The Roots/Action Bronson
Improvements on Hip-Hop Materialism
The Roots: Undun (Def Jam)
It speaks well for their strength of mind that Jimmy Fallon hasn't just been good for their economic viability‑-he's been good for their music. But superb though their 2008 and 2010 records were, and admirable though their equipoise has been, concept albums are such sinkholes that the partial success of this reverse-chronological tale of a doomed small-time hood is more surprising than its partial failure. Maybe I could work out plausible meanings for every song like some exegete brushing the cobwebs off "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." But all song cycles have holes in them, and really, just exactly what level of sagacity do we expect from Black Thought‑-or Bob Dylan, for that matter? What I get from Black Thought, as usual, is flashes of insight and articulated feeling. The sharpest verse here is Dice Raw's on "One Time," which along with "The Otherside" is the closest the song cycle comes to a stand-alone song. So what I get from the album as a whole isn't a feel for the fictional Redford Stephens. It's the pop refrains, Euro orchestrations, and simplified drumming absorbed by a sound that shows no sign of standing pat. B PLUS
Action Bronson: Dr. Lecter (Fine Fabric Delegates)
So much more consumable than Jacob or Hublot, the food Bronson fixates on never gets fancier than heirloom tomatoes or seared Ahi tuna‑-no cross-hatched merganser breast with lychee infusion and truffle garnis for this fat guy. With crucial propulsion and more crucial fun from no-name Tommy Mas's unfashionably sampled, unfashionably funky beats, his gluttony humanizes hip-hop materialism at an economically accessible level. If only he didn't treat women as meat like thousands of hip-hop hungries before him, I might even play it for my favorite cook at dinnertime. Instead, the follow-up Well Done trades in his homie Tommy on the more renowned and predictable Statik Selektah as it seeks revenge for the bad romance the fat guy had coming. B PLUS
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.