Unpublished manuscript, undated

Yet Another Consumer Guide Fragment

ABBA: Arrival. Arrival continues ABBA's retrograde trend -- toward MOR with sops to the classics -- refining a little but also branching out. Within the trend it adds yet another perfect single, the minimalist wall-o'-sound epic "Dancing Queen," but it also makes a bold dash into Breachtian theatre music, "Money Money Money." The first side is schmaltz so thick you need a machete, while the second takes off from "Money Money Money" into ever-increasing implausibility, which spells kitsch but also underscores a restless, playful attitude toward their art. And while the cover illustrations are pretty crummy they too have a certain charm: even as arrivistes ABBA are still clods at heart, which is a clue to why their overconsumption theories, and why their perfect singles and imperfect albums are the best things on the radio today. B+

Kevin Ayers: Yes We Have No Mananas. Not the masterwork that Ayers wouldn't know what to do with if he ever made it, but even more than his brilliant Bananamour this is Ayers' finest album, the most charming slice of plastique sine Hirth From Earth. The writing -- a cycle of uncliched love songs with witty hooks framed by Ollie Halsall's succulent guitaring -- is irresistible, and Ayers' voice has never played the smoothie better. A

The Beach Boys Love You. Their singing has never been crummier, their records have never been noisier, their songs have never been weaker, their character has never been more adolescent: The Beach Boys Love You is basically awful, some of it irredemiably so. But it may also be a classic -- because they are the Beach Boys, you know that and they know that, and somehow they have a license to be crummy and great at the same time, no matter what they do. Which, among other things, makes laziness an easy out, and encourages cynicism, one schtick the Beach Boys will never get away with. So, folks, Smile a little more next time out; constant abuses of the privilege of license run the risk of revocation. A-

Elvin Bishop: Hometown Boy Makes Good. At least now that Bishop's got himself a good singer [Mickey Thomas], and got himself a good band, and keeps crankin' out that good ole good-time music, he's got it made for sure. Especially as long as nobody else on Capricorn is worth a hoot 'n holler. And the first side of this one is so good I'm tempted to raise it to the proverbial concept. But the second side makes a hard case for transcendentalism, so let's just say he's got the boogie down flat. Good enough? B+

David Bowie: Low. Where the newest, Eno-ized Bowie lays down seven great tracks of sawtooth waves and swinging synthetic percussion on one side and too much plodding noodling on the other. Had Robert Fripp showed up it couldda been great, but Bowie's one guy who should never get too good anyway. B+

John Cale: Guts. Not quite the optimum repackage for our hero: where's "Engine"? "Sudden Death"? "Ski Patrol"? "MOMAMMA SCUBA"?! But it's still the most ineluctible terror on record since Funhouse, from the last great artist of the bourgeois era. A

Blondie Chaplin. Chaplin has long been known as one of the finer singers in rock, with a vocal color and range that is virtually matchless. What has been doubted was his ability to produce original material that takes full advantage of his remarkable talents, but those doubts should finally be put to rest by this amazing album. For what we have here is nothing less than a thorough revaluation and revitalization of rock & roll as an international, interracial expression, a common idiom for the global village and its common sense; yet from our own peculiar position this is not without certain risks: 1) Chaplin builds his rock & roll from the readymade elements of pop more suitable to his unique vocal style but further afield from the normatives of our hearing than, say, Graham Parker, while 2) his very radicalization of pop elements is so formalized as to assume an oblique personnage alien to our more accustomed first-person songstance. Still, both risks are not Chaplin's -- except as they ultimately affect the album's commerciality -- but ours, posing problems we are better off if we can come to grips with. A

Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head. The Shape of Jazz to Come was. Dancing in Your Head is. A

The Dictators: Manifest Destiny. Young and fast, maybe, but scientific? The Tators' attempt at middlebrow rock & roll is not unsuccessful, but is not terribly inspired either. B

Dave Edmunds: Get It. Edmunds' revampings have been moving more toward country and rockabilly, and this time he's been lucky enough to drag Nick Lowe along with him. So this time he's got some new stuff to work with, which fits right in with the oldies -- after all, Lowe is the best rock genre writer around, and his four originals are adequate matches for any old classic -- and the production machinery is well nigh perfect, a thin, high-pitched sound that catches all the old and new/old stuff -- save "Git It" -- at their best. Impressive, as usual. B+

801 Live. Better than June 1, 1974, both in sound quality and in the integration of the material, much of which comes from Phil Manzanera's Diamond Head album, and adding bits from Eno's albums, Quiet Sun, the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" and the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." All work well, with Eno's vocal on "Rongwrong" moving into "Sombre Reptiles" a stand-out. But more than providing a novel song-selection with new mixes, providing the slight variations live albums are capable of documenting, 801 Live works on its own terms, either side. A-

Emerson Lake & Palmer: Works. As virtuosity, both conceptual and practical, goes -- clearly the relevant criterion in its authors' minds -- Works stands as far and away ELP's most accomplished work, with Carl Palmer's side the sharpest of the four. But it also stands to be the humongous stiff ELP have so long deserved: devotees of classical virtuosity are not likely to be impressed, admirers of kitsch are likely to be bored, and those in between are likely to have had enough. As a band whose most passionate interest is self-glorification, the irony of collapsing at their peak is precious. But their best album still does not hide roots paralleing the rise of fascism -- only clarifies them. C+

Archaeological notes, May 11, 2002

This was a neatly typed manuscript in the pile. Context dates this around 1977. Alphabetical distribution suggests there are a few more pages somewhere. Maybe this was intended as fodder for the second issue of Terminal Zone, which Don Malcolm ultimately released without me.