Robert Christgau on Some Raggedy-Ass Rock and Some Tropical Fuck Storm

Robert Christgau on Some Raggedy-Ass Rock and Some Tropical Fuck Storm

The self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: “Melodic.” He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967- 2017, will be available from Duke University Press in October. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

The Mekons 77: It Is Twice Blessed (Slow Things) These are not the legendary yet by some mischance obscure Brit-born Mekons an adoring cabal swears by—the collective led by Jon Langford whether or not the Country Music Hall of Fame portraitist who also leads the Waco Brothers, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, the Sadies, and many others admits it. So of course it was Langford who invited the Mekons’ original vocalists—red-tape-cutting touring advisor Andy Corrigan and artist turned international antipoverty volunteer Mark White—to reconvene the 1977 edition of a band where current vocalists Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford played guitar and drums. Based on dim recollections of their Virgin debut, I wasn’t surprised to learn the singers still can’t sing, their breathy keen and outraged croak oddly indistinguishable sometimes. Yet as a Mekons fan I stuck at it, and to my surprise, these raggedy-ass plaints now add up to my favorite Mekons album since 2002’s OOOH!. Corrigan and White are old enough to wonder when humanity got bored with peace and recognize that what we do now is the future. They extol border crossers, lose a daughter to war, and note that “the average British household has 50,000 things.” They’re “Still Waiting” for “an end to world hunger” and “the money to trickle down.” And Brits though they be, they take care to address “You Lied to Us” to the president of the United States of America. A MINUS

Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace (Tropical Fuck Storm/Mistletone) Crucially, this reboot of vocalist-lyricist-guitarist Gareth Liddiard’s Perth-spawned, Melbourne-based, Canberra-averse Drones, who earned grunge-retro renown in their politically dysfunctional land without ever breaking Stateside, leans on three women: guitarist-keyboardist Erica Dunn, drummer Lauren Hammel, and former Drones bassist Fiona Kitschin, without whose shading and amplification the frontman’s sociohistorical ravings might evoke a woke Nick Cave flexing his baritone. Although Socrates’ hemlock meets Jesus’ crucifixion and “The Future of History” details Gary Kasparov’s 1997 defeat by a computer, the history part is seldom head-on. But whether the subject is family of assholes in legal trouble they deserve or plywood houses that should be armor-plated, Liddiard’s songs are more sociopolitically situated than less verbose types generally manage, plus there’s a Trump number where an Oompa Loompa brandishes drones and nukes. “The down side is that we’re all about to get royally fucked / And the upside is we’re all about to get screwed,” he concludes. In most rock, this kind of dark joke comes off cheap if not stupid. Tropical Fuck Storm know how to scare you with them. A MINUS

Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here? (Northern Spy) Disruptive, radical, all that good stuff, Marc Ribot-Shahzad Ismaily-Ches Smith jams are nonethless strongest at their most ideological (“Fuck La Migra,” “Pennsylvania 6 6666,” “Muslim Jewish Resistance”) ***

Ike Reilly: Crooked Love (Rock Ridge) Never-say-die hipster rails at the powers that be—wins one occasionally, too (“Boltcutter Blues,” “Clean Blood Blues”) **

Marc Ribot: Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 (Anti-) True politics, true musicianship, and true diversity, with barely an anthem or fight song to be heard (“John Brown [Feat. Fay Victor],” “Knock That Statue Down [Feat. Mark Ribot & Syd Straw],” “Ain’t Gonna Let Them Turn Us Around [Feat. Steve Earle & Tift Merritt]”) *

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