Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Though Neil Young will never have the iconic clout of Bob Dylan, there are citizens who'll tell you he's made better music, and not counting the flannel faithful who consider Heart of Gold a pinnacle of American culture, most of them are mad for rock and roll. Both singer-songwriters began as folkies strumming acoustics in politically correct cafes. But for Dylan the road from folk to rock led to that vast kingdom called pop music. Once Young learned to play electric guitar, on the other hand, other mortal pursuits moved to the back of the bus.

Since Young's hardest-rocking moments have come with the gallumphing, otherwise barely working Crazy Horse, his madder fans consider the Crazy Horse collaboration Ragged Glory (Reprise) even bigger news than Freedom, which in 1989 became the first Young album to achieve general renown in 10 years. It's certainly got more guitar on it--four of its 10 cuts solo on for seven, eight, 10 minutes, and all are keyed to riffs that grab and hold. Rock and roll!--really. But the lyrics are barely there, and over an hour-length disc Young's/Crazy Horse's endearingly foursquare sense of rhythm gets pretty . . . I believe boring is the critical term. Especially since Young declines to provide any folkie ballads for melodic relief.

Over in the kingdom of pop, meanwhile, Bob Dylan has emitted his latest. Since the producer is Don Was, the man behind commercial comebacks by Bonnie Raitt and the B-52's, Under the Red Sky (Columbia) is said to be fit for an icon, a claim we've heard frequently over 15 years of dubious product. Thing is, Was may have brought it off--Dylan's music sounds relaxed but not lazy, which is always the trick. And not since Planet Waves have his lyrics embraced such simplicity--a simplicity more beguiling because most of these laments for a dying world aren't love songs. Except in a cosmic sense that's rarely anything but pretentious in the kingdom of pop. Iconic indeed.

Playboy, Sept. 1990

Aug. 1990 Oct. 1990