Getting Down to Cases
Ry Cooder: Election Special (Nonesuch/Perro Verde)
Protest songs are hard to nail even in the moment, and I can't promise that the three bull's-eyes here will sound as dead on in five years, or one. Cooder's innovation is reapplying the Popular Front mindset to the messy compromises of electoral politics, and all the must-hears illuminate the 2012 presidential election rather than merely referencing it: "Mutt Romney Blues," where the Republican standard bearer does to his dog precisely what he'll do to us; "Cold Cold Feeling," where a black man in the White House details his blues; and especially "The 90 and the 9," where the singer explains why he's repurposing that gospel song about this may be the last time. "Going to Tampa" slaps on too broad a burlesque, "Guantanamo" wanders off message, and others just don't twist the screw tight enough. But I give him extra credit for both preaching to the converted and doing his damnedest to rally the holier-than-thou. B PLUS
Serengeti: C.A.R. (Anticon)
He sleeps on a friend's couch in Berkeley and imagines possible lives. "Your wife having a secret family in Gary/A second spouse, sorta looks like Neneh Cherry." "I want a simple life/Where we milk cows and cobras." "Buy my own street cart/Specialize in beef hearts." "Have sex with a horse./Reconsider divorce." "The antibiotics made me hallucinate/Cops arresting patients, Arabian spiders inside my arms./And then my wife got shot/She was seeing him for a year, I had no idea." "Hey, can I borrow your mind?/I really need a hit, it's been a long time." "I wish was my name was Otto/Everybody has a dream that they'll win the Lotto." Anticon minimalist Odd Nosdam provides all the beats Geti needs, and when your mind wanders, quite often the music alone carries you along. For good measure, other alienated acquaintances drop by and pitch in. Eleven tracks, half an hour. Is there anybody else who can do this? A MINUS
Sorry, but Cooder gets an 'A' for Election Special. It's not just the lyrics or the playing, it's the two together.
Koolaide is a spinechilling blend of spooky grove, terrifying guitar and a man's realization that he has been ****ed over. Cold Cold feeling is pure delta and an accurate depiction of the real issue the radical right is dancing around; there's a black man in the White House.
Keep Your Hands off and the Ninety and the Nine are calls for action that will stand the test of time, as will the entire album.
We're living it now, but this is an historic time, one that will be analyzed for years to come. How did this country get so crazy and who stood up to the insanity.
for so long, deep down and blue
there's nothing more that's new
and where's the brilliant juice
the flame that fired your heart
that made you want to start
Oh, oh, let's go. But afterwards, on the album's subtlest and maybe most brilliant hidden classic, G.W. offers a vision of the kind of mythic sanctuary the album is all about evoking:
Underneath the lightfields
Near a wall of water
You can put your head down here
Forget all you fought for
Learning to live -- never easy, but learning to give -- just as important; plus it gets your mind off the other thing for a nice while while refueling the spirit for the future fight. Or so they say.
"As I wrote in Let It Blurt, Lester attended Alcoholics Anonymous. He referred to himself in his private writings several times as an alcoholic and a drug addict. And his psychiatrist certainly confirmed, while respecting doctor/patient confidentiality, a substance abuse problem."
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.