Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Turkey Shoot

So many bad records, so little space--the Turkey Shoot may look easy, but in fact it's very labor-intensive. The records below aren't merely bad--they're dangerous, or symbolic, or overrated, or actively annoying. There are thousands of less egregious ones out there. I know because I've listened to hundreds of them.

ADAMSKI: Liveandirect (MCA) Acid house isn't stupid music; it isn't even bad music. It's music for some other species--with the Other, as always, relative to where one's Self happens to hang out. Singerless and virtually wordless, undeviating in its "textless" functionalism, it's impervious to consumer guidance: nobody who doesn't dance to it knows it exists, and nobody who does is gonna believe an alien like me. Nevertheless, it does exist, so say this: the best analogy isn't disco (though cf. MFSB and the Salsoul Orchestra) or dub or new age. It's fusion--beyond virtuosity, yet hopelessly in love with the almighty keyb. Though this guy isn't as weird and tricky as 808 State or A Guy Called Gerald at their fleeting best, his bottom seems suited to survival in an oxygenated environment, and once in a while he surges into something resembling life. There's the review. Now you can talk about it at parties. C PLUS

BIG DIPPER: Slam (Epic) Marginally sweeter and janglier on Epic than on Homestead (less like the Embarrassment, which I take as evolution rather than compromise), their one great new postpunk moment is called "Monsters of Jazz" (about music, natch). They exemplify Amerindie's throw-it-up-against-the-wall phase--modestly talented bands granted their arbitrary shot, stiffing, and diluting the credibility and capital available to inspired music. No tragedy, because it isn't important enough. Just sad. C PLUS [Later]

MICHAEL BOLTON: Soul Provider (Columbia) Triple-platinum after 16 months on the charts, this excrescence won't slip quietly away. His imitation of Joe Cocker's Ray Charles imitation is almost OK, but usually he's indistinguishable from pop metal except in the wattage of his guitar parts and the shamelessness of his song doctors. Name to remember: Diane Warren. Give her a composition credit and she'll give you a hit--and a bad record. C MINUS [Later]

JAMES BROWN & FRIENDS: Soul Session Live (Scotti Brothers) Beyond Aretha, forget the cameo attractions--Billy Vera (wan), Joe Cocker (rough), and Robert Palmer (compared by JB to Elvis, Otis, and Jackie, and don't you sometimes wish he was just as far out of the way?). The band's certainly not what it once was. And even at that it's sharper than his voice, which you probably figured and which sinks his umpteenth de facto best-of once and for all. Is this what he's showing his parole officer? Poor guy. C [Later]

MARIAH CAREY (Columbia) I swear I didn't know her mama was an opera singer, but I'm embarrassed that I didn't guess. She gets too political in her brave, young, idealistic attack on "war, destitution and sorrow": "Couldn't we accept each other/Can't we make ourselves aware." Elsewhere she sticks to what she doesn't know--love. Debbie Gibson, all is forgiven. C

CRAZY HORSE: Left for Dead (Sisapa) Anyone mind-damaged by Ragged Glory should note that the essential Crazy Horse is a rhythm section, as the kind-hearted designate Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina. The chief vocalist-songwriter here is a fellow named Sonny Mone, who misses 1969. "Once there was a rose in a fisted glove," he pines--and also real metal, dammit, not MTV shit. C

DEREK AND THE DOMINOS: The Layla Sessions (Polydor) Sloughing off the myth of the album as artistic unit and denying proven spendthrifts a face-saving shred of consumerly discrimination, CD boxes are always about marketing rather than music. But this triple smells. Supposedly necessitated by the slovenliness of Layla's first digital remix, still for sale as a "special-price" double-CD even though the same material squeezes onto one disc here, it pretends that Eric Clapton's finest pickup band--which as the notes inadvertently remind us begat George Harrison's endless All Things Must Pass (you remember "Apple Jam," now don't you?)--deserves the kind of genius treatment that's dubious even with great jazz improvisors. And since it unearths not much Duane Allman (no surprise, since he barely met the band), it cheats on the dueling-guitars fireworks that made Layla explode. This is pop, gang--arrangements matter. Outtakes are outtakes because the keepers are better. Jams take too long to get anywhere worth going. And when a mix trades raunch for definition, the exchange is usually moot. B MINUS

FAITH NO MORE: The Real Thing (Slash/Reprise) With rap, funk, hardcore, and falafel-joint rai seasoning their metallic stew, a new front man thinks hard about life and horror comics while under the influence of I hate to think what. "Epic," which old people will think is about the terrors of sex though it's really about the terrors of everything, and "Zombie Eaters," a jaundiced if not jealous view of a baby's world, delineate their generational chauvinism, and art-AOR keybs establish the depths of their cultural deprivation. Not as stupid as they sound--but do they sound stupid. B MINUS

GALAXIE 500: This Is Our Music (Rough Trade) Look, all you young white people, I know fate has dealt you a shitty hand. Rent stabilization is a joke, safe sex isn't a joke, pollutants can really get you down, and forget the economy. Not to mention the decline of civility on our city streets. So if you just want to sit around and mope about it to each other, we understand. But if you're looking for a helping hand, you're going to have to reach out a little yourselves--that's just human nature. Show some get-up-and-go, crack a few jokes, like on the first song. As my grandpa used to say: "Laugh and the world laughs with you/Weep and you weep alone." B MINUS

THE GETO BOYS (Def American) I accept the slasher-movie defense in re the racism (and antirockism) of all attempts to stop these putative tough guys from bum-rushing the marketplace. But aesthetically the analogy is null, because slasher movies suck--exploiting and exacerbating rather than "revealing" or "catharsizing," they're a social pathology, period. So whether the Boys are expressing their inner natures or one-upping N.W.A. and 2 Live Crew, they're sick motherfuckers. Women get offed before or during sex in three different songs, one of which runs a chorus of "Geto Boys, Geto Boys" in back lest the misguided distance it too far from its perps, and if the merely brutal "Gangster of Love" isn't about their own experiences, they don't want anybody to know it. I'm impressed by their pungent beats and vernacular. I'm glad they put Reagan in bed with Noriega. I'm sorta touched when one of them thinks to thank the first girl to lick his asshole. I admire their enunciation on "F#@* 'Em." But fuck 'em. B MINUS

GEORGE MICHAEL: Listen Without Prejudice: Vol. 1 (Columbia) Who has this boy been listening to? Morrissey? Anita Baker? June Christie? Harry Connick Jr.? Whatever the sleazy details, his announced decision to hold off on the dance music till next time half-proves he doesn't know as much about stardom as he thinks, and the ruminations with which he proclaims his seriousness finish the job. As a public figure he's no Bono or Boy George--he's a good-looking, replaceable teenybop idol. So only teenyboppers, and not too damn many of those, are likely to care that he feels demeaned by false fame. It's as a musician that he's won respect, and not even a pop musician--a dance musician. Ironic, isn't it, that the danciest thing here is yoked to (and undercut by) his highly unoriginal thoughts on this matter? And though the McCartneyesque "Heal the Pain" sounds like a hit ballad, most of this cocktail music is no more interesting than the cipher who sings it so "well." I'm betting it doesn't move a quarter of Faith's units, which ought to enhance his appreciation of dance music pronto. C PLUS

NELSON: After the Fall (DGC) Poignant in a way that sons of a drug-abusing father who was out of the house plenty even before the divorce should come up with such, er, positive messages. Disgusting in a way that children of pop privilege should luck into the unearned extra sales gimmick of twinhood. And utterly apropos that Rick's boys are fifth-generation entertainers--circus, vaudeville, situation comedy, Hollywood rockabilly, and now . . . "dynamic melodic vocal guitar rock." "Stylistically no one's doing what we're doing," Gunnar boasts, and he's right in a way. But what makes them truly unique is that he could just as well claim everyone's doing what they're doing. D PLUS [Later]

N.W.A: 100 Miles and Runnin' (Ruthless EP) Too used and abused to pursue their business interests, the self-appointed "real niggaz" watched other fake gangstas climb the charts till they could bear it no more. So they threw together this $6.98-list shortie, and Amerikkka's most wanted it ain't. Their best riff of 1988 is their best riff of 1990, attached to a blaxploitation docudrama pitting fake gangstas against fake cops (probably played by members of their management team). And for that 2 Live touch they hire a woman (as we'll call her) to mouth their instructions on cocksucking technique, one of many things they don't know dick about. To wit: first "grab" (ouch); then "lick" (just twice, before you get down to bidness); then "insert" (now "take it slow"); and "before you know it" (damn soon), "splash." When she swallows, she inspires such a conflation of awe and disgust she's forced to service the rest of the crew forthwith. The cops in the docudrama have the same idea. C MINUS [Later]

MAXI PRIEST: Bonafide (Charisma) The Fat Boys have had a reggae hit. So have the Bellamy Brothers. So why not a pop-funk hit for a black Brit liteweight? Catchy on jezebels and dull on world peace, he tries to shore up the formula with subtle touches rather than simple conviction, and back in Kingston, oldtime bizzers from Byron Lee to Edwin Seaga are smiling. They knew it all along--though Jah did give them a scare. C PLUS

VANILLA ICE: To the Extreme (SBK) You idealist you--you thought rap couldn't get blander than Hammer. Fact is, it can get blander than this "mediagenic" white man, but for now he's pimp one. His suave sexism, fashionably male supremacist rather than dangerously obscene, is no worse than his suave beats, Hollywood Florida going Hollywood USA. At least Hammer's simple samples are fun sometimes. C MINUS [Later]

HANK WILLIAMS JR.: America (The Way I See It) (Curb) Even known assholes don't come up with concept albums slavering to send our "top guns" after Saddam (sounds like "Satan"), complaining to Lincoln about "nuisance suits," and advocating the freelance murder of miscreants who beat the rap (he claims). Take it as proof that Monday-night football is a rightwing plot. And ask the RIAA why his guns 'n vengeance don't rate a warning sticker. C MINUS

WILSON PHILLIPS (SBK) Genealogically, Chynna's group--the elaborately arranged professional folk-rock of her mama and papa, rather than the obsessively reworked private surf-rock of Carnie and Wendy's boyish dad, are where their (and the world's) polished pop comes from, and their fashion sense is Laurel Canyon a land-grab later. Finicky and well-manicured though it is, it's not without its intricately minor pleasures, notably on compositions untouched by the singers' hands--"Impulsive," or (Gunnar and Matthew, why didn't you think of this?) "Eyes Like Twins." The '60s myth "The Dream Is Still Alive" they claim as their own. C

WINGER: In the Heart of the Young (Atlantic) The pall pop metal casts upon 1990's horrendous Hot 100 is a triumph of mass narrowcasting. By downplaying anything blatant in the music, marketers minimize tuneouts based on accidents of gender or subgeneration--potentially, any passive Caucasian under age 25 should be willing to consume (in descending order of marginal differentiation) Poison or Warrant or Jon Bon or Heart or Cheap Trick or David Goddamn Cassidy. Whatever our publisher may dream, however, Voice readers are still outside their demographic, so let the nadir stand in for all of them. Swallowing hooks from blooze to prog, masking their will to power in fake vulnerability and youthcult rote, Winger is Whitesnake with the sexism muted and the facelifts down the road. They may last a while, they may not. They're so bad that they're not even completely terrible. C MINUS [Later]

X-CLAN: To the East, Blackwards (4th & B'way) As message rap achieves the glut of gangster rap, party rap, and crossover rap, prophets and demagogues of every description join the myriad of hip hop wannabees, enabling lugs like these avowedly non-"humanist" Brooklynites to make their subcultural dent. Hallmarks: obscure Egyptological insults and flowing funk beats. Keywords: "vanglorious," which is vainglorious, and "sissy," a cross between the deep euphemism of "sucker" and the shameless bigotry of "faggot." Osiris is getting sick of this shit. C

Village Voice, Dec. 4, 1990

Oct. 23, 1990 Dec. 25, 1990