Self-Esteem as Bollix: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
The Dean dives into two new releases from Dundalk's Jinx Lennon, plus recent records from Kate Tempest, Sleaford Mods, and L.A. Salami.
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 a number of books over his career including his autobiography, Going Into the City, which was released in 2015 to critical acclaim. 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.
Jinx Lennon: Past Pupil Stay Sane (Septic Tiger) Born in 1964 sez Google though he seems younger, rocker-rapper Lennon has been musically active since around 2000, with a Wikipedia stub, a sketchy website, and six plus two albums to show for it. Though live he sometimes favors acoustic guitar, on this hour-long collection he yells, recites, talks, chants, murmurs, and/or sings 23 songs over not just guitar but drum-sounding "beats," bass, electronics, female softening, and quite often trumpet. Lennon's Dundalk hometown is up near the troubled border in his nation's northeast corner, but that's in the past—today's Ireland is embattled enough to keep him busy. Subjects include "Cough Medicine," "70,000 New Jobs," "Don't Let the Phone Calls Annoy You," a "Chinaman in Dundalk Town," and a "Heart Attack in Spain" ("Waiter / Get the defibulator / What do you mean you don't know where it is sir?"). In "Learn How to Talk to Women," he advises, "Listen to them, be interested." And in "Fireman Meets Samurai Sword" firemen advise, "Let's get out of here alive at the end of each day"—because, like the rapper-rocker sez to the recovering crack addict, "Every Day Above Ground Is a Good Day." A MINUS
Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift the Grief Magnets (Septic Tiger) There's a musical consistency to this band record, cut with two Liverpudlians from Clinic just across the Irish Sea, that's missing from its companion release. Sung, talked, or sung-talked, Lennon's enunciated vocals turn his brogue, if that's what it even is, into lingua franca, and electronic though the band is, its music is rock, not techno or electropop. Lennon is the rare ranter in whom rage coexists with empathy and alienation with a well-observed life. Examples include "Piranhas of Xmas," in which layaway gifts turn into nightmares, and an equally sad one in the voice of a "10 O'Clock T Break Bollix": "Making smart remarks about people passing by cos I haven't got self-esteem." A MINUS
Sleaford Mods: T.C.R. (Rough Trade) The unrelenting futility of life in five unrelentingly tuneless tunes ("Britain Thirst," "I Can Tell") ***
Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos (Lex) There are just seven insomniacs awake at 4:18 AM on one South London block, so Tempest rhymes their suffering over music that backs more than it powers, leaving us free to wonder—how are the sleepers doing, anyway? ("We Die," "Breaks") **
L.A. Salami: Dancing With Bad Grammar: The Director's Cut (Pias America) Genteelly verbose Anglo-Nigerian singer-strophewriter hangs looser and longer—and a few times meaner, which turns him into a motherfucker ("Loosley on My Mind," "Day to Day [For Six Days a Week]") *
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