The World Is a Setup: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
The Dean takes on new albums from The Paranoid Style, Pylon, Pet Shop Boys, and The Dandy Warhols.
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.
The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure (Bar/None) On the scene-setting "The Ambassador's Morning Lift," a term Google tells me denotes a punch comprising egg nog, rum, cognac, and creme de cacao, massed guitars—three gang up live—are juiced a dozen seconds later by a busy bass line that quickly buries all hope of indie decorum. So say for purposes of argument that Elizabeth Nelson always needs to get a little blotto, because otherwise she sees more than she can bear. And say too that she needs to rev that blotto up. Her aversion to nonsense isn't merely acerbic—calm and well-spoken though she remains, she can still run you over with her full-on bitterness. This is so self-evidently an intelligent and experienced woman that when she finds 10 concise ways to tell you the world is a setup she convinces you she's been close enough to power to know she's not getting any. "We'll still be fighting the next war tomorrow." "Everything you did exists somewhere, you're on certain lists." "I've been on TV and I've been in the bag." "You know that I'll fuck anything that doesn't fuck me first." All zingers guaranteed tune-equipped, the better to assure you lend them your ears. Now somebody pay her what they ought to be worth. Right. A MINUS
Pylon: Live (Chunklet) Thirty-three years after the fact, a double-vinyl live album completes the catalogue of Vanessa Briscoe's DOR skyrockets from Athens G-A. Because it documents their very last show, recorded before an enraptured local audience on December 1, 1983, I had major hopes. But since like all live recordings it's subject to audio, pace, and pheromone deficits, I'm obliged to report that it only takes off second half—there are rumblings throughout, sure, but I hear "Feast on My Heart" as the turning point and side four as the must-play. My favorite is the one song I didn't know and also the finale: "Party Zone." I also appreciate the zooming encore: the Batman theme. B PLUS
Pet Shop Boys: Super (Kobalt) With their minimalist chops holding up nicely, someday they'll do a satirical album with the punch of their disco-life numbers—I try to tell myself that ("The Pop Kids," "Twenty-Something," "Burn") **
The Dandy Warhols: This Machine (The End) From a band so immersed in the immersive, Tennesse Ernie Ford and offers to rest your head qualify as welcome moments of clarity ("Slide," "Alternative Power to the People") **
Garbage: Strange Little Birds (Vagrant) More precision-tooled lust for the lovelorn from a strange bird you'd think would be too old for this shit ("So We Can Stay Alive," "Teaching Little Fingers to Play") *
The Dandy Warhols: Distortland (Dine Alone) Still droning drily enough if you give them more chances than they deserve, but note these famous last words: "I'm too old for this shit" ("Pope Reverend Jim," "You Are Killing Me") *
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