The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews 'Now That's What I Call 90s Pop,' 'Now That's What I Call Tailgate Anthems,' and some extra stocking fillers.
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The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Now That's What I Call 90s Pop (Sony Music Entertainment) This unusually useful pre-Now lookback—Stateside, the series only began in 1998—means to reinstall 18 four-minute pop songs in your short-term memory. From Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy With It" to the New Kids' "Step by Step," with the likes of Boyz II Men, Wreckx-N-Effect, born-againer-in-waiting Montell Jordan, Mad TV fave Bobby Brown, and "Livin' La Vida Loca" on board, the default mode is male-dominated funk-lite broadly defined, with the ambiguous-lite Max Martin classics "...Baby One More Time" and "I Want It That Way" flanking the concept. Cheap nostalgia for thirty-somethings, a refresher course in pop history for the rest of us. Among the missing: "U Can't Touch This," "Jump," "C'Mon 'N Ride It," "The Macarena," and the cheekily non-male "I Kissed a Girl." But so much easier than burning your own. A MINUS
Now That's What I Call Tailgate Anthems (Sony Music Entertainment) This decades-spanning blunt instrument dispenses with the vaguely heart-warming ecumenical mix-and-match the Now cartel usually makes a pass at. It's segregated by what we'll call culture: first six pop-metal warhorses whose Queen-Bon Jovi-Journey-Kiss-Survivor-Europe titles you can fill in yourself, then seven somewhat less reliable dance-rap bangers, after which sole woman Pink's best-in-show "Get the Party Started" transports us into a three-track country finale that left me wondering how I'd missed Sam Hunt's off-concept "House Party" and concluding once and for all that Jason Aldean is a blander, less macho Luke Bryan. Every single track is broad in the beam, "rock" at its most obvious even if the details are hip-hop or country—rock for jocks. But there are times when the Kiss-Lil Jon continuum is just right for clearing the sinuses or getting you to the next rest stop, and this will definitely do that job. A MINUS
13 Days of Xmas (Bloodshot) Short on cheer, which doesn't mean love (All Our Exes Live in Texas, "How to Make Gravy"; Ha Ha Tonka, "The List"; Zach Schmidt, "I'm Drunk Again This Christmas") **
Nick Lowe: Quality Street (Yep Roc) On an album decked with Xmas rarities penned by Roger Miller, Boudleaux Bryant, Roy Wood, and the great trad. arr., the prize selections are Lowe originals ("Christmas at the Airport," "I Was Born in Bethlehem") *
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