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Robert Christgau on Lizzo's Casual Confidence

The Dean of American Rock Critics takes on Lizzo's 'Cuz I Love You' and Kevin Abstract's 'Arizona Baby.'

by Robert Christgau
Jun 14 2019, 5:28pm

Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

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 eight books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City . His most recent, Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading, 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.

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Lewis Capaldi: Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent (Capitol) Although he shares the writing with an array of minor U.K. song doctors, this very male, unassumingly unsexist 22-year-old Scot deploys his big open white-soul voice with an originality so built-in few outside his growing female fanbase will notice. His secret weapon is that he's no dreamboat, a step or two less sexy than melodic everyman Ed Sheeran—shlubby, blokeish, with white socks, black shoes, and just-woke-up hair, he looks and acts like a goofy guy who does truly need a fangirl's love. And although more of his songs excavate romance's pain than celebrate its bliss, they come with plenty of self-examination and minimal blaming the other: even the opening "I'm not ready to be just another of your mistakes" is pretty mild, and then there's "I was getting kind of used to being someone you loved," "How come I'm the only one who seems to get in my way," and "I'm sayin' thank you to the one who let her get away." While it's likely every one of these lines has been uttered verbatim somewhere somehow, they're each one perfect, and putting them all on one album is a feat of uncommon emotional intelligence. My fond belief is that every word is Capaldi's. The song doctors just made sure they're catchy enough. A MINUS

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Lizzo: Cuz I Love You (Atlantic/Nice Life) Bigging up via an exuberantly overstated intensity that doesn't quit when the tempo eases and only slows to a creep for some erotica that gets loud at a climax worthy of the name, this long-running hopeful makes good on an iconicity worthy of her casual pride and skilled transition from rapper to singer. She's so talented it's hard to believe it took her till 31 to get the job done until you consider how many doubts and fears she must have faced down first. Part of the way she enacts her pride is to pretend it comes effortlessly, as is her right. But you can be sure she has some confessionals in store. A MINUS

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Kevin Abstract: Arizona Baby (Question Everything, Inc./RCA) Brockhampton guy keeps the details of his joys and sorrows too deep in the lyrical closet for us to see what's in there. ("Big Wheels," "Joyride") ***

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Lizzo: Coconut Oil (Atlantic/Nice Life) Still figuring it out on this 2016 EP, her clear, capable voice hasn't gained the voracity her image sets you up for. ("Good as Hell," "Phone") **