Pet Shop Boys/Bob Dylan
Sages Risk Stasis
Pet Shop Boys: Elysium (Astralwerks)
The music may well seem too restrained, presumably because Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe figured that on an album where 11 songs find 11 different ways to mock, rue, ponder, and accept their professional mortality, the entitled glee of their full-on disco productions is off the table. Even the explicit "Your Early Stuff" and the valedictory "Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin" keep a lid on it, the better to fit in with the ones that go "Look at me, the absentee," "Say it's not so/That you'd rather lose me," "Our love is dead/But the dead don't go away," and everything else except the pounding "A Face Like That," which also boasts the only lyric that doesn't follow the program. Whether metaphysical ("Everything means something") or bitchy ("There's got to be a future/Or the world will end today"), they're at peace with the fate of their fame and their retirement accounts. And the understated beats suit their elysian equanimity. A MINUS
Bob Dylan: Tempest (Columbia)
Although his voice is crumbling audibly and his band is too often static, Dylan remains one of our more thoughtful wordslingers in the ever-changing trad mode he's made his own. Still, the meme that this album is a major statement where Together Through Life was a holding action bespeaks the unseen hand of the autohype machine and the superstitious fears that attend 70th birthdays. Although the four trad relationship numbers that open build nicely on Together Through Life's strategy and groove, the closers aim higher with dubious-to-disgraceful results. For all its well-borrowed tune and well-digested details, nobody's putting the 14-minute Titanic ballad on repeat, and the seven-minute John Lennon dirge says nothing at half speed just like the naysayers neigh. That leaves four tracks, and how much you admire this record will depend on how redolent you find two of them: the quiet jeremiad "Scarlet Town" and the quieter love-triangle cut-'em-up "Tin Angel." I say they'd be better faster, possibly. As for "Early Roman Kings," a black-comedy dis of the rich and richer, and "Pay in Blood," folk-music death metal via sanguinary imagery and microphone placement, you gotta love 'em. B PLUS
One of the trends in eighties popular music has been the proliferation of performers for whom the conventions of rock and roll mean nothing -- mean even less than the music of the forties crooners did to the earliest rock fans. This is often read as a conscious expression of dissatisfaction with rock's gradual absorption into the larger entertainment industry as a willing source of ad jingles and tabloid gossip, but it's just as likely a simple testimonial to the passage of time. Each pop-music generation speaks in the vernacular that the radio and records of its era teach it, be it rockabilly or some previously unimaginable hybrid. Despite sentimental attachments to a certain genre, the more democratic pop-music ideal is that good records can be made by anyone in any style. Everything about the Pet Shop Boys, from their name on down -- just what could it mean? -- seems to invite the ridicule of a rebellion-mongering rock audience (if such a thing still exists), especially their reliance on the glitziest, most repetitive dance-music flourishes to flesh out their arrangements.
As used by the Eurhythmics, New Order and the Pet Shop Boys, disco's neutrality and robotic insistence shirk the expressive weight of traditional rock and soul, paring everything down to a single, unyielding pulse whose cold comfort is its reliability. Disco has always been the sound of leisure, the soundtrack of consumption. That isn't just a matter of the way it's used, but carries over into the way the music itself works: any sound, from whooshing strings to tinkling piano, from rock guitar to a breaking bottle, can be subsumed into the open-ended flow of a disco song.
As another effect, on top of that ceaseless supply of aural distraction, Neil Tennant sings in what can be called nobody's voice -- a little effete, a little agitated, but mostly just tired, his carefully maintained deadpan tone betraying more regret than he realizes.
Like many makers of the supposedly rootless electronic pop that has become the signature of their generation, the Pet Shop Boys know the only power they have is that of perfect consumers, or, as in "Rent" as perfect products. They are suspicious of the broad, messy displays of emotion of an earlier rock era, which is not only irrevocably lost to them but feels irredeemably false. What did Dusty Springfield and Buddy Holly [the first a participant and the second evoked on "Actually"] ever do for them except lie to them, shame them?
Maybe using the extremes with specific names is what throws things off. I'm merely underscoring that letting public figures you like off the hook when they say something stupid is the road to rank favoritism.
"It is fair or even worthwhile to despise him"
Let's not get carried away, here. The whole thing is more on the order of tsk-tsk. And has nothing to do with Tennant-the-artist in any event.
After Modern Times and "Love And Theft" consuming yesterday, I just pulled up Bob Dylan on my iPod Artists list and hit random today. "Love Minus Zero No Limit" to "Cold Irons Bound" to "Absolutely Sweet Marie". The sky is still blue everywhere, except for when dawn breaks in the Middle East.
Even played "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" twice. The second time to see if I could hear the musicians realizing this sucker is gonna go on for a while. Nope is my answer. But it did make me wonder how it is that every musician that plays with him, famous or not, last century or this, sounds so effing good on his songs?
PS Christgau's last comment continues an argument I might have stuck with and made a case for. I agree.
Finally got" Tempest "in the mail( along with Chuck Berry and Japandroids-as per Xgau
recommendations) Good listening to follow. I do gather from
all the comments here and of course Xgau's review that the new Dylan fits like a glove with
his "generally speaking" post 2000 releases. Or as I call them - AVC (after voice changed)-with
BVC(before voice changed) being another era. And I do prefer the former. Though I wouldn't miss the latter.
PS Guthrie-that's a lot to ask-good luck.
"Neil Tennant and Hank Williams Jr.? Are they one and the same?"
That's the point. Either everybody is responsible for their quoted statements or nobody is. You can't play favorites. Or, before you know it, some public figure you like can't say anything stupid or sullen and one you dislike can't say anything smart or humane.
edit: music hall of w'burg, though I don't know what time. am trying to get on the list. why didn't i know this?
Neil Tennant and Hank Williams Jr.? Are they one and the same? Let's just call 'em both monumental as*holes because they believe some tiresome nonsense. Tennant never campaigned his hatred as dangerously as Williams did, give him that.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.