Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Music Critic Profile: Robert Christgau

Remember that scene in This Is Spinal Tap where Marty DeBergi is reading off all of the terrible reviews Spinal Tap have accumulated over the years? And he reads off the review of their album Shark Sandwich - "This one's a two-word review: 'Shit sandwich'"? And the band gets all upset and says "Is that real? You can't print that!" If I didn't know any better I would say that was a little dig at Robert Christgau, so-called "Dean of Rock Critics."

Now, I've been a little hesitant to profile Mr. Christgau, and there's a simple reason for it: I don't like the guy very much. He's kind of a prick. You know the aforementioned "Dean of Rock Critics" bullshit title? Yeah, I'm pretty sure he came up with that himself (I mean, jeez, not even Michael Jackson had the gumption to call himself the "King of Pop" - Liz Taylor did that for him). His short, stylized "capsule reviews" are loaded with abstract verse and often impenetrable language, giving the guy an unflappable air of pretension. I'm not sure who chooses what artist he reviews - it's either the magazine he writes for or himself, and I'm guessing the latter - but reading his reviews I always get the impression that he is impossibly above the subject he is reviewing, a lousy trait for any good critic. It gets the the point where he will review certain artists he doesn't like in a wholly dismissive manner, giving them a "shit sandwich" kind of review or simply labeling them as a "dud" and moving on with his life, as if said artist isn't worth his valuable time. Maybe he's earned it - considering that he was part of the first wave of rock critics back in the 60s, and he's still reviewing albums constantly, I guess he deserves to be finicky about what music he writes about. But the fact that the guy is a veteran rock critic doesn't wash the taste of asshole out of my mouth.

So why profile him? Well, 'cuz I read Christgau's stuff all the time. Head on over to RobertChristgau.com and you'll find tons of his reviews from Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, Blender, and many other sources, not to mention his Consumer Guide capsule reviews that are his trademark. I'm not sure why, but I get a real kick out of reading Christgau's reviews when I'm bored. It's like a game for me - I'll think of any given band and wonder, "Hey, I wonder what Christgau thinks of the Arcade Fire?" I type "Arcade Fire" into the Consumer Guide search, and voila, there's the review! (Note: He likes the Arcade Fire.) Man, that's something I need - a quick hit of terse, over-worded cynicism to get my brain boiling. I hate to use the cliche Forrest Gump analogy, but with Christgau, you never know what he's going to think about a band, and for whatever reason I'm always curious to know.

Now, what I have found out in the year-and-a-half or so of reading Mr. Christgau's reviews is that I tend to not agree with him most of the time. In fact, he tends to be completely flippant about bands I really like, not to mention somewhat douchey about albums I really really like. That alone isn't enough to really bother me - everyboy's entitled to their opinion - but it's just the way he does it that gets me. Maybe it's related to his "grading" system - rather than a five-star or out-of-ten gauge that most reviewers use, he uses an A plus-to-E minus system that just makes his personality all the more insufferable. Maybe that's his schtick or something; he's the "Dean" of rock critics so he has to grade artists academically, like a schoolmarm. Whatever his intentions, the whole grading business makes it seem like Christgau views pop albums like term papers in Chemistry class, which doesn't help his "douche" image. You know, I would wager that Robert Christgau is the definitive archetype of the Hated Rock Critic that so many people have decried over the years - condescending, hyper-literate, and often disrespectful, he might be the sole reason that most rock bands (and worse, rock fans) hate rock critics. So in a way he's ruining it for the rest of us who, you know, would prefer not to be treated like pompous douches.

OK, maybe I'm trailing off into a tangent of hate here. As I said, I read Christgau a lot, and to be honest I do not think he is a bad writer, not by a long shot. He's obviously a very smart human being. It would also be pretty hypocritical of me to get angry at him over dismissing bands he doesn't care about - I do it all the time. And once in a while I will find a review page on his site that I very much enjoy. Admittedly, they tend to be ones I agree with: I love his pages on Pavement and the Ramones, and I will give credit to Christgau for writing what I consider to be the best review of Sgt. Pepper's I've ever read. He also does, at times, turn me on to unusual albums I'd never considered hearing, like the Beach Boys' Wild Honey or the Talking Heads' Little Creatures. He also has a decent knack for championing great artists before anyone else does, like Prince or the Replacements. There are also some hilarious reviews here that only further Christgau's classic asshole image, most notably on his Sonic Youth page in which he gives a bad review to "Kill Yr. Idols," a song that openly called out Christgau by name. (Yes, Robert Christgau is so douchey that Sonic Youth wrote a song about it. Need I say any more?)

Now, something Mr. Christgau can totally 100% be proud of is the annual Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, a poll he organized and ran for a solid three decades until he was dismissed from the magazine a couple years back. Over the years, prominent music critics have submitted their choices for the best albums / singles of the year, going as far back as 1971. Looking through these polls, it's honestly a treasure trove - there are so many interesting choices and obscure favorites buried in these lists, it's like manna from heaven for any obsessive popular music historian. There's also tons of weird, unexpected winners here that are so trivial and wonderful I can't resist looking for more. Guess who won Best Album of 1992? Nope, not Pavement - Arrested Development! Best Album of 1994? Nope, not Pavement - Hole! Guess who won in '99? PAVEMENT! (Okay, no, it was Moby. My bad. But seriously, Moby??) And hey, how 'bout the whacked-out year that Bob Dylan won Best Album and Hanson won Best Single? Or the even more whacked-out year that Bob Dylan won Best Album and Missy Elliot won Best Single?. Man, I love this stuff! Even if you don't like Christgau all that much, you should probably check out this list. It's a hoot!

When I think about it, maybe it's silly for me to get pissed at Christgau. The guy's in his 60's now, and his relevance is dwindling by the year - not only does he not run Pazz & Jop anymore after his aforementioned dismissal from the Village Voice, but he's working for Blender now. Bleh. But nevertheless, his website is an essential archive for any rock fan, and he'll always be a definitive figure in rock music journalism, for better or for worse. He'll never be any Lester Bangs, even if he wants to be, but he is an influential force. After four decades of writing, I guess that's worth something.

130 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank god! I feel exactly the same about this (often) god awful critic. I read his reviews that rubbish my favourite bands e.g. Radiohead, Interpol, (thankfully the Beatles are untouchable) and not only does he seriously piss me off, he makes me start to think he might just be right. I don't want to listen to the latest Bravery album and feel guilty, I just want to hear it and decide whether I like it. So why do I keep going back for more? Not only because I think he might be right, but I almost seek his approval! I want him to praise the Arctic Monkeys, LCD Soundsystem, and rubbish Lil Wayne (I don't hate Rap btw) and why? I don't even know this guy, it's just that he's so infuriating and thought-provoking I can't help wanting to either completely disagree with him, in order that I may simply find him laughable, or have him prove my musical tastes are reasonable. ARGH!

Costanza said...

That last commenter started off hating the guy, and then decided his reviews were too accurate to not only not dismiss in any shape or form, but to rid of in any shape or form. Maybe you don't like Christgau because, when what he is saying is true and it turns you off your once favourite bands, you are forced to conform to his logic. Which, by the way, isn't necessarily his logic; if music can be analyzed like any art form can, there are occasions where there is little room for subjective counter-arguments. Sure you can enjoy music, that's the whole point, but if you read a review that explains why Radiohead suck, it tends get in the way of your cushy approach to music in general. It might sting for a while, but you'll get over it. C'mon and join the club!

Anonymous said...

You listen to Radiohead and the experience of that music eventually makes you say, "I like this." You read Christgau enough and maybe your brain says, "I like this." If the reasons your brain likes Radiohead or hates Christgau trouble you, then fire your brain. Its the only one you have. If you enjoy what you encounter, then do so until you have reason or rhyme not to. Christgau is a "critic." Radiohead are musicians. Enough said?

Anonymous said...

Or how about investigating criticism? Does it not assist critical sensitivity?

Anonymous said...

I realy realy realy don't like the self proclaimed Dean of Rock Critics, because even I can do review like this:
Author XY - :-(
If he hates some albums(most of my favourites), I want to know why.
And also when I read his reviews, it's like: wtf? this is supposed to be review or reaction of 10years old kid
Cool blog, greetings from Prague

Anonymous said...

The self-proclaimed thing was a joke that caught on. Then he stuck with it - he thinks it's funny, especially if you get angry over it. Read some longer pieces, because the consumer guide reviews are for the initiated - the articles display his insight and humanity in an extensive and expansive form.

JapanAlex said...

Ok well i cant be bothered to read the other comments but although you have writen this in a coherent fashion its pretty obvious you are just an idiot! lol i mean yeah it is always hard to understand someone elses word - what an idiot does is flap it away as pretencious or ridiculous - and an intelligent person admits defeat but keeps interest until her or she understands that persons word!! :S i understand your point of view but i have to side with mr.xgau here as he has an impecible rating system!! i mean he is spot on with every single rating - the reason you dont agree is because you do not have a matured taste in music!! you should try listening to albums he has rated and compare the different ratings!! surely youre not THAT much of an idiot not to understand??! i mean - ok :/ *FUCK! lol :p - take for example ghostface killah's fishscale - it is an obvious masterpiece - then take ghostface's album more fish - an album with some great songs but no where near a masterpiece!! just some great catchy beats and some good flows (rapping :p) that is pretty fucking enjoyable but not perfect...! i mean, honestly im sorry, but you have to be a fucking retard not to get that!!

lol and FUCK radiohead!! overrated tripe!! :/

remember!! :p idiots get angry - intelligent people try to understand!!... x

JapanAlex said...

he*

JapanAlex said...

AAHAHAHAH!! AAHAHAHAH!! after remembering what you said about christgau being pissed off when sonic youth used his name in one of their earlier albums i went to youtube to listen to it and no fucking wonder he didnt like his name being used!! :p it was fucking terrible!! lol :p he called them bozos and thats exactly what came to mind..! x

Hugo said...

He hasn't given the Smiths anything higher than a B. What a cunt.

Paul said...

It's rather funny how a couple of twits like our dear old JapanAlex below act like petty bitches for so-called Mr Xgau, blindly agreeing with every single piece of crap that old cunt writes - even when he does not write anything whatsoever! ("i'm gonna 'dud' this album for i'm too important a critic to care about those guys"). So according to cunts like japanalex, Radiohead do not "suck" because they actually think so, but only because your highness Mr X-effin'-Gau says so. And they still have the gall to come up with this "you still haven't matured musically to get it" thing. Who the fuck are you to say whether or not i am musically mature?
You're pathetic.

Sean Rose said...

Oh wow! I haven't even looked at this old page for like a year and people are STILL arguing about the merits of Mr Xgau. Truly astonishing.

I honestly have no idea what to say, other than I REALLY should have set-up email notifications for new blog comments a long time ago so I could have kept up with this ongoing debate.

Only thing I have to say: JapanAlex, I have no idea what you are referring to when you say "mature music tastes." I don't think that sort of thing even exists.

JapanAlex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JapanAlex said...

Ok..! :p First of all the Smiths DO suck! and second of all everybody knows - deep down - that Radiohead suck! they are depressing and (apart from the guitar work) have abysmal talent in comparison to their ratings..! I do not blindly agree with everything he says but he is the only music critic I can trust as he has a good sense in music - everything he says about a band i understand - it may have not occurred to me before - or even I could write a few words to say in his place - but I feel like me and mr Cristgau have come to a point in our lives where we have very similar tastes in music - the only.. tastes in music - and further more! I'm tiiired of being surrounded by a bunch of fucking mindless idiots!! I'm fucking tiiired!! People trying to fucking rate somthing with no idea what fucking music ability is!! :{

Lol oh and I'MM pathetic..?! I think YOU'RE the one whos pathetic if you actually enjoy Radiohead! GOOD DAY!! ...

I think what you guys don't understand is that Robert Christgau is a normal guy!! Just writing what he thinks and is not in any way shape or form trying to spin it or turn it into FUCKING CRYPTIC or whatever stupid shit you said! :p It's just you that's putting that into it! And if you can't see that then yeah you probably are a teenager or just an idiot! ..

Adam said...

"but I feel like me and mr Cristgau have come to a point in our lives where we have very similar tastes in music - the only.. tastes in music"

Aww, that's so sweet, Alex! I'm so happy that you and Mr. "Cristgau" have come that far in your relationship, and I'm sure he feels the same way about you. Cheers, and here's to a beautiful life together! GOOD DAY!!

JapanAlex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JapanAlex said...

Wow an idiot AND no sense of humour!! :S :/ THAT's worrying!! @.@

a very interesting article I came across (well - it's the first one i stumbled across in google! :p) - http://www.somethingawful.com/d/your-band-sucks/radiohead-sucks.php

"I’m not condescending to you. I’m smarter than you. There’s a difference."

From Robert Christgau himself - "Needless to say, whether you care how I rate something is up to you. But let me suggest some possible reasons. The Consumer Guide has lasted so long because many people do find it useful--record buyers who learn to correct for my taste and exploit my judgment, critics and the like who find that I generally stuff a lot of ideas and observations into these little reviews, and members of both classes who know that at the very least I'm so hype-resistant that my opinions are actually my opinions without being willfully idiosyncratic."

I'll shutup now...! :(

Sean Rose said...

1) Linking to an article about Radiohead sucking isn't going to convince anybody.

2) Linking to a JOKE article by Dr. David Thorpe about Radiohead sucking, written specifically to piss off Radiohead fans, is just gonna work AGAINST you.

Whatever point you're trying to make, I would quit while you're ahead.

JapanAlex said...

a JOOOOKE article??! :p theres no point other than i am surrounded by a bunch of idiots!! im having so much fun with this article!! :3

Sean Rose said...

They're satirical articles. Check the archives out - there's another article where he praises Avril Lavigne for being a "real punk."

I guess you're not too familiar with Something Awful.

JapanAlex said...

OH DEAR GOD! - the website is FULL of different things - you fucking cuntface!! :p :( *shakes head Jesus the internet really DOES make people more stupider...! :p

Sean Rose said...

Yeah, alright, this isn't even much of a debate anymore so I'm going to go ahead and stop posting here. Can't dwell in the past!

JapanAlex, I am not sure what would make you so angry, but have a nice life!

JapanAlex said...

I just havent had a good old internet arguement in a while..! :/ :p

Anonymous said...

Just happened to come across this article by chance. Have been reading some of 'JapanAlex's' comments, and it seems to me that you crave the approval of xgau. Xgau has done some of the most ridculous reviews i have ever seen. He rated OK Computer a B, he also never had time for the Velvet underground and as someone has pointed out, The Smiths, who are fucking incredible. JapanAlex claims to be intelligent, but when in debate, calling another person stupid is the lowest form of argument. O and btw Radiohead as fucking amazing, you may not like them, but to claim they have no talent is simply not true.

simon_669 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
simon_669 said...

radiohead are*

Anonymous said...

Christgau represents the worst of rock and pop criticism. He displays blatant biases and provides no objective supporting criteria to back up his insults. He hates metal, progressive rock, bluegrass...etc and expects that his word be treated as musical law. He's a rude, insulting, pretentious rock critic elitist who thinks he's god's gift to rock music and cultural criticism. The man knows nothing of music and has no place writing about it. He is merely a failed fiction writer with a small vocabulary and large ego to boot. This man is truly the definition of failure

JapanAlex said...

Robert Christgau is not rude - he just knows what good music is!! :p *rolls eyes jesus christ you guys are idiots! :(

Idiot is not a low form of speaking [it's what you are - haha] - now who is being pretentious? :p

Thom Yorke is a pretentious arsehole - who has a fucking irritating voice

you people are arguing that i dont agree Radiohead are a good band but you like them because you are told to...? :S *raises eyebrows

He likes The Velvet Underground - he gave them A's consistently! :p *stares

i know i should just get over idiocy such as this and I have but this so much fun! :p *chuckles

oh and btw [the post is right next to me] he did like one of the Artic Monkeys albums..! - the good one! :p thats what I think most of you morons aren't processing - the fact that he rates good things not what he thinks is cool <- cool is an internet arguement in itself *leans on hand & sighs

JapanAlex said...

Facts...

1. He is not "self-proclaimed" Dean of rock critics - it was an affectionate nickname.

2. He rates things on musically goodness NOT on how cool it is/artistic it is.

3. He rates with logic and rhythm NOT the way he feels about it...! *rolls eyes >:-(

4. He's more intelligent than you - get over it.

5. I am gay for him. :p

JapanAlex said...

Also - The Smiths are overrated...!

Anonymous said...

It's not about whether you agree with the critic tastes or not. It's about whether the critic can back up his like or dislike.

Christgau never does this. His reviews are filled with referential crap that you can only understand by LISTENING TO THE ALBUM HE'S REVIEWING.

Yeah, that makes sense, right? Especially before music downloading came into being, it would have made real sense to expect the reader to buy the album prior to reading a review of it. I hate Robert Christgau. He's an asshole through and through.

To make things worse, he sometimes bashes an album simply because he has different political/social views from the band. Seriously, the guy is a hack.

JapanAlex said...

lol you obviosuly read Pitchfork..! *shrugs and shudders :p

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this article to the last word (and the first anonymous comment).
He can be really very ignorant.

BadEmu said...

Where to start with this douchebag? (And if other people give you the title "Dean of..." anything, you're almost certainly some species of douche, but if you crown yourself, you are an Ur-Douchbag.)

He's not "hyper-literate." "Language is used to communicate, not obfuscate." That's a direct quote from a teacher on a paper I wrote while making heavy use of the thesaurus. In high school. And yes, it really, really sucked, and the purpose was to try and demonstrate like some sort of trained monkey that I was smart and could write. "Look at me!" it said pathetically.

That was some time ago, and I've moved on, but what if someone else hadn't, and in fact made an entire career out of that sort of thing? Hmmm. All the more damning since it's clear he's not an idiot, and could choose to be something other than an utter, utter douchebag. Look at the picture on his wikipedia page, and if you don't have a strong urge to pummel, you're probably under the influence of something, and I wish you'd share it.

Chris said...

A few choice reviews of Mr. Christgau:

In the Court of the Crimson King [Atlantic, 1969]
The plus is because Peter Townshend likes it. This can also be said of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. Beware the forthcoming hype--this is ersatz ****. D+

The Wall [Columbia, 1979]
For a dumb tribulations-of-a-rock-star epic, this isn't bad--unlikely to arouse much pity or envy, anyway. The music is all right, too--kitschy minimal maximalism with sound effects and speech fragments. But the story is confused, "mother" and "modern life" make unconvincing villains, and if the recontextualization of "up against the wall" is intended ironically, I don't get it. B-

The Wall [Columbia, 1979]
For a dumb tribulations-of-a-rock-star epic, this isn't bad--unlikely to arouse much pity or envy, anyway. The music is all right, too--kitschy minimal maximalism with sound effects and speech fragments. But the story is confused, "mother" and "modern life" make unconvincing villains, and if the recontextualization of "up against the wall" is intended ironically, I don't get it. B-

Soulja Boy: Souljaboytellem.com [ColliPark Music/Interscope, 2007]
Boy do the haters get busy on this 16-year-old. But scrutinize the "superman" matter (look it up) and you'll see that even if he thought he was sneaking something outlandishly filthy onto a pop record, his fans thought he was inventing a dance that involved flying, thus furthering the presumption of innocence so crucial to his cute. Unlike his crunk forebears, he's not into pimping or dealing or even strip clubs--"Booty Meat" is as explicit as his carnality gets, and not only is he looking not touching, he's hoping an amateur will "turn around just like a pro." He's still boy enough to worry about those F's, and the most winning of his many winning songs was written to, and on, his Sidekick 3. There are enough sonic strokes here to keep the wrong bizzer in ringtone rappers for a year. But Soulja Boy's spiritual secret is that with less subcultural support than, say, Be Your Own Pet, he's reached the top of his world on a few tips from ex-partner Young Kwon and the loyalty of human sidekick Arab. You can hear how tickled he is about it. A-

That's right, he likes Soulja Boy more than the Wall. Your respect for him. Where did it go?

JapanAlex said...

How is he confusing anyone with the language he uses?? Is it because you have a hard time reading it?? Then read slower with your dick in your hand lol :p

Pink Floyd are not that good. end of. pretty much every band which has been raised to a pedistal by moronic critics are shit/not that good and i find it hillarious that just because theres ONE man who disagrees with your pathetic attempt to fit in by pure laziness you throw a childish fit and the fact that hes smarter than you and right (even though you hate to admit it) makes him even more of a target for your stupid trolling bs and penis envy.

JapanAlex said...

oh and btw an A- has different levels of goodness - as you can see in his fav albums of the 00's - lil wayne tha carter III is above Brian Wilsons Smile which is an A+

Soulja boy is nowhere to be seen catch my drift?? :S :p

obviously not *rolls eyes and Im sure mentioning lil wayne will get you morons shitting all over yourselves again lol :p but hes good and you know that but hes not as bad as radiohead so how can he be good? :p lol

Anonymous said...

http://rateyourmusic.com/charts/bottom/album/all-time

Anonymous said...

Yeah he is a twat. Its almost like his blindly chooses a rating out of a hat. He conforms to popular demand - for example any led zeppelin fan will tell you that albums I and II are better than IV (in terms of innovation etc) but he scores IV higher. Furthermore, anyone who gives C- to black Sabbath's 1970 albums is an idiot (remember this was before ozzy was drugged up to fuck) – he was just a Beatles lover who couldn’t deal with hard stuff.

Ian Iachimoe said...

JapanAlex you are a fucking douche

also if further proof is needed that Christgau's judgements are highly questionable at times, how about this:

The Stone Roses [Silvertone, 1989]
These Britindie pheenoms are overhyped for sure, so there's a temptation to blow them off. What do they do that the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield weren't doing better in 1967? And that a hundred Amerindie bands don't do just as well now? But they aren't all press clips--they're postmodern English, filtering folk-rock romanticism through Joy Division and Jesus and Mary Chain hyperromanticism. Though they have their moments as songwriters--"Bye Bye Badman" always stops me, and "I Want To Be Adored" sums them up--their music is about sound, fingers lingering over the strings and so forth. And in the end they're surprisingly "eclectic." Not all that good at it, but eclectic. B-

In his defense he does love the Libs and the Clash

Anonymous said...

Do not feed the troll people.

I find Christgau to be a highly irritating critic: too flippant and much too clever to make a clear point. He's more concerned with his writing than the music he's supposedly reviewing. That and I disagree with him about 50% of the time. How can anyone say the Smiths suck? Johnny Mar is brilliant and Morrisey, while not the best melodicist is one hell of a story teller. Maybe Christgau just misses the humor?

Anonymous said...

Oh hell, JapanAlex - you're a pretentious ass. Have you noticed that in this entire comment war that you have not shown any reason for your like of him and you have senselessly insulted those who disagree with him and you? In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that you are Christgau himself.

Alex said...

The only reason I was writing here is because you are all from this generational canon created by teens of the late 90's to now who think Radiohead are the best band in the world and Animal Collective made the best album last year. You don't have a system by which to rate something by. I wouldn't blame you for it but you listen to this moronis critics who praise Radiohead etc and listen to them just because they are popular. Your opinion of whether they are good or not is decided, heavily, by how popular they are and not by if they are enjoyable. And then you have the embarrassing audacity to go onto the net and laud them. That's why I comment here. I have no distaste for people who choose what they like and listen to it but to this generation of hipsters who are lowering everyone's standards. I doubt Christgau himself would comment here, even if he could find it (inside joke), even I am sufficiently embarrassed by my own actions but I believe in the cause.

Adam said...

I think I have figured it out! JapanAlex and Robert Christgau are the same person! And they both think that The Backstreet Boys' debut album (A-) is as good as Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy (A-), only slightly worse than Led Zeppelin IV (one of the top selling albums of all time, which is probably the only reason he gave it an A), and better than every of their other albums!

At least he didn't fuck up his reviews of Hendrix, but I am assuming he only did that because he knew he would get murdered for that shit.

Plus, this guy gave an A to U2's "All That You Can't Leave Behind." Not to disparage U2, but seriously? Better than Band of Gypsy's? Better than Bob Dylan's Desire? Anyways, I could go on ALL DAY...To me he is just the typicall kiss up kick down wanker, but I will say his writing is entertaining.

Adam said...

By the way Robert, I mean Alex, the original demos of Smilefrom the Beach Boy's box set are way better than the new version that came out... I would never give that an A+.

Alex, by the way, why are you seriously still checking this blog dude? Maybe YOU need some new reading material! Let me guess, you're seventeen and are still getting a kick out of being contrarian with everybody, and can't wait to see the next person's reaction to your self-satisfied rant? Oh, sorry, I started talking about your alter-ego Robert Christgau again.

Adam said...

Oh, nobody is going to convince me of the lyrical genuis of Lil' Wayne.... I suppose if I were as old and douchey as Robert Christgau, and as catankerous and reactionary as his protege JapanAlex, and then drink 40oz of Nyquil and smoked as much weed, snorted as much blow and took as much ectasy as Lil Wayne, MAYBE I would give it a C.

Alex said...

Lol, Adam, you're right about one thing - I am dying to see what moronic thing is farted onto this page. Not because it's a normal persons opinion but because it's a hipsters opinion (which is always funny, if not just lame). He gave Led Zep IV an A?! OMG that means, it's good???! OMGGGG?! :S Lol wtf kind of shit is this?! :p DUH!!!!
The reason it is better is because they focus more on the melodies. Not noodling shit. I'm not Xgau - I'm sure he wouldn't post here(i know how embarrassing it is) - I have my own blog, which I'm surprised you hipster douche's haven't followed up? The only reason you want to knock his knock of U2 is because they aren't cool for your generation - you missed them - I'm sure if you were a bit older you would be crooning over them. U2 have always sucked - it doesn't take a genius to figure that out. Being in the studio so much (and being, technically, melody driven) it's no surprise they spewed out an average album at last. As for the beach boys - the new Smile is far better. Box sets are for dorks (inside joke cos you're a hipster). The reason you don't like Lil Wayne is an image thing, not an ability thing, so go suck a dick. Oh no wait - I'm sure you already have one lodged in your ass. How could write poorly of Hendrix? Hendrix was GOOD! :p Until you understand what music IS and what GOOD is you'll always be listening to poor music. And like that phrase "the best revenge is to live well". The same applies here. At least I'm listening to good music. I'll never post here again cos I've drained the kick, as you say, but I'll hold a special place in my heart for you. Lol :p

Frank said...

Japan Alex vs Robert Christagau

Inability to make coherent sentences because he's too busy showing off his dictionary fetish.
Japan Alex - check
Christagau - check

Replies that attack the people more than the subject
Japan Alex - check
Christagau - check

Inconsistency
Japan Alex - check
Christagau - check

Yes, surely the same people.

Sean Rose said...

you guys i appreciate the comments/discourse but you might want to calm down a little bit?

robert christgau is just an old man

Joseph Sykes said...

Who does this bastard think he is? His review for RHCP's Californication:

"New Age fuck fiends - *"

What the hell? If you don't like the record, I can understand that. Just have the respect to at least give them a review longer than four words. I'm sure there are better examples. This is just what I found.

sender said...

The best thing about Christgau is his obsession with morality. That's also the worst thing about Christgau.

The cons outweigh the pros.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I don't usually write or comment in blogs or whatsoever, but it's simple... There is no such thing as a formula for music, which is art...ok? music is art the same way that sculpture is art. It's the vision of the artist, it doesn't have a rule book, so, while you can comment on a piece of music, or an album, or whatever, you can't say "Oh, that's not right" or "Oh, that's perfect!". Art is fiction. Yo could even trash the Beatles if you wanted to. You could go on the street saying that Revolver sucks. But the only way you can acurately "rate" music is how it stimulates your senses, how much of the artist personality and wisdom and technical profiency is rewarding to your brain. It goes beyond something like a fuckin' rating system. And the only reason some things are universally applauded is because its message is strong enough to break the barriers of culture, language, age,... That's why I honestly think that there's no one in the world that doesn't like the Beatles' pop records, with their messages of love and affection, because they're simply to well crafted, in their simplistic nature. That said, to me, there's no merit in being any kind of critic, simply because everyone in the world is one. Just because Robert Christgau has listen to more records than I will ever want to hear means jack shit. it's actually quite sad. I love the fact that I can spend an entire day listening to the pure rock n roll explosion of Live at Leeds without having to be scrutinize every single aspect of it. It's beautiful just the way it is. It's angry, it's raw, it's sexual, makes me wanna start playing air drums or something. It's makes me feel something more than probably what Xgau considers a "good" album. I saw his list of the best records of all time to him, or something like that, where he put Rubber Soul. Which is great! It's a brilliant record! But i get a better kick out of hearing all the weird-psychedelic-rock stuff on Revolver, or the White Album, with all it's flaws and brilliancy. It's almost like people, to me. I rather be with some crazy, unpredictable girl, than with a stepford wife... So I would have no particular problem with Xgau... except for his fuckin' ego! And the way that rates radiohead with 2 and 3 stars and then say that they suck! Or his review of Sergeant Pepper: "Perhaps they're too precisely performed, but I'm not going to complain" -- What the fuck??? You DID complaint! You gave it an A!!! Is it soooo fuckin' precisely performed that with withdraws the +? I don't fuckin' get it. If the fuckin' record if so good, why not A+??? And I fuckin' hate him for calling Jeff Buckley an asshole!! I mean, why the fuck? You can give bad reviews all you want, but calling someone an asshole, without knowing him, or without a reason! I don't get it, again...
Concluding (I think) I just don't like Xgau because he goes a bit too far up his own ass... At least Lester Bangs did write quite extense argument texts about the records he was reviewing. And had a better sense of humor. And was a better writer.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I don't usually write or comment in blogs or whatsoever, but it's simple... There is no such thing as a formula for music, which is art...ok? music is art the same way that sculpture is art. It's the vision of the artist, it doesn't have a rule book, so, while you can comment on a piece of music, or an album, or whatever, you can't say "Oh, that's not right" or "Oh, that's perfect!". Art is fiction. Yo could even trash the Beatles if you wanted to. You could go on the street saying that Revolver sucks. But the only way you can acurately "rate" music is how it stimulates your senses, how much of the artist personality and wisdom and technical profiency is rewarding to your brain. It goes beyond something like a fuckin' rating system. And the only reason some things are universally applauded is because its message is strong enough to break the barriers of culture, language, age,... That's why I honestly think that there's no one in the world that doesn't like the Beatles' pop records, with their messages of love and affection, because they're simply to well crafted, in their simplistic nature. That said, to me, there's no merit in being any kind of critic, simply because everyone in the world is one. Just because Robert Christgau has listen to more records than I will ever want to hear means jack shit. it's actually quite sad. I love the fact that I can spend an entire day listening to the pure rock n roll explosion of Live at Leeds without having to be scrutinize every single aspect of it. It's beautiful just the way it is. It's angry, it's raw, it's sexual, makes me wanna start playing air drums or something. It's makes me feel something more than probably what Xgau considers a "good" album. I saw his list of the best records of all time to him, or something like that, where he put Rubber Soul. Which is great! It's a brilliant record! But i get a better kick out of hearing all the weird-psychedelic-rock stuff on Revolver, or the White Album, with all it's flaws and brilliancy. It's almost like people, to me. I rather be with some crazy, unpredictable girl, than with a stepford wife... So I would have no particular problem with Xgau... except for his fuckin' ego! And the way that rates radiohead with 2 and 3 stars and then say that they suck! Or his review of Sergeant Pepper: "Perhaps they're too precisely performed, but I'm not going to complain" -- What the fuck??? You DID complaint! You gave it an A!!! Is it soooo fuckin' precisely performed that with withdraws the +? I don't fuckin' get it. If the fuckin' record if so good, why not A+??? And I fuckin' hate him for calling Jeff Buckley an asshole!! I mean, why the fuck? You can give bad reviews all you want, but calling someone an asshole, without knowing him, or without a reason! I don't get it, again...
Concluding (I think) I just don't like Xgau because he goes a bit too far up his own ass... At least Lester Bangs did write quite extense argument texts about the records he was reviewing. And had a better sense of humor. And was a better writer.

Shawn said...

People don't understand Christgau's reviews. And I don't mean because they aren't smart enough, but it's just that he rates things on a global scale. Compared to millions of records and every piece of music ever made. So yeah, bands like Black Sabbath might make your ears happy, but you have to see music as being about more than that if you're going to critique it. You have to consider how original it is (which a lot of reviewers just don't do) and who's better at telling how original music is than someone who we can all agree has listened to a ridiculous amount of music? Also rating systems suggest that all music is competing to be perfect. Numerically rating music suggests that it isn't art, that it is something measurable, when it really isn't. I don't like when people rate album with decimals, like 8.7/10 for example. How can you go into decimals? How can you say that one album is exactly 8.7/10? Could you say it is 8.76593/10 precisely? No. But you can grade it and say it is an A, because that is something flexible. Also, people think he hates everything he doesn't give an A, but really I have the same rating system and he inspires me to review music, and often times I'll review my own personal favourite albums and when I take a step back and stop playing air guitar to it, I can realize that maybe it isn't that original or unique, and often times I give records I really love weak B ratings and it doesnt change how much I like the record at all I can just tell the difference between how much I enjoy something and how good it is. It's like if you were a food critic and you ate at the most top of line restaraunts in the world, and then you have to rate a greasy McDonald's burger, and you would give it a low rating, though it might taste good to a lot of people.

Shawn said...

Basically, it's like this.
A music critic is much like a food critic, and if you were a top of line food critic like Christgau is a music critic, and you traveled the world tasting all these different types of food and go to all these gourmet restaurants, and then you go to McDonalds, and have a hamburger. It is probably going to get a poor rating, and might even be called a "shit sandwich" and be immediately dismissed. It's like that with music, just because I, personally would rate a cheeseburger higher than say caviar, doesn't mean that's the way it is. And that's the problem with reviewers these days, is that everyone goes for the cheeseburger and the cheap easy satisfying food, and when they hear Robert Christgau tell them, cheeseburgers are shitty they can't believe it. Do you think the food critic doesn't like cheeseburgers? Of course not, everyone does, but they just aren't as good as the truly high class stuff. i.e do you think Christgau doesn't enjoy the riff of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" as much as anyone? No, but he gave the album "Paranoid" a C-. Because he is mature enough, and musically smart enough to tell it just isn't that good, despite how much he must enjoy it, like a fancy rich person enjoys a cheeseburger occasionally. One last point, it'd be like you were watching porn and then you were like "awe hell yeah this is the shit 10/10" but then you take a step back and your like "actually really bad video quality and nothing original at all..." and you realize that it was painfully obvious all along how bad it was.
lol idk, Christgau is an awesome critic, though somewhat of an ass.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, there is no such thing as objectively good anything. Christgau's opinion of what "good" music is is no better than the person who thinks sticks hitting a trashcan is "good music."

There is no way to prove any of it. You either like a song or you don't. There is literally nothing to argue about. Christgau makes a living by fooling people into thinking that his opinions actually matter. And good for him if he is able to pull it off.

Anonymous said...

Well, yeah, that´s just what he's doing. Saying what he thinks (which anyone can do) and getting away with it... My only problem with that is that, besides all the attention and credit that he get, he also goes around acting like a fuckin asshole and insulting bands, and shit. I have no rpoblem with ppeople talking about me... but if someone talks shit for no reasn othr than they feel like, I'll fuck them up. I think that's what Xgau needs... a nice ass-kicking...

cgoods94 said...

Robert Christgau hates prog music. Prove me wrong using one of his reviews. :/

Idi 'Big Daddy' Amin said...

Here's an idea: Robert Christgau is to music criticism what Adolf Hitler was to moderate racial politics. Lester Bangs had more on the ball than that irrelevant old fuck has ever had.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I found this blog only after Googling "Robert Christgau idiot".

Personally I don't believe in critics much, they usually are smarmy nerds who have way too much to say, and most of the time you don't agree with them anyway.

This cretin really takes the cake however.

His reviews are simplistic and abrasive, obfuscated, condescending, narcissistic and just plain tiring to read.

He gets paid for this?

If his goal is to elicit reaction, he gets an "A". If his goal is to convey rational knowledge of music, he gets a "C".

Perhaps then that is why he is so famous, because people react so strongly to the tripe he writes.

Only in America can someone establish themselves as an "important music critic", get paid for it and gain a following such as he. I won't even bring up the the "Dean" moniker.

Plain & simple, be your own music critics and ignore this turd.

In summary, Robert Christgau's life's work is comparable to that of the sound of a mosquito buzzing around your ear while you lay in bed at night, trying to sleep.

Anonymous Critic

Anonymous said...

the fact I found this page by searching on google "robert christgau douchebag" cracked me up

p-e-s said...

The 'Dean' thing was a joke, probably to elicit the exact reactions it's eliciting here.

Harold Bloom mentioned something about critics being artists themselves. I wish I could say "I've noticed" but I hadn't until xgau. His CG is prose-poetry. At its worst it's dismissive without any explanation--as you'd expect when you review as much as he does. At its best it's Ishmael pondering life through music. Its so god damn dense and meaty, fit for constant re-reading.

Read him as art; remind yourself that he's one of the few who admits we have to try for the objective in art, even if it's an approximation of the objective in math; and think about his emphasis on studying pop, where too many seem to equate popularity with tripe.

I love reading xgau, before hearing an album, while hearing an album, and after internalizing an album.

Anonymous said...

I would really like to know why he hates Black Sabbath? Hugely influential pioneers of heavy metal. The highest he's given them is a c.

Anonymous said...

A few points:

Perhaps by his age Mr. Christgau should have found something better or more meaningful to do with himself than write about pop/rock/whatever records.

Unless you're an 'industry' type [shudder] pimping product to kids who fucking cares what some twat reviewer thinks?

If you like Radiohead that's great, enjoy; and let Christgau and his ilk bask in the glory of their own awesomeness.

Let's be honest, today the music critic is utterly irrelevant, the internet allows us to hear for ourselves and make our own minds up.

Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Im not sure what Christgau is like in person but in his reviews he comes over as a self important know all and nobody likes that. Also I disagree with most of his reviews,I find he tends to be quite dismissive and doesnt really give a valid reason why. Having said all that I guess in the end it comes down to personal preference.

Anonymous said...

Coastanza, you're as big an ignorant asshole as Christgau. You're entire approach to defending Christgau is predicated on the idea that there are bands that suck and there are bands that are great and these often comprise objective truths. These are OPIONIONS, not truths: that's why it's called criticism. So I don't know what you mean when you assert "when what he is saying is TRUE... it turns you off your once favorite bands... an your cushy approach to music in general." Besides, I'd venture to say that nobody has ever had his opinion changed about a piece of music due to a critical review: the very idea is rubbish. Films, yes; books, maybe. Music? Absolutely not. (“Forced to conform to his logic”? Get his throbbing johnson from out of your gullet.) For all their brevity, Christgau's reviews are rambling, abstruse, and incoherent: quite an achievement for a critic too important to write more than 20 words on any one album. In the field of film and TV criticism he has an equivalent in the person of Harlan Ellison, yet Ellison is intelligent and thought-provoking, both of which justify his tendency to be an arrogant asshole. The aggrandizing claims lauding Christgau for being thought-provoking are ludicrous. The guy is a fucking jizz-lobbing, cum-gargling cocksucker. And so are you.

dmacewen said...

Coastanza, you're as big an ignorant asshole as Christgau. You're entire approach to defending Christgau is predicated on the idea that there are bands that suck and there are bands that are great and these often comprise objective truths. These are OPIONIONS, not truths: that's why it's called criticism. So I don't know what you mean when you assert "when what he is saying is TRUE... it turns you off your once favorite bands... an your cushy approach to music in general." Besides, I'd venture to say that nobody has ever had his opinion changed about a piece of music due to a critical review: the very idea is rubbish. Films, yes; books, maybe. Music? Absolutely not. (“Forced to conform to his logic”? Get his throbbing johnson from out of your gullet.) For all their brevity, Christgau's reviews are rambling, abstruse, and incoherent: quite an achievement for a critic too important to write more than 20 words on any one album. In the field of film and TV criticism he has an equivalent in the person of Harlan Ellison, yet Ellison is intelligent and thought-provoking, both of which justify his tendency to be an arrogant asshole. The aggrandizing claims lauding Christgau for being thought-provoking are ludicrous. The guy is a fucking jizz-lobbing, cum-gargling cocksucker. And so are you.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ people think Christgau has a valid opinion about anything music related.

If you find yourself agreeing with Christgau on something music related, you're probably a piece of pleb filth. Deal with it.

dmacewen said...

Anyone can have a valid “opinion.” Valid opinions in themselves don’t guarantee worthwhile criticism. It isn’t Christgau’s “opinions” that make him such an asshole: it is the fact that his criticism is nothing more than a masturbatory indulgence in self-love. He is writing to hear the sound of his own voice and there is no way anyone can claim that they’ve ever extracted anything nourishing from his “reviews.” And that his what makes him such a cocksucker. I suspect that the people who defend him share his political sympathies: i.e., white Marxist eunuchs. If that’s the case, go read some Noam Chomsky while pleasuring yourselves. Leave discourse on music to people who know what the fuck they’re talking about.

costanza said...

dmacewen: i admit i was a fool. i wrote that comment three years ago as a piece of fan worship, not only treating christgau as an absolute guide but somewhat smugly dismissing everybody elses opinion (thats naive fan worship for you). nevertheless i still love christgau's work and despite your equally absolutist opinion that nobody could ever find any worth in this stuff, i still get intense pleasure trawling through the A-lists of his CG.

but even though i wasnt modest about it, my smug way of dismissing everybody elses opinion (obviously i offended you) was no way as stupid and absolute as your overly hostile response. so on those grounds and nothing else (not your opinions on music, which i couldnt care less about anyway, or anything of that nature): fuck you

Anonymous said...

Christgau may have started writing about music with real interest and passion, but a listener with wide sampling over the ears, is still scratching the surface when summing up in a few lines, of the boatloads he must've heard even in 60s-80s timeframe. A few lines isn't going to take note of the struggles of matching musical ideas to still-developing technology especially in 70s (recording methods or synths), or the gradual fusion and overlapping of genres throughout the decades. What gets my goat is he often takes the glass half-empty view of a project, argues that is its whole existence, in completely oblivion of what the artist intended (especially in merging genres.) He also typifies the super-critic as personality, using a pithy music review, to showcase prowess with wordplay or self-imagined acerbic "wit" - which in itself is fine if it ever entertained like Dorothy Parker or Wilde, while actually giving some insight about what he reviews. Instead, Christgau veers off so FAR away from the music in question, imposing what he'd rather like in his narrow "elitist" taste, onto musical expressions closely tied to cultural, ethnic, sexual, religious, historical, temperamental experiences VERY far from his own - which he obviously can't empathize or much get interested enough to see their validity.

Anonymous said...

And closer to the point of original post, Christgau doesn't seem to understand the varied potentials and uses of humor in music. Ween, Weezer, Flaming Lips, and Queen (which is how I stumpled across Christgau and felt like poking my eyes out), all use humor as defense mechanisms in treating various subject matters for their songwriting. Christgau either reads against or stops right at the grain on the surface, never entertaining for once the subtext and context (which calls for some knowledge of band history, sociocultural context, and even business trends in the industry at time of record's release) or the TEXT he's re-viewing. What's light-hearted, irreverent, or "not serious/intellectual (enough)" MAY and often DO have much darker undercurrents wrapped in the euphemistic gesture of pop music entertainment. Just because angtsy second-rate poetry about societal ills isn't pushed right under our noses, doesn't mean it's "not deep", lawdhammercy.

Finally, listening (however prolonged & frequently one does it) can still be a passive act of consuming, & becomes just its own navel-gazing subculture of "Worship at Altar of Almighty Dean of Rock Critics", when it's happily disdainful and oblivious to the production process - including socio-cultural, business aspects of the musicians-businessmen who themselves are also responding to the worlds they live in.
Or is it Christgau's world, and we - including the music - just live in it?

Erik said...

In an interview with Salon he said his favorite artists of all time are Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, and The New York Dolls. For me The Beatles are the only ones who would make my list. He has his own likes and that influences whether or not he likes a certain artist or not. He's an old man who grew up listening to older music so he has some predilection towards those genres.

LooseLucy said...

I dunno, I'm a fan of the Flaming Lips, King Crimson, Phish, Jane's Addiction, and Grizzly Bear, just a few of the bands I like that Xgau dismisses pretty curtly (despite giving an A- to both Embryonic and Red by the first two). Yet somehow he gives shit like the Backstreet Boys or Soulja Boy or Taylor Swift and her grating fucking voice good reviews. Whatever. He's recommended a lot of music I think is great and a lot I don't care for, and he's dismissed the same. Adults can agree to disagree, right? Let him be a pretentious asshole if he wants, he's made a living out of it.

Besides, he gave There's A Riot Goin' On an A+, so he can't be all bad. His ragging on the Chili Peppers makes me happy, cuz fuck them.

And JapanAlex is a tool.

Anonymous said...

A guy named "JapanAlex" commenting on other peoples' maturity levels. How cute. His bedroom/parents basement is probably plastered with Naruto/Digimom/Dragonball Z posters and toys, and he eats pocky on a regular basis. If you're on the receiving end of criticize from someone like that then you're probably doing something right.

Anonymous said...

**criticize=criticism

Chris Wright said...

The only bands I could find that he had nothing but good things to say about, were The Clash and John Fogerty/CCR. So he's not a total stooge. But if he can't find anything good to say about Dire Straits, outside their first album, well he has virtually no credibility in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

Slint's Spiderland: C+

Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.: A

This guy hates music.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. Head over to the Dean's website and you'll realize history has not been kind to Robert Christgau's opinions. My take on any current review he writes? If he doesn't like it, it's probably brilliant. If he does like it, he's kissing a record exec's ass for swag.

SomeSweetGravity said...

Mr. P-E-S said something interesting, or rather Harold Bloom did. I think it may well reroute the inquiry in such a direction as to outright disprove the very necessity of the music critic, at least in a popular context. 'Critics are artists.' Well, that case could be made if one were talking about the practice as a literary pursuit; literature is a genre unto itself, one that all too often widely oversteps its bounds by seeking to assess the very art-hood of subject matter in creative pathways far removed from its own frame of reference. I could quote many figures within the field itself in pointing out the 'cheapness' of language as a whole when it comes to certain experiential matters, but I need not go that far.

Ultimately, the very essence of the term, 'critic' as we understand it seems to preclude a relationship of dependence; one in which the prospective examiner is engaged with his or her special interests. We simply could not have a critic without something to criticize. Thus, we are, by reason of sheer deduction, forced to conclude that a critic's only worth is in adequate appraisals of his declared topicality. In this case, the objection that Xgau’s tangential musings bear little critical substance would probably stand. If we are to view this 'criticism' as an act of art itself, however, it doesn't seem that we can do so without expecting of it the same things we do of practical art.

That is, if Christgau's commentaries are solely artistic, then does not this level the playing field, enabling us to criticize and dismiss him with our very own philosophical and/or teleological justifications in much the same way that he would seek to dismiss musicians in his ramblings? If you feel that art needs critics, and his work is to be classified as art, then indeed, every complaint that can be leveled against his writing is fair game and should be treated as legitimate until proven otherwise.

If you're one of us who has observed that there is no record of any critic possessing any significant influence over the sway of popular music trends, then the point is moot either way, at least when speaking of critics in Xgau's class. I refer to the self-professed, ‘tastemakers;’ representatives of perhaps the most malignant glut in English-major intellectuality.

Despite the consternated protests from several generations of theoreticians, people like Christgau, Everrett True, and Gina Arnold insist that there is a very quantitative measure of creative ability, and coincidently, they are the only ones privy to it. It is contemptible enough that academics forgot to whom rock and youth culture really belong – their masquerade as holy positivists capable of definitively arbitrating the brilliant and the mediocre in an arena where relativity is vital seems, to me, nothing less than sickening. All in all, it seems there are few competent writers willing to level a complaint at the Christgau regime, but if I ever made a name for myself, I would be more than willing to do so. He’s presumptuous, despotic, and crass.

Udyan Arya said...

Perhaps if I saw this 4 or 5 months ago I'd have agreed with you completely. I too had mixed feelings for Christgau (he always gave C+ to all my fav. albums, highly disliked my "greatest artists of all time" and didn't like prog rock, my fav. genre at that time.) However one day I decided to find out what's up with this guy. The only way this can be done is by stepping into his shoes. First you have to forget everything you have listened to and liked before and leave behind all your prejudice about artists you love or hate. Only then can anyone rate music and I've never read anyone do this better than christgau. I'm not trying to change anyone's taste in music but perhaps everyone needs to think a little better of him (and he's not a douche as everyone seems to think, read some of his interviews.)
And on the bottomline you're free to hate him for disliking what you like but atleast try to like what he likes.

SomeSweetGravity said...

See, that's exactly what I'm getting at, though. I'm a enormous fan of music, and spend as much time studying it as I possibly can. I have decent theoretical knowledge at this point, and I find myself spending large enough quantities of my time listening to music of just about any kind. What irks me is that when I try recordings from genres I don't regularly listen to - which I do all the time, really - the results seem to be very different from yours and his. I find, at least as a musician, there's always a few redeeming quallities or interesting ideas for just about every band I hear, even the ones I frankly can't stand. Xgau, on the other hand, seems to have an expressly, 'guilty-until-proven-innocent' attitude. Moreover, the reasons that he cites for his cynicism, I can say as a theoretician and an avid listener, just aren't valid. They're quite obviously his personal opinions on a page.

SomeSweetGravity said...

For example, the classic, ‘I don’t like Radiohead because they don’t have any soul.’ Please. That’s so incredibly passé and inherently nonspecific, if you don’t see it as a subjective argument then you have lots of learning to do. Lots of it. In fact, statements like that are insulting to musicians who truly believe that an idea like, ‘soul’ is worth searching for and incorporating into their music. His real reason for hating OK Computer was that it had too many electronic sounds and textures, but that doesn’t make sense. A few of the clowns he’s given A+’s use the same sorts of augmentation themselves. Ergo, we have a dishonest assessment. I’m not using this as an example because I’m a Radiohead fan. At the end of the day, I feel like they have a few nice tunes and some extraordinarily dull ones. I use it because it’s the best one I could drum up off the top of my head.

Anonymous said...

I guess japan alex has bad taste in music,im guesing he doesnt like rock.I love music not just rock,him and robert are just haterz of radiohead

Anonymous said...

Ha! I found this by Googling "Robert Christgau and douche." While many a rock critic for Rolling Stone and SPIN caused me to give certain bands a listen, back in the day, Christgau's attitude towards Grant Hart of Husker Du has singlehandedly made him declare him a douche. Yes, Bob Mould has remained more visible and produced more music post-HD, but calling Hart Bob's "second banana" and referring to his solo work as "negligible" is pretty douchey. Let's see you pick up and instrument and write music, Mr. "Dean." (What's wrong, you weren't good enough to be the Chancellor of Rock Critics?)

Phillippa said...

Nice points, and I love your writing! He is influential(amd controversial), that's why there are 85 comments here!
He gives Black Eyed Peas, Lady gaga and soulja boy A while he gives ELP, Pink Floyd and King Crimson D.
Maybe he is only a tasteless dude with a many vocabs(that makes he seems clever), and a lucky guy who gets famous.
To sum up, he is a douche.

Phillippa said...

These loads of comments are interesting! I suspect a few people are Xgau himself...including Japan Alex.

Vice-Chancellor of Rock said...

My Christgautian short review of Christgau, the "Dean of American Rock Critics", himself...?

"College of one."

Anonymous said...

Japan Alex just wants to suck Christgau's dick

Anonymous said...

Robert Chistgau is the absolute worst critic in the business today, not just because I disagree with most of his assessments, but because he's consistantly inconsistent in his likes and dislikes (with the exceptions of metal and prog which he loathes) and his writing is as clear as a San Francisco sky in summer. The haiku like reviews, which are more about Chrissgau's clever hipsterism than criticism, often left me asking "Well what did the music sound like?"

Anonymous said...

How someone as tin-eared as Christgau has held on so long baffles me. Testament I guess to NYCs love of self-important/appointed loudmouths. Thurston Moore should have killed him with his big f*cking d*ck as planned.

Lotar said...

If I'm honest, I hate Christgau too - he seems so narrow minded in his approach to rock, which I think is disgraceful given one of the joys of rock is the variety and diversity. If it's not exactly like what his self-determined framework dictates, it gets a crap review. It also annoys me how he writes off whole genres for the sake of it. I'm a big prog rock fan; Christgau really isn't - that doesn't bother me, but the fact that he gives a deliberately scathing review just because something "is prog rock" pisses me off. I'm not a metal fan, but I'll admit where there's something I really like that happens to be metal. He's so far up his own arse that lump in his neck could be his nose, and for the same reason he probably can't hear shit. Plus anyone who gives themselves a pretentious title like the "Dean of American Rock Critics" entirely seriously cannot be respected as a critic on his own merit. I'm sure he has his merits, but he's done all he can to undermine them in my eyes. Anyway, rant over, carry on...

Anonymous said...

Robert Christgau When it comes to music critics it is important to agree with Miles Davis: You need to learn to develop your own critical faculties rather than depend on some or other external "authority". After all, Sheeit!! "They can't READ music they can't WRITE music and he sure as hell can't PLAY music".
Robert Christgau: C-

Anonymous said...

Anyone who can describe Scott Walker as "Anthony Newley but without the vocal muscle" clearly has neither taste nor judgement. Everything he says may be safely disregarded without the slightest risk of any kind of loss.

Jack Stub said...

Christgau is a shit sandwich.

Arrogant and self-inflated, his writing has been consistently poor, yet always trying to be clever.

He must be a very unhappy man.

NecroBadger said...

The reason Christgau is a mostly useless critic, is because his reviews, although quite witty and pithy, make absolutely no sense unless you've heard the album. His writings are quite interesting, and I do read his reviews from time to time, but if I have a bit of spare cash that I want to spend on an album he is utterly useless as a guide to what I should buy.

Andrew MacEwen said...

Bullshit: Christgau is a useless fucking critic who has never imparted a single, thoughtful idea or passed on the slightest bit of insight throughout the course of his self-indulgent career. There is more to pithiness than brevity: something substantive is necessary, and in this Christgau was utterly lacking. And honestly, how can anything substantial be injected into two-sentence reviews? His so-called reviews amounted to nothing more than auto-erotic quickies on a blank page. Sarcastic shots, wholesale dismissal of entire genres, and his contempt for so-called longhairs – as well as his bitter resentment of white artists who possess more than a conspicuous degree of ambition – made him not only lazy and professionally inept, but a self-hating eunuch as well. He loved to jeer at “compositions” as opposed to songs: anything that did not conform to a traditional, commercially accessible format was derided and shat upon without the smallest attempt at critical assessment. And those rare exceptions to which he deigned to grant his seal of approval were never qualified with any explanation as to what distinguished them from all the alleged dross.

Don’t you think all of the people who are badmouthing him have listened to the albums that he has panned? Of course we have. So nice try, but the explanation you give for why Christgau sucks is piss-poor and wholly off the mark. As for being in that so-called first–wave of 60s critics, he doesn’t deserve any points for being in the right place at the right time. Mere chance, that’s all that is.

So get your head out of his ass. I’m surprised that there’s any room, considering he’s had his own up there for so many years.

Tim said...

Meh. I don't have much use for Christgau, but I'm not sure where the vitriol comes from.

Yeah, he has given negative reviews to a number of bands/albums that I love - but I'm not going to condemn someone who has a different opinion. There's no one - friend, family member, or critic - that I agree with 100% the time. Yeah, I think Radiohead is (generally) awesome - but I don't care if others disagree. I know why I like them, and I think I can defend my opinion pretty well, and that's all that matters.

Christgau does have a tendency to be needlessly obfuscatory. He can also be annoyingly condescending ("the illiterate might get a kick out of it") - and, at times, he comes off as insultingly dismissive.

But, really, who cares? He's been doing this for a long time, and he knows what he likes and dislikes. I do wish he would write a little more clearly - I generally don't get much out of his reviews, particularly the short ones - but he's obviously been very successful so who am I to judge his method?

Far more annoying than Christgau are the people (Alex) in this very thread who like to pretend that Christgau is somehow more objective than everyone else - and that any deviation from Christgau's opinion is a sign of ignorance. As if Christgau's opinions represent the "true" judgment of a given work. Most people, Christgau included (I assume), would realize how stupid that sounds - music, even more than most art forms, is a very subjective art form. There might be some vague basic standards, but the best any critic (or anyone) can do is to try and express why they feel the way they do in as clear and concise a manner as possible.

A good reviewer generally doesn't set out to change people's opinion - rather, they try to articulate their reaction to a work in such a way that others will understand why they felt the way they did. In the best cases, good criticism can be illuminating.

karnevil said...

Dean of wet shit pompass ass. He is not worthy to eat the shit of most of the bands he trashes. Deserves a good kick in the cunt and a punch in his fugly face

karnevil said...

Lol pick up an instrument and actually write something the piece of trash couldn't play anything write anything except maybe a tool in his mouth

karnevil said...

Japanalex go lick his @ss why don't you. You're tongue is already up there.

Anonymous said...

Hey japan Alex go fuck yourself with a machete you soulja boy twat.

Anonymous said...

According to a lot of comments, Christgau enjoys penises in his mouth! Poor old bugger.

Sameh said...

He had the temerity to trash McCartney's brilliant album 'Ram'. What are his qualifications? Does he play any instruments? Does he write world class songs?

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's worth it to put too much thought into Christgau's reviews, so I'll just sum them all up with a bomb symbol.

Pearce said...

Why wouldn't Missy Elliott get Best Single for Get Ur Freak On? It's a goddamned masterpiece.

Tonester said...

I think Christgau is a solid writer. He has an astonishing breadth of knowledge and cultural touchstones if nothing else, and his reviews probe very deep into the nature of music not just as it's heard but as it's made and understood in the world.

If he has a failing it's that he uses criticism as a means to push politics, sometimes very forcefully so. I like the New York Dolls well enough, but to Christgau they're a passion project at this point: they represent everything perfect about rock or guitar music. Well, okay; personally I think they're a few tuneful and rather sweet songs. I can't imagine repeatedly going back and listening to that kind of bread-and-butter guitar music — Christgau's "less is more" approach to ornamentation fails him here. Perhaps it really is just a matter of taste, but you get the sense that he's intentionally pushing this vision of pop music well beyond his honest rating of the music itself.

On occasion I think this kind of political snark pays off (I hate the Eagles and I agree with him that G'n'R had a terrible kind of misogynist power made worse by the sleek and compelling musicianship). On others, it's more annoying; yes, I understand the clever point he's trying to make about Soulja Boy — he's precocious, young, energetic and fun. But the truth is that the music itself is just plain awful to listen to on the most basic level. You can say King Crimson is pleasant enough in its way, but (in his own words) Robert doesn't grade on a curve. Except in Soulja Boy's case, where the record is "effortless" so it gets an automatic ~A. So you have a double standard where KC fails on sentiment/fun but Soulja fails on the music itself yet each is graded very differently. Where does it come from? Well, Rob believes music belongs to the young, and the younger the better. Dubious theory if you ask me, but it's beside the point anyway.

It's this need he has to aggressively push politics I think that can really grate on people. He'll very often rate a record based on its perceived import or the circumstances of the recording. It's completely a Marmite thing; you're either going to buy into that approach or run away from it.

peterh said...

For someone who has had the attitude best described as "if I'm not into it, it's crap, even if the rest of the world thinks it's great", he's survived remarkably well.
Personally, I wrote him off decades ago, when he dismissed an album everyone else rated with 5 stars and regarded as "indispensible", and is even today (40 years later) regarded as a peak moment in modern music history. I only got here when recently I found out that he was still alive, and did a search for "Robert Christgau is a jerk". ;-)
You'd think that would wear off with age, but apparently, he still is a jerk.

Having said all this, I haven't cared for any music critic over the last 45 years. I never bought (or avoided buying) music because a critic liked (or disliked) it; I bought it because *I* liked it. I remember Christgau verbally dismembering Close To The Edge. I bought it, and up to today I still enjoy listening to it.
Come to think of it, let's play it now.

Anonymous said...

i have to admit i kinda hate robert christgu , yes i know i'm a minority but whatever hes trashed some of the best bands from the punk era , and i can't help but feel hes been payed off to give good reviews to notable figures like john lennon, kayne west and so forth, and hey maybe i'm wrong but this feeling can't escape me when he gives imagine a A+ , he still a fairly honest about his reviews but he won't review anybody under 2,000 record sales or if they are underground regardless how good they are hell he gave both syd barret albums a B a fucking B i dunno maybe its just sour grapes cause he trashes or doesn't listen to the full album or gives one listen to it and decides right then and there what that record is worth, but he gives this half ass cynicism about why you do or don't need this album btw deans of universitys aren't they also pricks?

Danny Dyer said...

I find it amazing how so many of these comments blindly follow this critics opinion, this is a man that slates good bands like Radiohead, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Sonic Youth and so on, whilst praising absolute shite such as Nicki Minajs (he's given all her albums an A /.A-) if you can blindly follow someone with tastes that shitty, then you have no right to criticise anyone else's musical tastes.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You have to give him a perverse kind of credit: he's probably the only cultural critic who's provoked a blogger post to get over 100 comments.
After skimming through this...I think this sums it up nicely:

"How someone as tin-eared as Christgau has held on so long baffles me. Testament I guess to NYCs love of self-important/appointed loudmouths." To further elaborate, criticism seems to be cultural discourse that New Yorkers believe is most capable of differentiating themselves from the unwashes masses - everywhere in the world besides New York, more or less. After all a broadway play can go on a national tour, underground music there will eventually go mainstream, etc. etc. but middle America is never going to produce a reviewer like Xgau (love that). He and his ridiculous, preeningly pretentious reviews are perhaps the most extreme expression of this kind of New York City exceptionalism. As someone else said, they are absolutely useless as reviews unless you've actually heard the album, in which case even if you agree with him, they are merely an off-color, two-line, in-joke. Any normal newspaper editor would have wanted to spare his readers from wasting their time and have hired a "normal" reviewer. The professional antics of say, a Michiko Kakutani pale in comparison.
In my opinion NYC produces some really good criticism (Pauline Kael) some very hit-or-miss (Canby) and some exceptionally awful criticism (Xgau).

AndrewSuber said...

Christgau explains his grading system. It is no substitute for objective taste, and he says so. It is for people who want quick, easy pointers to the best rock LPs and CDs. He believes that the rock scene systematically overrates musicians and new trends; I agree with him. Also, he writes for the person with traditional, catholic tastes such as himself. By those standards, where Chuck Berry and the Coasters are gold standards, Emerson, Lake and Palmer are pretentious pablum.

He admits that he doesn't appreciate certain genres such as metal and prog rock. It takes an outstanding work in those fields to earn an A or A+. He is very withholding of A+'s, some years none of the 400+ albums he reviews receives one.

I recommend balancing his reviews with other sources and with M. C. Strongs rock bibliography. Also John Peel is more enthusiastic about alt rock and prog rock.

I disagree with him often, for instance "Low" and "In the Court of the Crimson King" get relatively low gradings from him, but they are two of my favorite albums.

The best way to use him is to mine his taste for records and artists you haven't heard of that you want to give a shot. Also, I weed out my collection with his taste; if there's an album that I'm on the fence about I'll give it another listen if it gets an A from him and chuck it if it gets a C.

His grading is more strenuous than school grading, as well. You must be aware of that; four albums a year might get A or A+. Also he tends to like greatest hits collections; but I do as well.

AndrewSuber said...

Anyway, here's a way to correct Christgau for your taste:

Prog rock, Metal: add a letter grade, or ignore completely.

Jazz, African music, Soul: subtract a notch.

And Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Cream and Led Zeppelin are vastly overrated. I almost never put on a Led Zeppelin album to listen to. The Wall doesn't have a single good rock single on it. Ozzy's lyrics are some of the worst in rock. They end up putting strings and studio effects on long, poorly-formed jams.

Christgau also has the intellectual honesty to give praise where it is due. "Wish You Were Here" corrected the worst excesses of Pink Floyd, and when you adjust his bias against prog rock, it gets a A+. He thinks that a 15 minute rock song that rips off classical music, is stuffed with synthesizers, and has arty farty lyrics isn't really a rock song, and he has a valid, but not bulletproof, argument there.

Anonymous said...

Christgau is a fucking prick. He likes bad music and hates good music. God I hate that fucking prick Christgau.

Anonymous said...

His utter lack of enthusiasm when it comes to metal and progressive rock (among other genres) is frankly unprofessional. Just stating an album is sh*t, is NOT A REVIEW, it is an opinion. I respect the man for not going with the grain when it comes to some artists (who may be seen as above criticism by many), however his rude utterly aggressive attitude really makes his reviews seem like rants. Even when he finds an album that he likes, his use of language is simply a mass of long words selected straight from the nearest thesaurus. His bomb and scissor symbols that so often plague wikipedia album entries are at odds with the standard 5-star system. Everything about this man reeks of pretentiousness; the very thing he accuses progressive rock of!

Anonymous said...

I genuinely thought the bombs and scissors were GOOD symmbols (i.e. that albums 'the bomb!' or a 'cut above' the rest) - turns out their not! Oh well, if he can't even make his rating system clear...

dmacewen said...

I can't believe I'm defending Christgau, but I don't think that thesaurus gibe is fair (even without taking it literally). If he wasn't already so stridently obnoxious, I don't think we'd criticize his vocabulary, a shrinking commodity these days. It always makes me laugh how people resort to that facile standby about thesauruses when they encounter vocabularies larger than their own.

dmacewen said...

I can't believe I'm defending Christgau, but I don't think that thesaurus gibe is fair (even without taking it literally). If he wasn't already so stridently obnoxious, I don't think we'd criticize his vocabulary, a shrinking commodity these days. It always makes me laugh how people resort to that facile standby about thesauruses when they encounter vocabularies larger than their own.

Anonymous said...

Fair point and yes his grasp of the English language is superior to my own. I just find that often his reviews are hard to follow. Here's an example...

Autobahn [Vertigo, 1975]
The Iron Butterfly of überrock--Mike Oldfield for unmitigated simpletons, sort of, and yet in my mitigated way I don't entirely disapprove. A melody or two worth hearing twice emanates from a machine determined to rule all music with a steel hand and some mylar, and the title track is longer than "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" sans drum solo, with a lyric (trot provided) that could become the "What's Life? A magazine" of high school German classes all over America. B-

...what the **** is he on about?!? I get the gist of it, but what a meandering and frankly unclear way of stating his opinion. Oh, and this was found in the space of about a minute's searching on his website.

Anonymous said...

convoluted!, that the word I was looking for. I'm slow but I get there in the end!

Anonymous said...

He can just be so smugly dismissive of anything that doesn't fit his subjective view of what should be listened to, even when he does decide to write a single paragraph explaining why as opposed to a symbol. He has the attitude of, "Well, I'm stating this opinion - which should be self evident as to why it is true after you read it." The same could be said for my assessment of him, and that's fair. But I feel his arrogance and condescension get in the way of his honesty, even when he tries to admit his biases. For example, Marilyn Manson (who isn't my personal favorite), he says "No big deal to have an I.Q. bigger than Ozzy", which is basically saying, the STYLE of music that he doesn't like can never be done well because he doesn't like it. Which is different from saying, I don't like this style of music.

Also, personally, I don't like Vampire Weekend. Bomb symbols for all albums.

Anonymous said...

Also, in a review, he actually used the word "gigglefritzes"; cementing himself as the ultimate unholy combination of out of touch old man and elitist hipster. The word 'gigglefritz' doesn't even appear on dictionary.com OR urbandictionary.com.

sparkeyboy09 said...

Lol he gave debarge in a special way A+ ,I rest my case

bzfgt said...

You folks can't tell that JapanAlex is trolling?

Anonymous said...

The fact that you actually take Christgau seriously shows that you have no real sense of objective quality.

Christgau is a postmodern charlatan with no objective standards for music. His reviews are filled with sophistry, double standards, biased fallacies and a complete disregard for aesthetics.

Anyone who gives a Soulja boy album an A- is a blatant fraud. Pseudo intellectual old man.

Sean Rose said...

my gosh seven and a half years later and folks are still posting in this. incredible.

let the debate rage on !!!!!!!!!

The Dean said...

Christgau is, beyond doubt, the most closed-minded individual I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. To him, some genres are good (most punk) and some are bad (prog rock, heavy metal). No exceptions. In short, he's a bigot.

Add to that that his musical tastes and mine are almost diametrically opposite (most of my listening is prog rock, classic rock, folk rock and metal) and there's unlikely to be a meeting of minds. He also suffers from verbal diarrhoea, spouting pretentious drivel and using words the meaning of which he has no comprehension whatsoever.

But what says it all about this self important, egotistical twat is the self proclaimed "Dean of Rock Critics" moniker which he bestowed on himself.

Sorry, Mr Christgau, but you're not the Dean. You're the assistant janitor. I am a Dean (of the Faculty of Science at one of the leading UK universities) and you need to be a little bit better qualified than you to use that title.

dbezan said...

This thread can't die, because there is nowhere else we can rant about how bad a critic Christgau is. I have never found a single review he has written to be insightful, even the ones I agreed with. He is usually writing about himself, which is especially obnoxious in a one-paragraph review.

ray wilson said...

he even gives zappa bad reviews and the ramones good oness work that out.

Anonymous said...

I once had a phone conversation with him -- almost 20 years ago now -- and he fairly oozed with self-regard. Even two decades later, the unhealthy hot-blast of his narcissism across the ether is a vivid memory.

But it's interesting that so many people care enough to rage against his writing, even now. I think the key is his style rather than his opinions, which (with one or two exceptions) are bog standard baby-boomer when it comes to rock and pop (though unlike most boomers he's worked hard to keep up with hip hop). The dense, highly compressed, allusive style of his reviews is certainly distinctive, if sometimes frustrating. It's a discursive mode that assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the reader. It's an idiom that tends to flatter you if you share the author's frame of reference, so you can feel smarter for "getting" it. But it can also make you feel dumb if you DON'T get it -- which is maybe why it elicits such strong reactions. I say don't be too flattered (neither you nor Xgau is really all THAT smart -- and yes, I'm looking at you JapanAlex). But don't be scared off, either -- there's really nothing to fear, here -- and you can sometimes enjoy the clever turns of phrase along with the odd moments of acute perception.

But his prog-hating sensibility very much marks him as a product of his tribe and time (thank God the rock-journalistic obsession with punk "authenticity" is largely a thing of the past) -- and if he really was as "honest" as he likes to claim then he'd have that old piece where he called Hendrix an "electric Uncle Tom" up on his site along with his other reviews. (He clearly has the good grace to be ashamed of that one, and quite right, too.)

In the long run, I'd say he has nothing to teach us about music unless you are interested in tracking and historicizing the development of certain hipster prejudices. In fact, he doesn't even seem to understand the basic mechanics of music theory, if the total absence of even the most elementary formal analysis from his longer reviews is anything to go by.

But he might still have something to teach us as a literary stylist. And who knows -- maybe he's not such a drippingly conceited cock these days. We can but hope.