The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City . A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 , is now available from Duke University Press. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen on Broadway (Columbia) Always averse to shelling out major bucks for a Broadway show, me and my gal were happy to catch this one on Netflix—in two sittings, true, but when I streamed the audio version a month or two later I found myself listening with minimal zone-out for two-and-a-half hours straight. So I bought the budget-priced double CD, and though it was a while before I felt like sticking disc one in the changer, just a few minutes passed before I added disc two and listened through yet again. Never big on extended spoken-word material or solo-acoustic remakes of exalted songbooks, I'm impressed. The Springsteen this most recalls isn't like any earlier album but the 2016 autobiography he called Born to Run for better reasons than you might imagine. Like that fast-reading 508-pager, its aim is to simultaneously depict and demythologize the Jersey shore and poke major holes in an authenticity it reconceives at a truer level of complexity—on his first cross-country car trip, the guy who would soon write "Racing in the Street" had to learn to drive from scratch when the guy who was supposed to ride shotgun disappeared in Tennessee. Like the book, this ends where it begins—at the huge old copper beech tree that anchored his childhood, except that since he last visited the county has cut it to the street. Springsteen being Springsteen, he swears "some essential piece of it was still there"—and being Springsteen, convinces you that that's his truth even if it isn't your kind of thing. A
Robert Forster: Inferno (Tapete) After listening so faithfully I've even gotten behind a perversely mild opener based on one of Yeats's Crazy Jane poems, I've earned the right to make two observations. One is that every one of these nine calm tracks has its attractions—"Inferno" bemoaning a Brisbane summer so brutal it could signal the end of the world, "No Fame" honoring an artist who'll never enjoy the renown he deserves yet keeps imparting form to his stories anyway, "I'm Gonna Tell It" for some reason exploring a very similar theme. The other is that a year from now, with another brutal antipodal summer behind the planet we hope, you're more likely to choose Forster's The Evangelist or the Go-Betweens' Oceans Apart when craving a taste of this particular artist who's not as famous as he deserves to be. B PLUS
Chris Butler: Got It Together! (Future Fossil) Seventy this month, the Tin Huey catalyst, Waitresses mastermind, and dB's producer establishes his right to begin "Never Been Old Before" with an excitable "If you say you're bored then you're not paying attention." ("Songs for Guys," "Summer Money") **
Peter Stampfel and the Atomic Meta Pagans: The Ordovician Era! (Don Giovanni) "Featuring Shelley Hirsch," a free-improvising singer who puts the stamp of the semi-official avant-garde on some of Stampfel's woolliest notions. ("Here We Come," "Marshmallows," "Queen of Romania") **