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Thread: Robert Christgau and prog...

  1. #1

    Robert Christgau and prog...

    Well - he is called (by himself?) "the dean of american rock critics" - famously hates prog. What is your opinion of his writing? Mine - and I admit it might be colored by sour grapes - is pretty low. The general impression I get is of a writer that has been assigned to write on a subject he knows nothing about... kind of like the NCIS writers trying to write about computers... when that happens, you get this

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8qgehH3kEQ

    And the equivalent of the fail above in terms of Christgau music reviewing will be this

    https://www.robertchristgau.com/get_album.php?id=4239

    Am I rite?

    thnx!

    v

  2. #2
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    The dick of American rock critics. I haven't read the reviews some people here seem to think are witty or apropos, only the very snide ones that, yeah, make it seem like he was the worst person to review the album

    "I hate beef, so I'm going to review this steakhouse."

  3. #3
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    On the plus side I find Christgau to be a smart and witty guy. He writes a lot of spot-on reviews, and more importantly, often makes me think about an album in a different and positive way. He also has a knack for explaining some particular piece of music taking into account the relevant zeitgeist.

    On the minus side, yeah, he hates almost all prog. I think about 20 years ago I read an essay of his where he said there was no point in him reviewing some albums because he's just gonna hate them. I don't think he mentioned prog specifically but I hope he stopped reviewing prog after that!

  4. #4
    I took some time and read a variety of the reviews on his site from the different decades. Obviously I won't agree with everything he says (who would?) but on the whole I think his reviews show consideration.

    I'd say he merits respect, prog dislike or not.
    Ephemeral Sun - because I gotta do something about these boxes of CDs in the basement: http://www.ephemeralsun.com

  5. #5
    Well, while I don't always agree with him (prog or not), he's seldom boring IMO. I'll read through his capsule reviews just because he can be pretty entertaining/interesting.

    He at least admitted that he just didn't care for prog as a genre, although I've seen him say some not-so-terrible things about proggy albums in the past.

    So yeah, I respect him even though I think he's way off the mark sometimes.

  6. #6
    I stopped reading his reviews decades ago. He's still alive?
    No matter what anyone says, you are the decider of how you will listen to music.

  7. #7
    As I've stated in here before, as a big fan of music and also a big reader about music, I like reading critiques of albums I know, and it doesn't necessarily matter to me all that much if I agree with the reviewer insofar as taste. I like Christgau's style and writing (and often even his taste; at least, within the confines of what it's limited to) but it's a relic from a different time. Christgau came up in an era when the music was more important to popular culture, and when print criticism really mattered.

    His reviews are short - if they can provide some small bit of insightful perspective or even just make me laugh, they did their job AFAIC.

    As far as Prog and Christgau - what's the point? He reviewed prog back when the original prog bands weren't considered prog bands, but part of rock music in general. Christgau didn't like the basic principles of what much progressive rock stood for, and I think his was a valid - if now very dated - perspective (not one that I ever agreed with, but a valid perspective nevertheless). At least give him credit for ultimately not bothering with things that he knew he'd have no chance of liking: he has not reviewed much of any progressive rock as far as I'm aware, since the 1970s.

    Christgau was far from alone in his general disdain for progressive rock, but as I've also said many times in here - that's a dated perspective that younger critics don't have. The notion of prog-influenced rock music being taboo is obsolete, and was limited principally to those critics who grew up on 1960s music and who experienced punk first-hand, as professional writers.

    In any event, if there are people out there who really hate Christgau, you can take heart that he has suffered quite a bit over the years. The market for paid rock and roll critics has shrunk to a number virtually at zero, and his CV since his termination at the Village Voice evidences a rather humbling career arc. He has written about it quite unabashedly, so you can go to his site and read it with glee, if you desire. I think it's pretty sad - not because I have any special affinity for him in particular, but because of what it means in the macro sense, as far as rock music and its place in popular culture, and where the advances in technology have left us, in that regard. They times, they a-changed.
    Last edited by Facelift; 12-02-2016 at 02:20 PM.

  8. #8
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    There's this one:

    Leftoverture [Kirshner, 1976]
    Q: How do you tell American art-rockers from their European forebears? A: They sound dumber, they don't play as fast, and their fatalism lacks conviction. The question of humor remains open: Impressed as I am with titles like "Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat" and Leftoverture itself, I find no parallels in the music. D+

  9. #9
    Highly Evolved Orangutan JKL2000's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Facelift View Post
    As I've stated in here before, as a big fan of music and also a big reader about music, I like reading critiques of albums I know, and it doesn't necessarily matter to me all that much if I agree with the reviewer insofar as taste. I like Christgau's style and writing (and often even his taste; at least, within the confines of what it's limited to) but it's a relic from a different time. Christgau came up in an era when the music was more important to popular culture, and when print criticism really mattered.

    His reviews are short - if they can provide some small bit of insightful perspective or even just make me laugh, they did their job AFAIC.

    As far as Prog and Christgau - what's the point? He reviewed prog back when the original prog bands weren't considered prog bands, but part of rock music in general. Christgau didn't like the basic principles of what much progressive rock stood for, and I think his was a valid - if now very dated - perspective (not one that I ever agreed with, but a valid perspective nevertheless). At least give him credit for ultimately not bothering with things that he knew he'd have no chance of liking: he has not reviewed much of any progressive rock as far as I'm aware, since the 1970s.

    Christgau was far from alone in his general disdain for progressive rock, but as I've also said many times in here - that's a dated perspective that younger critics don't have. The notion of prog-influenced rock music being taboo is obsolete, and was limited principally to those critics who grew up on 1960s music and who experienced punk first-hand, as professional writers.

    In any event, if there are people out there who really hate Christgau, you can take heart that he has suffered quite a bit over the years. The market for paid rock and roll critics has shrunk to a number virtually at zero, and his CV since his termination at the Village Voice evidences a rather humbling career arc. He has written about it quite unabashedly, so you can go to his site and read it with glee, if you desire. I think it's pretty sad - not because I have any special affinity for him in particular, but because of what it means in the macro sense, as far as rock music and its place in popular culture, and where the advances in technology have left us, in that regard. They times, they a-changed.
    Thanks for the info. Where on his site are the writings about his hardships?

  10. #10
    FWIW, he gave positive reviews to most of Henry Cow's albums and King Crimson's Red, and a few reviews of Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull where he seemed to be trying to like them.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by JKL2000 View Post
    Thanks for the info. Where on his site are the writings about his hardships?
    He documents the events of his later life throughout the various articles he has written. He was somewhat politically active in the past election and there are articles about that, too.

    He's now an old man who lives in a partially-subsidized NYC apartment, writing a blog. Being the "dean of American rock music critics" brought neither riches nor significant fame. You get the idea that he keeps listening to music and writing about it because it's the only thing he's ever done.

    You wonder what his audience was, since the 1990s. It was around that time that he lost touch with a lot of the music's newer developments, (losing the younger readers, I would imagine) yet his tastes were eclectic well beyond most in his age bracket. This only became more stark as the 2000s rolled in.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Facelift View Post
    You wonder what his audience was, since the 1990s. It was around that time that he lost touch with a lot of the music's newer developments, (losing the younger readers, I would imagine) yet his tastes were eclectic well beyond most in his age bracket. This only became more stark as the 2000s rolled in.


    right around here:

    ep03b.jpg
    2trevorsforlife

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by helix View Post
    right around here:

    ep03b.jpg

    Not really relevant to my point, since that was in the early '80s.

  14. #14
    Always been against Zappa too...

    Frank Zappa/Mothers: Roxy and Elsewhere [DiscReet, 1974]
    You can actually hear Zappa thinking on "More Trouble Every Day," and "Son of Orange County" is an uncommonly understated Nixon tribute. The rest is the usual eccentric clichés, replete with meters and voicings and key changes that are as hard to play as they are easy to forget. C+


    https://www.robertchristgau.com/get_artist2.php?id=4153

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Sterbus View Post
    Always been against Zappa too...

    Frank Zappa/Mothers: Roxy and Elsewhere [DiscReet, 1974]
    You can actually hear Zappa thinking on "More Trouble Every Day," and "Son of Orange County" is an uncommonly understated Nixon tribute. The rest is the usual eccentric clichés, replete with meters and voicings and key changes that are as hard to play as they are easy to forget. C+


    https://www.robertchristgau.com/get_artist2.php?id=4153
    Mostly, but he did give WOIIFTM an A.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Facelift View Post
    Not really relevant to my point, since that was in the early '80s.



    and he was a fan, yes


    but I wasn't CHALLENGING YOU OK MAN



    christ lol
    2trevorsforlife

  17. #17
    I did not know about his troubles, although it makes sense - the journalistic profession (and industry) is disappearing... Art criticism has been specially hard hit - and I am sorry that he is going thru that - he is sharing the plight of many art and music critics.... Just imagine what Classical Music critics are going thru!

    So I am not happy about that and I feel for him. This is a whole different subject - I am definitely on Christgau's side on that one...

    My post is all about his writing and opinions - I think is fair to discuss them, disagree and even ridicule them! - after all it took prog to do a Lazarus to recover from the damage Christgau's (and Lester Bang's and others) writing did to our beloved genre...


    v
    Last edited by vmartell; 12-02-2016 at 03:47 PM. Reason: typo

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by helix View Post
    and he was a fan, yes


    but I wasn't CHALLENGING YOU OK MAN



    christ lol
    I didn't take it as a challenge, but you used a query I made in one post as the pretext for posting what you did. Naturally, I looked for the connection, but didn't find any.

    Anyway - yeah - Christgau was so "known" at one point that actual name-brand musicians were taking him on in song. Little chance of that happening these days, when "dean of rock music criticism" means about as much as "master chimney sweep."

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Facelift View Post
    I didn't take it as a challenge, but you used a query I made in one post as the pretext for posting what you did. Naturally, I looked for the connection, but didn't find any.

    Anyway - yeah - Christgau was so "known" at one point that actual name-brand musicians were taking him on in song. Little chance of that happening these days, when "dean of rock music criticism" means about as much as "master chimney sweep."


    Kill Yr Idols indeed



    . . . .



    anyway, I like your earlier points with regards to rock journalism and rock culture: it just really does not matter anymore and basically to no one. for better or worse I suppose. the good in depth actual writing (about the actual music) will rise up and the snarky negative for negative's sake reactionary stuff has faded.



    now, if we tilt our necks over to read and witness hip-hop's in real time review and documentation, that's another story: much material is of the moment and does reflect some zeitgeist


    rock, not so much


    earlier today I read Rolling Stone's 4.5 out of 5 stars review of the 'new blues album' earlier today. I mean . . . come on man.
    2trevorsforlife

  20. #20
    I always liked the crack about the first UK album, where he said that it demonstrated that "rocking out in 9/8 isn't particularly difficult or impressive, it is in fact completely impossible".

    There was a review of one of the Yes albums, where he said he preferred Yes over ELP, but eventually even Yes wore out their welcome with him.

    But I think the last word in funny record critic style commentary is a book called The 100 Worst Rock And Roll Albums Of All Time. There's 50 singles (including one by Phil Collins) and 50 albums (including records from Roger Waters, Yes, ABWH, ELP, Queen, Chicago, Lou Reed, the Grateful Dead, and the Starland Vocal Band). There's also various side lists, like "Worst Elvis compilations", "Sibling banality" (a list of musicians, such as Simon Townshend, Chris Jagger, and Mike McCartney, who demonstrated that they weren't as talented as their more famous siblings), and also a list of bands who "should have stopped while they were ahead".

    There's a lot of great bon mots in that book. An Elvis record called Elvis Sings For Children (And Grown Ups, Too) is described as "and satisfies neither". An Elvis best of called Hits From The Movies is dismissed as "What hits?!". The commentary on Chicago At Carnegie Hall notes that they began their career with three consecutive double LP's, noting, "From day one, they didn't know when to shut up". There's a great bit about Jon Anderson "singing about birds and mountains. At least the birds could fly away. The mountains weren't so fortunate. They had to stay and listen to Jon sing". And the book also brought to my attention the existence of a record called Having Fun Onstage With Elvis, which contains no actual music, just Elvis demonstrating that he's a better singer than stand up comedian (it consists entirely of bits of him talking between the songs in concert, during the early 70's).

    I mean, if you've got a sense of humor, this is a hilarious book. And it's hard to argue with anyone who cites My Ding-A-Ling as the worst single of all time.

  21. #21
    Christgau is a douche bag. Smells like vinegar and worth nothing more than a quick flush.
    "And your little sister's immaculate virginity wings away on the bony shoulders of a young horse named George who stole surreptitiously into her geography revision."

    Occasional musical musings on https://darkelffile.blogspot.com/

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarGeek View Post
    .... it's hard to argue with anyone who cites My Ding-A-Ling as the worst single of all time.
    And one of the saddest: Chuck Berry is one of the guys who invented rock 'n roll, yet what was his biggest hit? A 1952 novelty song turned boys' summer-camp singalong.

  23. #23
    Member Digital_Man's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JKL2000 View Post
    The dick of American rock critics. I haven't read the reviews some people here seem to think are witty or apropos, only the very snide ones that, yeah, make it seem like he was the worst person to review the album

    "I hate beef, so I'm going to review this steakhouse."
    I agree. Although it is possible to be critical of something you like and are a fan of why would you want to criticize or write a review about something you are not a fan of and know you are not going to like. That makes no sense to me. It would be like Michael Jordan playing a serious game of basketball against a third grader. Why bother?

  24. #24
    Always hated him. Always wondered why a writer with an obvious creative flair for the written word would condemn prog bands for essentially doing the same thing. To he and most rock critics, music that dared to look beyond the basic black / white / grey on the palette of rock and roll and offer purple, orange and green - it was unacceptable.

    Having said that, I will give him credit for one of the funniest reviews of I've ever read. For one of the Motley Crue albums, his review was three words, "Utter dog shit."

    Who could forget the review he gave for the GTR album, "SHT"

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by EricProg827 View Post

    Who could forget the review he gave for the GTR album, "SHT"
    That was J.D. Considine.

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