The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Thorn's 'Record,' Irish singer-songwriter Jinx Lennon's 'Grow a Pair!!!,' plus recent records from Derek Senn and Brad San Martin.
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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.
Tracey Thorn: Record (Merge) Calm, deliberate, undemonstrative, Thorn is a singer some find magical and others prosaic. I've always tended other, but when a 55-year-old wife and mother claims she's recorded "nine feminist bangers," I pay attention. And these definitely work up some fairy dust. The beats evoke without mimicking the subtle electro-dance of Thorn and her beatmaking husband Ben Watt's 20th-century band, Everything but the Girl, and in her undemonstrative way, she sequences the catchiest tracks last: "Face," about checking out your ex at Mark Zuckerberg's place, and "Dance," which namechecks "Good Times," "Shame," "Golden Years," and "Let the Music Play." In four other songs, decent but fundamentally clueless guys mess with various women's lives, while two others evoke a motherhood you assume is autobiographical. In "Babies," "Get the fuck to bed now" is closely followed by "Baby love you even more." In "Go," which takes place quite a few years later, she knows the kid has to leave—that's the reason she put in all that work. A MINUS
Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair!!! (Septic Tiger) Although he dedicates these 18 tracks to his wife and little girl and sings them more than he recites them, this tenacious hospital porter and chronicler of the so-called Irish Free State hasn't softened up any unless you count rooting for a gal who takes a bread knife to the turkey-neck bully who's kicking her out. He's still hectoring layabouts, chronicling toilers, and mocking nouvies, although these days he's also skewering the bogus trappings of Irish patriotism and the porousness of the Ulster border. Also, his specialty in the working class makes Trump a snap. Why aren't more Americans writing mean, obvious songs like "Silver Spoon"? 'Cause they know shit about the working class and care less is what I figure. A MINUS
Derek Senn: Avuncular (self-released) He'll never be a melodist if he isn't now, but he is a lyricist—a wordsmith who loves several uncles, hates "pro-life" death-trippers, and can afford both his wife's thing for home improvement porn and the right sidemen ("Uncle Mike," "Tongue and Groove," "South Dakota Lady") ***
Brad San Martin: Shoot Tomorrow/Learn Tonight (Jigsaw) Fellow record nerds rejoice—first singer-songwriter ever to devote verse-and-chorus to The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD ("Cook and Morton," "Song About `Soul Finger'") *
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