Ladies First: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean tackles the latest from Lana del Rey, Jazmine Sullivan, Adele, and more.

Jan 1 2016, 5:18pm

Welcome to Expert Witness with Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics." He currently teaches at NYU and published multiple books throughout his life. For nearly four decades, he worked as the music editor for The Village Voice, where he created the annual Pazz & Jop poll. Every Friday, Noisey will happily publish his long-running critical column. To learn more about him and his life, read his welcome post here.

Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon (Polydor/Interscope)

Presumbly anybody who thinks her shtick has stagnated is too embarrassed to pay attention, because without doubt it's evolved. Subtly, OK, but the slowing tempos at least are hard to miss, and they go with the subtle part: the changing ways she's portrayed both herself and the objects of her affection over the past four years. Initially she enacted rockish boy-toy masochisma pretty girl who got wet for an entire casting call of rough trade sugar daddies. But the third album of her tuneful, bonus-studded catalogue stars the torchy femme fatale who always lurked underneath, and by now half the objects of her exploitation are pretty clearly jerks. Born-to-lie Mr. Born to Lose is a game to hershe never bought into his bullshit. "Salvatore," who could be based on her real-life Italian boyfriend for all I know, is auto-crooned so close to the edge of parody I wish she'd figured out how to sneak in the moon hitting her eye like a big pizza pie. But the biggest breakthrough is Lana herself on "God Knows I Tried," where the artist born Lizzy Grant cops to her real-life fame and interrupts the come-ons to swear, "I feel free when I see no one." You never knowthis dame might write a love song we can believe in someday. "Freak" and "Blackest Day" come fairly close. A MINUS

Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (RCA)

No one in r&b tells stories like Sullivan, and not just because no one in r&b tells stories at all anymore. Shouting, crooning, or oversharing, she's not some fake-or-not gangsta moll, though once she carries a .45 in her Louis Vuitton because that's how "#Hoodlove" rolls. Other personas include a club moll paying the rent with her prosthetic ass, a jobseeker turned stickup kid, a Mona Lisa, a junkie, and a gal smart enough to polish up a Babyface hook for the love of her life (she wishes). In one song Meek Mill is "dumb." In another Jazmine is "stupid." In a third she'll settle for a man who'll take a bitch to dinner. A MINUS

Halsey: Badlands (Astralwerks)

In the old days, the classified would have read something like: "Lyrics-first tri-bi adventuress seeks musical partners for almost famous sex success." In the new world, she's a 21-year-old Tumblr sensation with 1M followers on Twitter, where she announced her attainment of that Instagram goal months ago. Logocentric cuss that I am, I'm not "on" Instagram, but recommend Googling her Buzzfeed-curated Instagram top 25. I bought her physical album after vetting the MP3s on my Sansa player; at Best Buy, where most of the exploitees in attendance barely know what a compact disc is, my young African-American hostess led me right to it. I congratulate the former Ashley Frangipane on musical sex partners much livelier than Lorde's. In the track I'm feeling, she kisses one as they ride to Queens. A MINUS

Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (Polydor/Interscope) Self-made sad girl celebrates self-caricaturing sex appeal of self-fulfilling bad love. ("Cruel World," "Ultraviolence") ***

Carly Rae Jepsen: Emotion (Schoolboy/Interscope) 30-year-old Canadian idol retrofits as sexy-bubbly teen in combination star bid, art project, and escape from reality. ("I Really Like You," "Gimmie Love") ***

Adele: 25 (XL/Columbia) Warm, thoughtful human being bestows a voice capable of enlarging those virtues without melodramawithout boatloads of melodrama, anyway. ("Hello," "Million Years Ago") **

Madonna: Rebel Heart (Deluxe) (Interscope) I grant her this—when she promises me my "best night," I still wonder exactly what she has in mind. ("Bitch I'm Madonna," "Best Night") *

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter and read the archives of his criticism on his website.