Robert Christgau on The Ex's Protest Music and and Idles' Rage
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews The Ex's '27 Passports,' Idles' 'Joy as an Act of Resistance,' Marie Davidson's 'Working Class Woman,' and Public Service Broadcasting's 'Every Valley.'
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, is now available from Duke University Press. 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.
The Ex: 27 Passports (Ex) Compared at various junctures to both the Crass and Einstürzende Neubaten, these vintage-1979 quasi-anarchist Dutch Anglophones have released dozens of albums I've never heard, so to compensate I power-streamed their 2009 30 compilation and concluded that while industrial and "world" sonics do both emerge, the band's enduring fondness for the strummed drone evokes nothing as much as the Fall without Mark E. Smith—that is, a Fall who aren't the Fall at all. I also concluded that Arnold de Boer's leads on his first true album rail and nag more irksomely than the raggedier ones of 30-year-man G.W. Sok used to, and that I prefer this unrelenting hour of protest music to any I could assemble from their best-of. Launched by flag-wavers where cities that modernize together drown together and the rod demolishes every human body part except the heart, they proceed through a car crash that isn't the car's fault, a hard drive sunk in the sea, words without referents, time out of mind, change pursuing its own logic, the feces of the rich, and four billion tulip bulbs. Am I claiming these songs make more sense taken together? To the extent that anything does, yes. A MINUS
Idles: Joy as an Act of Resistance (Partisan) Cognitive dissonance meets blunt force trauma via five guys who don't need Donald Trump to rail against fascism—not with Brexit, Eton, and bankers at a funeral for inspiration. What's dissonant is that you wouldn't figure from all this baritone bellow and jackboot four-four how much political rage they direct at sexism—the first three songs attack what "Samaritans" later brands "the mask of masculinity." It's like Joe Talbot's vocals are the male equivalent in reverse of Snail Mail or Lucy Dacus embracing sad femininity in gender solidarity. Though Talbot insists the Idles aren't a punk band, his unrelenting politics do remind one that he lacks both Joe Strummer's stealth tenderness and John Lydon's wormwood sarcasm. But a warmth suffuses "Danny Nedelko," about a Ukrainian pal who stands as Zanzibar-born Freddy Mercury's immigrant brother, and "June," all tender love for his stillborn daughter. And what kind of rage freak would be so tickled to cover Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me"? A MINUS
Marie Davidson: Working Class Woman (Ninja Tune) Post/anti-EDM electronica contextualizes honed feminist spoken-word ("Work It," "The Tunnel") *
Public Service Broadcasting: Every Valley (PIAS America) Spoken-word documentary with stirring musical accompaniment honors the life and death of the Welsh coal industry ("Mother of the Village," "They Gave Me a Lamp") *
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