Robert Christgau on Blondie and The Mountain Goats
The Dean also reckons with Peter Perrett's 'How the West Was Won.'
Credit: Andy Sheppard / Getty
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 theVillage 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.
Blondie: Pollinator (BMG) Not much clever pan-referentiality in the most consistent material this 43-year-old band has assembled since No Exit, half a career ago in 1998. But for a 72-year-old glamourpuss to excavate multiple affairs in one post-ironic, pro-erotic song after another—only two Stein-Harry, although there's also a Hynes-Harry and their newish 4?-year-old keyb guy chips in a couple‑-is a lyrical coup in itself. Any youngish person who doesn't buy her "Take me back home again/I wanna make love again," not to mention 53-year-old Johnny Marr's "Human beings are stupid things when we're young," has much to learn about the aging process in this ever-changing world we hope we all age in. Yes, she's had "work done," and one way or another, so to speak, this may extend to her vocals. But neither her voice nor the rest of her body is any less hers than it ever was. A MINUS
The Mountain Goats: Goths (Merge) Propelled though they are by rock-sturdy Jon Wurster, the arrangements evoke a keyboard-based, explicitly guitarless cocktail jazz of modest drive and less bite. John Darnielle sings with a dulcet lucidity that's almost angelic, the melodies chime in, and although I assume I'm missing some references, the lyrics do well enough by goth music and lifestyle from a "We Do It Different on the West Coast" perspective. Nonetheless, a lounge-style concept album about goth is not unlike a bro-country concept album about chamber music. That its two great songs—"Abandoned Flesh" and "Andrew Eldritch Is Back in Leeds," to be precise—reach out not to rudderless fans but aging musicians suggest that Darnielle is ready to move on to the next obsession. B PLUS
Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (Domino) Rousing himself from a six-minute opener as shapeless as another nodder's stupor, the original Only One delivers a revealing collection of new songs in the adenoidal singsong he trademarked in his twenties and miraculously retains at 65. Blaming his inept life on society's cruelty to bison and laboratory rats (the lucky ones, he believes, get to starve themselves to death on crack), he swears an eternal love it's not at all clear he can follow through on. His biography, however, suggests otherwise—he's long been married to a designer as COPD-damaged as he is. Not a pretty picture. But a catchy and educational one. B PLUS
Robert Christgau is on Twitter.