later: A-]

Donna Fargo: All About a Feeling (Dot). Even though she promises her share of rose gardens, Fargo is a lot more credible than Lynn Anderson, her major competition in the young country woman sweepstakes, adult division. Her cheerfulness carries real conviction, and this might function as an object lesson in how to be happy without being stupid to anyone but a dour young city man like myself. C PLUS

Grand Funk: Shinin' On (Capitol). The title cut is their best ever, the guys are all singing, and how many heavy bands even get to record a ninth album, much less make it their best? Reservation: Mark's singing on "The Loco-Motion." B PLUS [Later: B]

Arlo Guthrie (Reprise). This odd little record comes on like Arlo VII, which might rightfully excite semi-coma among the unconverted, but it's not. For once, Lenny Waronker's expertise produces music--playing and especially singing, not aural quality--that flirts (a little coyly) with amateurishness. Plus the record is political in a consciously oblique and sometimes fuzzy smart-hippie way. Arlo's Watergate song does justice to Tom T. Hall. And the two spirituals that make you wonder what the fuck he's doing fooling around with the Southern California Community Choir turn out to be about Israel. B PLUS

Isis (Buddah). In which a band of women prove they can play as schlocky as the Brooklyn Bridge, only worse (no Johnny Maestro). Sad pretensions, off-key vibrato that offends even a proud tin-ear like myself, and Shadow Morton at his heavy worst. I used to be sad that the Shangri-Las broke up, but now I'm not, because this is probably what they would have become. D

Eddie Kendricks (Tamla). Most over-extended falsetto of the year. Motown was probably right to try and keep him in the Temptations. C MINUS

Willie Nelson: Phases and Stages (Atlantic). Although an ill-advised musical concept-theme, which runs through the record like a big scratch, might make you fear the worst, the songs almost justify the conceptual pretensions. On the woman's side of the break-up, try "Washing the Dishes" (soap gets in your eyes) and "Sister's Coming Home"/"Down at the Corner Beer Joint" (going home to mother as non-joke). On the man's, "It's Not Supposed to Be That Way," this year's Nelson masterpiece. B PLUS [Later: A-]

New York Dolls: In Too Much Too Soon (Mercury). Todd Rundgren should be ashamed--Shadow Morton has gotten more out of the Dolls than they can give us live on any but their best nights. The definition is almost slick, but there's no loss in rawness. David cut the vocals three times and they sound as if he came in off the street and started shouting. The best of Jerry Nolan. And more, much more. A PLUS

Alan Price: Between Today and Yesterday (Warner Bros.). So many men of wealth and taste promoted this as a great one that I listened hard, which didn't work--most of it is simultaneously banal and overstated, which adds up to pretentious. Saved by the last three songs on the "Yesterday" side, which are, I admit, kind of Brechtian. Three songs, however, do not make a great one. B

Helen Reddy: Love Song for Jeffrey (Capitol). A partial recoup. The muddiness in the middle of the road can be officially blamed on producer Tom Catalano, now on his way out, and however uncool devoting songs to loved ones may appear to the Autonomous Assholes of America, it makes sense when your family (mother, father, namesake aunt) is dying all around you. Face it, there has to be a queen of the housewives. Better Helen Reddy than Karen Carpenter, or Genya Raven. B MINUS

Todd Rundgren: Todd (Bearsville). I've been giving Todd the benefit of the doubt, so now he has to bear a burden of suspicion. On sides one and four of this $9.98-list double-LP, the useful moments are buried in a mess of electronic studio junk, and even though they manage to pick themselves up from the rubble on sides two and three, that ratio is both uneconomical and unecological. This may well have honest ambitions, which are welcome, but it's too bad they're so self-deluded. C PLUS [Later: C]

Bob Seger: Seven (Palladium). Seger is one of those hard rock legends I've never quite believed in, and I got enough out of side one of this ("Get Out of Denver," "Long Song Coming") to figure out why. Vocally, he's stuck at the adolescent outrage stage, between a screech and a scream, and this is unbecoming in such a grizzled veteran. B [Later: B+]

Slade: Stomp Your Hands, Clap Your Feet (Reprise). If this band were an established American monolith, the way it is in England, their pattern-breaking LP might sound like an audacious masterpiece. As it is, the various changes take so long to sink in that I have to wonder whether they were worth the bother. But I think they were. B PLUS [Later: B]

Paul Williams: Here Comes Inspiration (A&M). Does a fellow as bright and successful as this pudgy eccentric, who once boasted that he looked like a gym teacher from Bryn Mawr, have a right to revel in sentimentality? Maybe. Because unlike the people who make hit singles out of his songs (the Carpenters, Three Dog Night, etc.) he makes it sound as if reveling is fun. B MINUS

Johnny Winter: Saints and Sinners (Columbia). I've finally figured out why the engineering on this otherwise searing rock and roll comeback puts me off. Rick Derringer has done the standard live-sound job, in which echo is amplified into what is called depth, and theoretically that's fine. The main trouble with the average live-sound band is that it's too busy doing promotional tours for its current album to worry about getting good songs for the next, but this material is lovingly chosen--there's even a good rock and roller from Richard Supa. Rock and Roll the way Johnny likes it, however, was meant to have a human dimension, and since he's no ironist, a lot of these die a little when Derringer mixes them into heavy cuts. B

Creem, August 1974

July 1974 September 1974