Robert Christgau on Rich Krueger's Wince-Inducing Brilliance
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews the Illinois singer-songwriter's 'Life Ain't That Long' and Modern Mal's 'The Misanthrope Family Album.'
Photo by Jim Newberry
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 six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To find out more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Rich Krueger: Life Ain't That Long (Rockink) Born on a Wednesday full of woe, a 58-year-old Chicago neonatologist undertakes to show the world he's also a major songwriter, complete with wavery high baritone that hurts so much it'll make ordinary mortals wince. Although most of his evidence dates from the current century, only two selections are near new. The most recent goes on about Nero—“At night in his garden, Christian torches glow / He entertained the masses with fiddle and bow"—before observing that "a lie is a lie, and not 'fake news,'" and should you wonder what a Christian torch is, the CD comes with a useful booklet that will also make you wince. So will "The Gospel According to Carl," which re-enacts the pre-suicide ruminations of a car salesman who just discovered his conscience, and "Ain't It So Nice Outside Today?," which diagnoses suffering sinners who lust for life against all odds. Two songs praise Sid Vicious, a bunch indicate in agonizing yet generous detail why the guy's love life hasn't been everything it might, and the most memorable of all can't get over that girl he ditched so stupid when he was 17. Krueger's band accommodates horns, violin, accordion, and femme chorus. He borrows afterhooks from Bonnie Tyler and Jose Feliciano. And somehow I never mentioned that he can be pretty funny. Also nice. A
Modern Mal: The Misanthrope Family Album (Mal) Modern Mal are what might happen if blurry reincarnations of Leonard Cohen and Dolly Parton hooked up to form a bent Americana band in the Michigan north woods. Dolly hopes he'd love her even if she wore different-colored shoes; Leonard hopes she never sees him in his old earmuffs. Two of their songs adduce astronomical as opposed to astrological metaphors, and two others are lightened by glockenspiel colors with their roots in Dolly's Fender Rhodes. Inspirational Verse: "Death death death, where do you take us next?" B PLUS
Scott Miller: Ladies Auxiliary (F.A.Y.) All-female band lifts Americana vet to unaccustomed heights without squelching a mother-in-law joke I hope none of the gals thought was funny ("Jacki With an Eye," "Lo Siento, Spanishburg, WVA") **
Case Garrett: Aurora (Suitcase) Inspirational Verse: "What you think about screwin'? It don't have to last very long" ("The Thought of You," "She Never Liked Elvis") **
Jason Eady: Jason Eady (Old Guitar) Smooth alt-country lifer writes his own songs without creating his own identity ("Where I've Been," "Black Jesus") *
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