Michael Macrone
Articles & Essays

This xeroxed paradoy of Robert Cristgau’s Village Voice “Consumer Guide” was distributed around the Brown University campus in early 1982.

Macrone’s Consumer Guide

This year begins my eleventh as rockcrit dilettante and ends my most hyper-involved and bruising encounter with the business of music. Until October I heard at least most of virtually every record that could by any stretch of the imagination be called “rock,” and more. I retreated immediately thereafter and have thus weighted my summary to the first 3/4 of 1981’s releases.

This is my second consumer guide, the first composed in 1980 with “Jolly” Jeff Lesser, may he rest in peace. I haven’t explained my ratings process yet and don’t think I’ll bother to here. Enjoy.

Pick Hit : X
Pick Hit : Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band: Doc at the Radar Station (Virgin)  A cranky and unearthly record, on which “Doc” scopes out the more forbidding recesses of his psyche. A work of high craft; one of his most sublime and direct. A++ for “Dirty Blue Gene.”  A PLUS

Black Uhuru: Red (Mango)  The most triumphant reggae release of the year. Three rather youthful Jamaicans ride a mystical traditionalism smack into the most stark realism, which means this is music built from one part hope and one part soul. Side one doesn’t miss a beat.  A

Clash: Sandinista! (Columbia)  I hear their next album will have only two sides.  B PLUS

Elvis Costello: Trust (Columbia)  The El has built a career on reinvigorating various pop/rock forms/formulae, so it’s no secret that deep down he’s a traditionalist. And now Trust is his first record to defy generic delimitation; Costello takes on country, rockabilly, Bo Diddley, Lennon, rock-hall, honky-pop, early seventies keyboard stomp, Bacharach-David, Liberace, and Costello. That is, Trust is unambiguously self-referential, from “Clubland” through “Pretty Words” down to the production-room doodles that close the album. Blah: “Different Finger,” “You’ll Never Be a Man,” and (har har, Elvis) “Shot with His Own Gun.” A+: “Pretty Words,” “New Lace Sleeves,” and “White Knuckles.”  A

Bob Dylan: Shot of Love (Columbia)  A tentative assimilation of Dylan’s recent “style” into its pretext: the symbolism is softened and more ambiguous (the parallel is Another Side). “Lenny Bruce” transcends the vapidity of its worst lines and the base irony of its best; “Every Grain of Sand” is lovely and rightfully lauded. Overall, tho, pretty ho-hum even if promising.  B

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (Sugarhill 12”)  Gimmicky DJ rap record, with back-cueing, slipstarts, intermixing, sting segues, Blondie, Queen, “The Birthday Party,” and somebody who sounds like Mr. Rogers. Great fun, and for a novelty, spiritedly sustaining. Got a groove all the way, of course.  A MINUS

Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy)  The beacon and banner of the “new” Motown sound, which, along with hits from Smokey and Teena Marie, reestablished the stable in 1981. Sexy soul man and “pass the ‘J’” urban funkster, James is at once smooth and cocky, comercial but transcendent.  B PLUS

Grace Jones: Nightclubbing (Island)  Jones has been shaping up (check out the covers) with each LP; this time she’s got the right material (have you heard her version of “Use Me”?), takes full advantage of five-star rhythm section Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, and pulls it all together with her commandingly ambiguous vocal growl (purr?). P.S.: She actually (tentatively) sings one. P.P.S.: You can’t beat “Pull Up to the Bumper” on the car stereo. (Did I hear someone say “Feel Up”?)  A

Kinks: Give the People What They Want (Arista)  Save for the glossy finale “Better Things,” this is a patronizing, who-gives-a-shit record that reveals an uncomfortably smug and soup-headed Ray Davies groping for a niche in the current sludge with which Corporate Rock persists in plying a complacent audience that only misguided romantics believe knows “what it wants.” And then you wonder about “Better Things.”  C MINUS

Moody Blues: Long Distance Voyager (Threshold)  The Moodies have carefully updated their sound, but the ensemble is still cloying and intellectually banal. More profound than Styx, and catchier. “Just a Singer” soundalike: “Gemini Dream.”  C

Van Morrison: Common One (Warner Brothers)  A serene, warm, and loose record, on which Morrison delineates the link of Into the Music to his mystical and metaphysical tour de force, Astral Weeks. If you’re not on Van’s wavelength, though, you will find much of this tedious.  A MINUS

Yoko Ono: Season of Glass (Geffen)  Pointed and sustained self-revelation, her (real) Plastic Ono Band. A few of the indulgences are a bit embarrassing, but the flaws do reinforce the album’s integrity. One question: how many of these fragments of lonely reflection date to the original Lennon-Ono separation?  A

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers : Hard Promises (MCA)  This is the type of record actively derivative artists slip into after finding themselves with that miraculous hit: that is, under pressure to measure up and with the fatigue of catching up, only major talent and a lot of conviction can save them from ragged formula.  B MINUS

Pretenders: II (Sire)  A torpid slab of rehash and pose that is boring even in its substantiation of the Second Album Syndrome. P.S.: “Talk of the Town” was better the first time. And the second.  C PLUS

Ramones: Pleasant Dreams (Sire)  A firm restatement of their doctrinaire idealism, souped up by Hollies/Yardbirds/10cc hitmeister Graham Gouldman. “It’s Not My Place in the 9 to 5 World,” indeed. Incidentally, this is the first time for individual writing credits, and Joey’s 7/12 far outclasses Dee-Dee’s 5/12.  B PLUS

REO Speedwagon: Hi Infidelity (Epic)  This record is so shockingly mediocre that it’s insidious: the most infuriating brand of calculation unmasks the base formulaicism that rules the airwaves. Luckily, their next album is sure to be too smug even for the masses.  C MINUS

Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones)  The Stones really sound great when everything else on the tunebox is a pushover. A shrewd record, ironic as always, quite sufficient, apparently, for godhood.  B PLUS

Todd Rundgren: Healing (Bearsville)  This “really solo” record is problematic and overextended (so what’s new?), but ultimately justified by the mesmerizing side-long “suite” (“Healing”) that is face B. A metaphysical quest for order and self-justification, a pondering of time and of change, self-centered to the point of self-indulgence (so what else …). I confess: I like it.  B PLUS

Sir Douglas Quintet: Border Wave (Takoma)  The title is the giveaway. All the ballyhoo accorded Tex-Mex and this gritty, once-noble cynosure is less the result of renewed relevance or commitment than of the whims of a tragically self-conscious and largely irrelevant “New Wave.” In other words, the thrills are limited.  B MINUS

Bruce Springsteen: The River (Columbia)  Springsteen’s most awkward and overextended LP since his debut (remember when he was the latest “New Dylan”?). Shoulda been a single disc, of course; let’s face it: Bruce has been in a rut for three albums now, and the one before that was his best (so kill me). Nay: “Hungry Heart,” “Crush on You,” “Cadillac Ranch,” “I’m a Rocker,” “Ramrod,” and a few of the more bloated “ballads.”  B PLUS

Billy Squier: Don’t Say No (A&M)  A cheap scam and an obvious come-on. Give him a point for the sheer absurdity of his smirky opportunism. Strictly to fill the void between Queen albums and to remind us that Zep are really gone.  D PLUS

U2: Boy (Island)  Irish drone, a tricky blend of neo-psychedelia (in a year of meaningless trends) and Steve Lillywhite’s wall-of-reverb production that works as a testy first step. The adolescent’s at once puffy and anxious visions of adulthood are deployed on a field of echo and resonances and breathily fragile guitar harmonics. By the second album, of course, the strategy is old hat.  A MINUS

The Who: Face Dances (Warner Brothers)  Appallingly cynical; shameless. Catchiest (i.e. most annoying): “You Better, You Bet.” Best (i.e. best fake): “YOU” (written by: John Entwhistle). Roger Daltrey finally proves that he is a fumbling, insensitive pretty-boy poseur.  C MINUS

Steve Winwood: Arc of a Diver (Island)  A solipsistic bit of FM fodder that sacrifices subtlety to self-entranced studio overkill. Prog-rock for the easy-listening set.  B MINUS

X: Wild Gift (Slash)  A superlative record (the second) from a band that never forgot the vitality of “punk” because they believed in it heart and soul. Sensitive, moving, devoted, and precocious. Don’t mind it when they start sounding like the Airplane.  A PLUS

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Re-Ac-Tor (Reprise)  Young’s never been one to belabor the obvious, so he had most folks guessing on Hawks and Doves. This time, he leaves no room for doubt, fully exploiting Crazy Horse’s jagged, almost raunchy, drive, infusing his portrait pieces with the conviction and manic possession that his last album was lacking. Note: “T-Bone” (which does for Re-Ac-Tor what “Salt of the Earth” did for Beggar’s Banquet) is the latest “Fuck you if you can’t take a joke” for the fans.  A

ADDITIONAL CONSUMER NEWS: Selected leftovers… 
Chaka Khan: Whatcha Gonna Do for Me (Warner Bros.) B+  • Pere Ubu: The Art of Walking (Rough Trade) A  • Leo Kottke: Guitar Music (Chrysalis) A-  • Smokey Robinson: Being with You (Tamla) B+  • Bunny Wailer: Sings the Wailers (Mango) A-  • Joe Jackson: Jumpin’ Jive (A&M) B-  • Prince: Controversy (Warner Bros.) B-  • David Johansen: Here Comes the Night (Blue Sky) B+  • Rush: Moving Pictures (Polydor) C-  • Eugene Chadbourne: There’ll Be No Tears Tonight (Parachute) A  • Magazine: Play (IRS) B  • Jacksons: Triumph (Epic) B  • Ian Hunter: Short Back and Sides (Chrysalis) B-  • Iggy Pop: Party (Arista) B  • John Fahey: Live in Tasmania (Takoma) A  • Sly and Robbie Present Taxi (Mango) A  • David Bowie: Scary Monsters (RCA) B+  • Jam: Sound Affects (Polydor) A-  • Stevie Wonder: Hotter Than July (Tamla) A  • Tom Verlaine: Dreamtime (Elektra) A-  • Elton John: The Fox (Geffen) C  • David Byrne and Brian Eno: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Sire) B  • Ozzy Ozborne: Blizzard of Oz (Epic) C+  • Carlene Carter: Musical Shapes (Warner Brothers ) B+  • English Beat: Wha’ppen (Sire) B+  • Styx: Paradise Theatre (A&M) D-  • John Cale: Honi Soit (A&M) B+  • Ian Dury and the Blockheads: Laughter (Stiff/Epic) B-  • Hall and Oates: Private Eyes (RCA) B-  • Stampfel and Webber: Goin’ Nowhere Fast (Rounder) A  • Gang of Four: Solid Gold (Warner Bros.) B+  • George Harrison: Somewhere in England (Warner Bros. ) C-  • Defunkt: Defunkt (Hannibal) B+  • Little Feat: Hoy-Hoy! (Warner Bros. ) A-  • AC/DC: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (Atlantic) C+  • Public Image Ltd: Flowers of Romance (Warner Bros.) A  • Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places (Sire/ZE) B+  • Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Brothers) B  • Lounge Lizards: Lounge Lizards (Editions E.G.) A-  • Various: The Secret Policeman’s Ball (Island) B+  • Various: SeiZe ZE Beat (ZE) A-  • Dave Edmunds: Twangin’ (Swan Song) B  • Squeeze: East Side Story (A&M) A  • Residents: The Commercial Album (Ralph) A  • Foreigner: 4 (Atlantic) B-  • Psychedelic Furs: Talk Talk Talk (Columbia) A-  • Rosanne Cash: Seven Year Ache (Columbia) B  • Willie Nelson: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Columbia) B+  •  Gary “US” Bonds: Dedication (EMI) B-  • Go-Go’s: Beauty and the Beat (IRS) B-  • Phil Collins: Face Value (Atlantic) C+  • Police: Zenyatta Mondatta (A&M) B+  • Santana: Zebop! (Columbia) D  • ZZ Top: El Loco (Warner Bros.) B+  • Rolling Stones: Sucking in the Seventies (Rolling Stones) D  • Loverboy: Loverboy (Columbia) E  • Grateful Dead: Reckoning (Arista) B-

Macrone's Consumer Guide


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