Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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In music as in life, Anglos going Latin generally fall into the category of Not a Good Idea. So when pop singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl's returned to recording last year with Tropical Brainstorm (Instinct), few cared that no U.S. company picked it up. We were wrong. MacColl was always a solidly sophisticated performer who shared her folkie dad Ewan MacColl's nose for a lyric. But on Tropical Brainstorm, she's wild, sexy, risky, funny. She stalks a fan; she has computer sex with a guy in Amsterdam. The music isn't authentic and isn't supposed to be, but its fake-salsa lilt always puts it across. Just as Mambo de la Luna promises--"Don't be afraid of the rhythm/It's made to give life to the way you want to be"--all those things the tropics are supposed to do to a girl come to pass.

Tragically, MacColl died last December at 41, hit by a speedboat while swimming off the coast of Mexico. This album is so vivacious that the thought that she was doing what she loved when the moment came only makes it worse.

One way to conceive Slug, of Minneapolis's Atmosphere, is as the anti-Eminem. He's no p.c. do-gooder. But while he clearly comes out of the same nowhere culture (which doesn't necessarily mean he's white), he's more interested in its frustrations and anxieties than its "rage." Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers Entertainment) is one of the least grandiose rap albums ever. Listen up and you'll hang on every word.

Bosavi (Smithsonian Folkways)--consisting entirely of Papuan rainforest music--is the most compelling ethnographic recording in years. It includes a whole disc of guitar bands. And a woman named Ulahi whose liquid phrasing every rapper should study.

Playboy, Apr. 2001

Mar. 2001 May 2001