Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Turkey Shoot

For the sixth straight Thanksgiving, I suffer a full year of bad music while you stuff yourself. Even though my passion for learning didn't take me deep enough into death metal and dancehall for the minute distinctions a Turkey Shoot requires, I was left with more candidates than I could eat. The things I do for hate.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: Unplugged (Chrysalis) Let the record show that they loved the people so much that with all deliberate greed they "rearranged" half of their biggest and only album for quick resale. Let the record show that to stretch the material to full-price length they basted on a fashion sermon and seven as-I-would-say "versions." And let the record show that the people understood their spiritual needs so poorly that the resulting live and MTV-approved product lingered a mere 12 weeks on the charts, never rising above 60. The revolution will be hard, brothers and sisters. C

BELL BIV DEVOE: Hootie Mack (MCA) Fame is fleeting in the mack daddy bizness, which is why they rushed out their gold remix rip, and why this long-awaited-by-their-accountants follow-up barely eked out its 500 thou before going south. To prove they're still down with the profitable, they lead off with a simulated toke, and instead of slandering honeydips behind their backs, they insult them to their faces--or their butts, if it makes any difference. To no avail. They've been outflanked smooth and nasty, and they don't have a clue how to reposition themselves. Which until they trip over another "Poison"--in their dreams, if they're real good to their mommies and daddies--will be no loss to anyone. Except their accountants. C PLUS [Later]

DAVID BOWIE: Black Tie White Noise (Savage) Having erected a whole label around this piece of history, the legendary artiste and his new management returned triumphantly to the corporate scene of the artiste's salad days. But within a few months it had stiffed irretrievably, whereupon BMG-nÚ-RCA dumped both artiste and label for a comeback as spectacularly ignominious as any rock and roll has known. Oddly enough, the music is the artiste's most arresting in many years; the dancebeats and electrotextures make you prick up your ears and wonder where they'll lead. Then the artiste begins to sing--often lyrics of his own devising, as in the title tune, a metaphor for race relations. B MINUS

BUFFALO TOM: Big Red Letter Day (Beggars Banquet) In which the purely horrendous Dinosaur Jr. clones of Birdbrain enlist the aid of reputed pop producers to reconfigure themselves as virtually mediocre Soul Asylum drones. Don't despair, children, the attempted J Mascis roar is still with us--augmented, as they say, by jangle, harmony, and the occasional tunelessly rendered tune. Does college radio really believe this is art and Janet Jackson isn't? C

JOHN CAMPBELL: Howlin Mercy (Elektra) This white bluesman paid his dues on the Gulf Coast circuit, then moved to New York and went electric. Shortly after he released his second album, his fatal heart attack attracted as much attention as his music ever had. Given his loose talk of teaching hellhounds to sit and keeping the devil in his hole, some wondered piously whether he'd made a pact with the unnamable. More likely he just drank too much. C

COME: Eleven: Eleven (Matador) Already a veteran of three bands that meant a great deal to their tiny complement of fans and bubkes to everyone else (Dangerous Birds, Uzi, and Live Skull--how could you forget?), Thalia Zedek is now an established cult heroine. Read her notices and you'll learn that Come is both her song move and her blues move; listen to the music and you'll notice a few flatly projected melodies and some slide guitar. Since her lyrics range from unintelligible to incomprehensible and a groove would be too kind, we're left with a sound--the raw stylization of one woman's alienation. Those who happen to have been captivated by her "dark," "androgynous" live shtick can read into this alienation what they will--most likely some parallel to or complement of their own, which is most likely different. Those who haven't needn't worry their heads about it. C PLUS

DAVID CROSBY: Thousand Roads (Atlantic) Crosby adds new meaning to the word "survivor"--something on the order of "If you can't kill the motherfucker, at least make sure he doesn't breed"--and until VH-1 got on the revolting "Heroes" video, I'd hoped never to sample this make-work project for his rich, underemployed friends. Oh well. The only thing that could render it more self-congratulatory would be a CD bonus cover of Jefferson Black Hole's "We Built This City." C MINUS

MELISSA ETHERIDGE: Yes I Am (Island) When I learned that she'd come out at Clinton's inauguration, a month before she won her Grammy, I checked back and noted that many of the rock belter's more overwrought cris de coeur decode nicely into SOS's from the closet. But somehow I don't expect she's going to abandon her fevered word-slinging and musclebound dynamics now that her open secret is officially public. She'll always do her damnedest to make sure no one misses the full significance of images like "naked soul," "ache for something new," and "stand firm in the tempest." Patty Scialfa is Shonen Knife by comparison, and I blame her on Bruce anyway. C PLUS [Later]

THE LEMONHEADS: Come On Feel (Atlantic) Evan Dando is a good-looking guy with more luck than talent and more talent than brains who conceals his narcissism beneath an unassuming suburban drawl. Twenty years ago he would have affected an acoustic guitar and acted sincere; now he affects a slacker-pop band and acts vulnerable. His songs don't bite, they sidle over and nibble your ear when you're not looking, and if you throw him a withering glance, no problem--he'll just move on to someone else. Exception: the one about drugs. C PLUS

MC REN: Shock of the Hour (Ruthless) Ren isn't as half-assed or bald-faced as Eazy-E, a fraud so brazen he imparts the dignity of Brando and Cliff to a one-note studio gangsta like Spice-1. But at least Eazy serves the social function of attacking Dr. Dre--while his delightful inner-sleeve photo of his homie in sequins and eye makeup doesn't make Dre a "bitch," and wouldn't make him less a man if it did (though it may help explain Dre's, what shall we call it, insecurity around women), I figure the more energy these characters devote to tearing each other down the less we do. And though I'd love to dis The Chronic, the catch is Snoop Doggy Dogg, who may be a coward, a murderer, and an all-around asshole, but rhymes too drolly and singularly for a turkey. Ren, on the other hand, raps as dully as Dre himself--his blunt instrument doesn't approach the loud arrogance or thick timbre of, to choose an example strictly at random, Tim Dog's "F--k Compton." His rhymes are dumbass. To save on publishing he leaves most of the beats to his boys. And oy, what concepts. On side one he brutalizes black people, especially but by no means exclusively black women (sample witticism: "I see you all the time gettin' kicks from hard dicks/Your pussy really stinks/Who the fuck bought you drinks?"). Then, to cover his tracks, he turns around and spouts the most ignorant, racist Afrocentric bullshit yet to hit the charts. Not only does he daydream about the random slaughter of "Caucasians," he also advocates the murder of any black person disloyal enough to befriend them. Hey--I know those people. D [Later]

REBA MCENTIRE: It's Your Call (MCA) There's no point expecting scintillation--even her new best-of doesn't have more than two-three zingers on it. So what's most irksome about this dull, bland megahit is what it says about the new Nashville. Reba has her pride, and "For Herself," written with two other women, remains an honorable female-autonomy vignette even after you forget the tune (a good thing, because the song hasn't ended yet). But genderwise she's about as adventurous as Clint Black or Alan Jackson--just right for a world where Wynonna Judd is a protofeminist heroine. C PLUS

STEVE MILLER BAND: Wide River (Polydor) Anyone naive enough to believe there's nothing more distasteful than a middle-aged man pretending his hormones are too much for him has never encountered a middle-aged man trying to act cute. Not to mention a middle-aged white "bluesman" who compares himself to Picasso whilst suing black people who sample his hooks. C

ONYX: Bacdafucup (JMJ/RAL/Chaos/Columbia) What the Geto Boys were to the insanity defense, Onyx are to the irony defense. Not that they'd cop to it themselves. They're not honest enough, for one thing. And they're also not smart enough, which doesn't mean they're as dumb as they pretend to be--or dumb in the way they pretend to be, either. The official line is that nobody takes them seriously, or literally, or something--that not only are they obviously not nigga-killing, whitey-robbing, pussy-stretching bad guys, they obviously aren't pretending to be. Instead, if you're still with me, they pretend to pretend, greatly amusing those in the know with the old nigga-in-your-nightmare routine. So for me I guess they're something like Frederick Barthelme. Vulgar fellow that I am, I still prefer my jokes boffo. C PLUS

THE ORB: U.F. Orb (Big Life) Travelogue techno. Hassell & Eno, Budd & Eno, Steve Reich, Steve Spielberg, Augustus Pablo, Davy Jones, all watered down for your trippy delectation. Not terrible, exactly, but rather silly. Free your mind and you can dance to anything. B MINUS

ORBITAL: Orbital 2 (FFRR) Mood techno. It ripples, it swells, it buzzes, it whistles, it bleeps, it annoys, all on a bed of reliable rhythm. Problem is, you have to be in the mood already. Putting you there would be too egotistical, I guess. C PLUS

PUTAMAYO PRESENTS THE BEST OF WORLD MUSIC: VOLUME 2: INSTRUMENTAL (Rhino) Essentially, this music to shop by showcases folkies from industrialized nations who correct for their deficient rhythmic Úlan with percussion devices more ethnic and less loud than one of those nasty trap sets. It turns the likes of Rossy and Ali Akbar Khan into easy-listening whores by association. It's a good example of why moralists think "world music" is an exploitation--and why hedonists think it's a drag. C MINUS

SADE: Love Deluxe (Epic) I'm unable to find fault with her more memorable songs--keep falling asleep before I've finished the sentence. But I swear on a stack of Billboards that half these nine fail to qualify. That's nine, eight with words, in four years. Would you say she's honing her art to the bone? Or would you say she's a nice person with a million-dollar scam? And how come her Somalian woman "hurts like brand-new shoes"? Is that, er, "metaphorical distance"? Are we supposed to clap now? B MINUS

FRANK SINATRA: Duets (Capitol) He creaks, he cracks, he croaks, he clinks, yet that's not quite the point--older guys with worse voices have sung better anyway. Champion Jack Dupree, for instance, prevailed in his eighties because he never staked his manhood on the technical impeccability of his physical instrument. For decades, Sinatra's sound was magnificent--not just beautiful, meaningful. But now, though he still outclasses the likes of Bono and Carly Simon, Liza Minnelli takes him to acting school and Luther Vandross sings pretty rings around him. He who lives by the larynx shall die by the larynx. C

STEREO MC's: Connected (Gee Street) Rap with an international face. Techno with a human face. Disco with a postmodern face. Techno-rap disco with a pop face. Pleasant. Beatwise. So multifaceted its functionality is fungible and forgettable. B MINUS

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS: Core (Atlantic) Once you learn to tell them from the Stoned Tempo Pirates, the Stolen Pesto Pinenuts, the Gray-Templed Prelates, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, and Wishbone Ash, you may decide they're a halfway decent hard rock act. Unfortunately, sometime after they've set you up with their best power chords, you figure out the title is "Sex Type Thing" because it's attached to a rape threat. They claim this was intended as a critique, kind of like "Naked Sunday"'s sarcastic handshake with authority. But at best that means they should reconceive their aesthetic strategy--critiquewise, irony has no teeth when the will to sexual power still powers your power chords. And if it's merely the excuse MTV fans have reason to suspect, the whole band should catch AIDS and die. B MINUS

XSCAPE: Hummin' Comin' at 'Cha (So So Def/Columbia) En Vogue? Mary J. Blige? Phooey--they're not even TLC, much less Kris Kross. Their hit weak, their album a guaranteed cutout, they're worthy of note only because they may convince Jermaine Dupri he can repeat "Jump" whenever he wants. Don't encourage this antisocial delusion. C

Village Voice, Nov. 23, 1993

Oct. 19, 1993 Dec. 21, 1993