Robert Christgau on Ed Hamell's Brutal, Bastard-Bashing Fantasies

The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Hamell on Trial's 'The Night Guy at the Apocalypse: Profiles of a Rushing Midnight,' Lyrics Born's 'Quite a Life,' Mudhoney's 'Digital Garbage,' and Will Hoge's 'My American Dream.'

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Oct 12 2018, 4:29pm

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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—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, will be available from Duke University Press in October. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy at the Apocalypse: Profiles of a Rushing Midnight (Saustex) Recorded live on his phone in venues hither and yon, these 13 low-life tales are different from all the other low-life tales the barfly with his stage name on the cover has peddled over the years. That's because they're enraged rather than merely sardonic, and also because 14 of these low-lifes die, often hideously. These include one commander-in-chief (it was the vodka, swear to God) and start with the five dispatched quatrain by quatrain in "Slap": a wife-beating cop, a foreclosure king, a Nazi fuck, a pedophile priest, and some lawyer or CEO or something whose smirk Bobby didn't like. Accompanied solely by Ed Hamell's trusty guitar and one boozy singalong, the minimal melodies of these brutal fantasies hit bone on the strength of the narrative punch he's honed over decades on the road—"I've gotta go from Iceland to Dublin," he notes at the close of "Melting Snow (Kill Them All)." That ominously subtitled selection adds no new stiffs to the death toll. It merely targets every stupid-as-shit hate-spewer now adding meanness to the world—starting, let's figure, with a commander-in-chief or something who inspired this Jeremiah-come-lately to spew his report from the fucking front. Which front, in case you hadn't noticed, is everywhere. A

Lyrics Born: Quite a Life (Mobile Home) Exuberant and extravagant if gravelly at times, chanted more than sung because Tom Shimura is a rapper, this major funk vocalist's sixth solo studio album celebrates life the hedonistic way. Its first four tracks praise sex as chocolate cake, bling that includes a stegasaurus skeleton and some sasquatch fur, the girl from first-period English who turned him out, and the beauty of difference. But it also embraces life the conscious way. "Can't Lose My Joy" distills his wife Joyo Velarde's long, frightening triumph over non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The double-reversed James Brown cover adds that question mark to "This Is a Man's World?" for the best of reasons. And we'll call the unlisted bonus track "Arrest the President" because it begins by chanting that phrase 14 times before cataloguing shortcomings that include his small penis. A MINUS

Mudhoney: Digital Garbage (Sub Pop) "They got a loophole in Davos / They got a giant needle / If you can pay the price / They'll let you ride a camel through the eye"—which is why "Evangelical Hypocrites" could give a shit about the "Next Mass Extinction" ("21st Century Pharisees," "Next Mass Extinction") ***

Will Hoge: My American Dream (Thirty Tigers/EDLO) "Don't want your stars n bars and your blood on my damn hands / I'm lookin' away now Dixie cause I've seen all I can stand / But I'm still a Southern man" ("Nikki's a Republican Now," "Thoughts and Prayers") **

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