This Blog--The Whats, Whys, and Wherefores
The Return of Consumer Guide
As some readers will know and others will not, I had a column at MSN Music until June, 2010: the Consumer Guide, which compiled letter-graded capsule record reviews at The Village Voice, Creem, the Voice again, and finally MSN for 41 years. This blog continues a part of that work I'd feel musically deprived to give up. The idea is to skip the reviews of good but ultimately marginal albums I called Honorable Mentions. Though they filled out the column conceptually, these required a lot of work without commensurate musical reward, and since no blogger gets paid enough to put in that kind of time I intend to break myself of the habit (though there'll be exceptions). What I don't want to give up is "A records": albums graded A+ (the rare masterwork), A (the meat of my leisure listening), A- (well over half the total), and B+ (too close not to get half a cigar). That's because these judgments are the gut and backbone of my musical pleasure‑-by the time I'm done writing a capsule, I know and understand the record in a way I didn't before, which prepares me to revisit it in the future, as I usually will. It's time-consuming work, but so rewarding psychologically that I'm happy to do it at blogger's rates.
The way the blog will work is this: two posts a week, Tuesday and Friday most of the time, usually comprising reviews of two A records. Since that would require me to find 16 or 18 A new records a month when there are seldom more than a dozen, I'll augment these with reissues, older records new to me, once in a while a live report, maybe a book review, and occasionally one of those flights of fancy that make blogging the inchoate free-for-all it is. But I've been off the album beat for so long that for a while I'll mostly be catching up, leading with two of the most widely reviewed albums of 2010, both of which I've written essays about elsewhere. My hope is to keep self-indulgence to a minimum. Forty years ago I dubbed myself the Dean of American Rock Critics. That was a joke with legs. The blog title Expert Witness is not a joke. It's a boast that in criticism, knowledge counts, and that I have a load and a half.
"If you read his 70's book back in the day, surely you must know that. I don't recall a lot of corporate hip-hop in that text."
Wasn't much hip-hop in the 70's, was there? But believe me, if Jimmy Iovine had run a record label then, Christgau would have been touting all the product.
1) If your issue is that sometimes Christgau’s reviews are hard to understand, well, okay, sure. Nobody argues that one. Sometimes they require the reader to work to unravel their meaning. The Lucinda Williams review you cite is a case in point. But I can’t for the life of me see why that is bad. By the time I sort out, “Her drawl is affected, but so is Bob Dylan’s phrasing. It’s an artistic tool which she uses in the same way she uses her lyrics to demonstrate a real life virtue, spontaneity. One thing it does is provide a contrast to and thereby emphasize the real thoughts and feelings she has about the people and events in her life.” I have learned a ton. Difficult does not equal irrelevant.
2) I love my wife dearly but she’s not a Christgau fan either (she nearly divorced me over my affection for Sleater-Kinney, but that’s a story better left untold). Her response is just simply not to read him and spend her entertainment energy elsewhere. Which is what I most don’t understand about your entries here. Why do you care? Unless it is some diabolical trap that first Chris and now I have fallen into just to prove that that we are sheep and you are not.
3) Evoke, subsume, and protrude are all useful English words. Their meanings all fit their uses in this review. And the slight sexual tone of “protruding” is also funny when used in the same sentence as "metaphysical." Evoke – to call forth, bring to mind or elicit; Subsume – encompass as a component element; Protrude – to cause to project.
4) The corporate hip-hop comment still baffles me. Especially since you bring Lucinda Williams to the debate as evidence. Robert Christgau has fans and students because for decades, he hasn’t limited himself to the “corporate” music world, again, whatever that might be. If you read his 70's book back in the day, surely you must know that. I don't recall a lot of corporate hip-hop in that text.
Huh? "evoke and subsume"? Can something actually protrude from a quest? As usual, he makes irrelevant comments (this time about the singer's age) and distinctions that make sense only to him and his cult. But I admit Christgau at his most joyless and abstruse beats Christgau when he tries to be witty.
Dear Istvan: I think I'll start by taking the high road for now. Try this sample of a dozen individual songs, none of which are "corporate hip-hop" (whatever that might be) and all of which were first recommended by Robert Christgau. If it turns out that you already knew them, then a tip of the hat to you. If you haven’t heard them before and if your life isn’t better for having heard them now, then we don’t have very much in common and we would all be better off if you spent your time elsewhere.
“Kabessele In Memoriam"; Franco and Rocherau
“And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”; The Pogues
“Passionate Kisses”; Lucinda Williams
“Nina Majuba (You Pigeons)”; Mahlathini and The Mahotella Queens
“Sink Hole”; Drive By Truckers
“My Life”; Iris Dement
“Youth of Eglington”; Black Uhuru
“Amnesia”, The Mekons
“Time Will Reveal”; Debarge
“In Walked Bud”; Thelonious Monk
“Forever Night Shade Mary”; Latin Playboys
“Making History”; Linton Kwesi Johnson
By the way, I just want to make a su****ective appreciation of you major virtue.
It's ........ humility. Yeah, I'll explain. First of all, you've always been completely
open about your biases. That's laudable in that you cut-off-at-the-pass the
pretense of o****ectivity or fairness or other such meaningless/useless concept in regard to what you do. But more importantly, that admission would generally be used as an excuse to narrow your field. You've never done that. You've always kept your ears open. I've seen glowing reviews of records in just about every style you've admitted having no use for. You always allow for changing your mind, or finding exceptions or whatever. Gold is where you find it seems to be your motto and we've all benefitted. Chinese classical music A ???? pre-Classical music A????
Brazilian music A ???? Eastern European folk-derived pop A ???? and on and on. Each of these was unimaginable to you (apparently) until you found a record that spoke to you. But you wouldn't have heard it if you weren't listening, and apparently, in spite of your avowed biases, you always are.
I don't know any other way I could have found as much music I really love over such a wide range. Thanks for helping keep things interesting for forty years (jeez ...
We're both huge Merle Haggard fans who hate most of his albums,
including the compilations which just recycle the hodge podge of hits.
But there's an exception as you know well, the 4 cd Down Every Road box.
Like it or hate it, it is NOT a hits collections, but clearly a serious attempt by someone to pick out the really good stuff. That being the case, I'd be interested in your take on it. I don't believe you've ever reviewed it
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.