"And Let the Heavens Hear It/The Penitential Hymn"
Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (Columbia)
So subtly that it takes forever to sink in and so slowly that reading along is a must, Cohen coughs up his first studio album in eight years, meaning his next is due when he's 85 unless he dies first, which seems to be his bet. Except maybe for Johnny Cash's, no death album has ever come across quite this somber. Since Cohen generated the succulent 2009 Live in London as well as the prunelike 2010 Songs From the Road during the never-ending tour that intervened, it's conceivable that he's playing up the fragility of his crumbling baritone to back that bet as the usual panoply of handmaidens provides soul, sweetening, and breathing room. But give it its long chance and you'll find that not only is Cohen's sense of humor alive and kicking from the first words, in which Cohen famously ventriloquizes for Jahweh himself, but that the final song is keyed to the refrain "You want to change the way I make love/I want to leave it alone." Naturally, what he wants to leave alone is left ambiguous‑-his feckless, lubricious, needy, expert way of making love, or making love itself? If the former, what's this "saved by a blessed fatigue"? And if the latter, what's this "her braids and her blouse all undone"? Eight years younger than Cohen myself, I wouldn't be surprised if it's both, and don't look forward to the relevant critical insights the future will almost certainly afford me. A MINUS
EMA: Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)
Erika Anderson claims "Zen nihilism" is what you get growing up on South Dakota's bleak prairie under South Dakota's endless sky, which sounds reasonable until you start counting how many South Dakotans feel this way: approximately one. So insofar as she pretends her willful pose is the holy truth, she's annoying. What saves that pose is the willful power of a presentation less Courtney Love or Chan Marshall than PJ Harvey‑-"nothin and nothin and nothin and nothin" as an emotional reality that's her truth whether she's maxing out on free love or playing Russian roulette with a butterfly knife.
Highest rated Christgau C+, C, etc.
How'd you know I had Zingalamaduni and The End of the Innocence on my list??
Please thumb bomb this post.*
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Most of the Dean's reviews have a "I was there" moment. That is, a majority of his reviews were evaluated at the time they were released. When reading the reviews of a major artist that spans a 10, 20 or 30 year time span--the 'tiny novels' compose a grand narrative.
Is it nitpicking of me to suggest that when I read Jay-Z's page I'm totally thrown by a review of The Black Album that mentions Watch The Throne? Now I understand that when Bob wrote the 70's book there were reevaluations aplenty (let's call them revals)--and it's completely understandable that he wanted to update the language of those reviews. Complex artists such as Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley got the reval they deserved and when the book was published it was all of a piece.
I suspect the Expert Witness column may provoke more revals in the future. My question is: should the reval reviews be "added" to an artists page or should it be wholesale substituted as Tom has done. I realize that if Tom doesn't do a substitute, then when a reader plugs The Black Album in the search engine--well, 2 reviews would pop out and that would be confusing. But even so, I would love to see The Black Album review next to Watch The Throne...where it belongs.
I swear I'm not a minutia guy!--just a narrative lover...
Tom Hull once opined that "something not worth doing well is not worth doing at all," a maxim from his days as a programmer.
What I actually said was that "something not worth doing at all isn't worth doing well." His version is more intuitive, at least to people with a quality fetish -- a malady that, I'm afraid, has dogged me throughout my career. But I've all too frequently run into cases where someone committed something that shouldn't be done but we were stuck with. Projects like that tend to get put off because there's no good solution, so that's when I came up with my quip. (Then I spent two days hacking together an interface that became obsolete and unused the day after I demoed it.)
Tatum did work far above my standards on KISS. If, on the other hand, I ever pull my Journey reviews together, you'll see what I mean.
Jeff Callahan to Ryan Maffei: Since troll "rocker rocker" will never reveal his true identity, and since he may not be the source of all the down-thumbs anyway (really? two thumbs down just for telling people that Pitchfork reviewed the new Leonard Cohen?), I say motherf*ck him and John Wayne...
Ignore, ignore, ignore.
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.