Browsing in the music section of a since defunct superstore called BookStop (the logo was an actual stop sign) in the fall of 1992, I found a canary yellow paperback by one Robert Christgau, a collection of reviews the author published in the eighties. I flipped to the entries on two of my beacons, Peter Gabriel and Crowded House. “Dismayed” is an understatement. On Gabriel’s So:
Gabriel’s so smart he knows rhythm is what makes music go, which relieves him of humdrum melodic responsibilities but doesn’t get him up on the one–smart guys do go for texture in a pinch. Like his smart predecessor James Taylor, who used to climax concerts with the clever macho parody “Steamroller,” this supporter of good causes reaches the masses with “Sledgehammer,” which is no parody. Where is “Biko” now that we need it more than ever?
On Crowded House’s eponymous record:
Art-pop is like the dB’s and XTC, when a fascination with craft spirals up and in until it turns into an aestheticist obsession. Split Enz was an art-rock band gone pop–sillier, crasser, more full of itself–and Neil Finn’s California-based trio dispenses only with the silly. Hooks you can buy anywhere these days, and for directness you might as well apply straight to Bruce Hornsby–beyond the occasional hint of guitar anarchy, this is product for sure
I quote these in full because I want to stress the impact these coiled, sinister sentences: the mixture of aphorisms (“rhythm is what makes music go”), the disgusted aside (“hooks you can buy anywhere these days”), packed allusion. I was only slightly aware of the overwhelmingly positive responses to these two albums in 1986. Offended, puzzled, fascinated — my responses evolved quickly. Reading him I sensed a kindred spirit. He had mastered a tone. To his endorsements of the Go-Betweens, the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work, Luna, John Prine, and De La Soul I owe a great deal. So did this typically understated, unspoken lesson: don’t be afraid to explain why a work morally offends you; it doesn’t mean you’re to the right of Ralph Reed. Above all his Consumer Guide columns are fucking entertaining as hell.