Inside Music: Consumer Guide
Consumer Guide by Robert Christgau (Images: Glasvegas/Guns N' Roses/Nine Inch Nails)

Calle 13, Glasvegas, Guns N' Roses, Nine Inch Nails and More

Fall Out Boy's "Folie à Deux" is Dud of the Month

In This Month's Column
Dos Calle 13 albums -- "Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo" and "Residente o Visitante," Glasvegas' self-titled debut, "Chinese Democracy" by Guns N' Roses, "Ghosts I-IV" by Nine Inch Nails, Jay Reatard's "Blood Visions" and "Matador Singles '08," "Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel" by Sleeping in the Aviary, and "Tourism/Terrorism" by the So So Glos; plus, Honorable Mentions/Choice Cuts and Dud of the Month/More Duds.

By Robert Christgau
Special to MSN Music

February 2009

As promised, this Consumer Guide works its way through a great many rock bands, with rewarding (and sometimes surprising) results and nothing like closure. There are plenty of other things going on, as next month's edition will reveal in good time. But smart young guys and gals making loud music with guitars are very much with us, and if you sift carefully they're worth hearing.

Calle 13: 'Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo' (Norte)

Calle 13
"Los de Atras Vienen Conmigo"

You don't have to speak Spanish to conclude that this arty, political San Juan rap duo deserve their rocketing reputation -- I sure can't, though when I squint at the booklet my puny recognition vocabulary helps. But you do have to immerse and concentrate -- and accept that you'll miss most of what's going on even then. They're reggaeton only by association, a lot further from Daddy Yankee's hey-mami dancehall than the Roots were from Dr. Dre's jeep-pimping funk. By all accounts and the little I can work out, their lyrics are playfully associative and outrageously filthy. But for gringos, their humor resides almost entirely in Visitante's out-there arrangements and Residente's overt vocal comedy, as on the Balkanized "Fiesta de Locos." If some promotional visionary were to provide trots, that might change. But as it is, big guests Café Tacuba and Ruben Blades are too mainstream to launch Calle's 2008 model into the surrealist stratosphere.

Grade: B PLUS

Calle 13: 'Residente o Visitante' (Norte)

Calle 13
"Residente o Visitante"

Start here, partly to benefit from the online discussion this album has inspired over two years -- cf.'s takeout on the Rabelaisian "Uiyi Guaye" -- but mostly to delve into sardonic sonics that hint at what Tom Zé might have gone for if he'd come up on OutKast and Eminem instead of the Beatles and the Stones. From mock-operatic intro to mock-rock finale, the music is disruptive fun throughout. Latin-flavored yet light on salsa clavé and reggaeton dembow, it sharpens the lyrics so that sometimes a single word can make you nod or smile while its context remains a mystery.

Grade: A MINUS

Glasvegas: 'Glasvegas' (Columbia)


Not a brother band -- a cousin band, possibly inbred. For sure there's something hillbilly insular about their ties to Glasgow's Dalmarnock hood. But like Dolly Parton bringing her mountain home to Nashville, they churn out big, corny, mass-appeal heart songs, with subjects including knife fights, fatherless children, and -- really -- how your social worker won't let you down. Where you'd think ex-footballer James Allan would propel this material with Mick Hucknall soul or maybe Proclaimers purism, his musical ideal is elegiac Jesus and Mary Chain noise-punk, which cleansed of the Reid brothers' junkie dissolution approaches Righteous Brothers grandeur. Innocent and confident, this is one of those bands that could fall on its face or take over the world. They're too good to be true and plain as the nose on your face.

Grade: A

Guns N' Roses: 'Chinese Democracy' (Geffen)

Guns N' Roses
"Chinese Democracy"

Hopeless eccentric spends most of his adult life and a large chunk of his ill-gotten fortune trying to make the perfect album. Succeeds, kind of, on his own totally irrelevant terms. Nobody cares. Since he's no longer capable of leading young white males astray, this effort isn't just pleasurable artistically. It's touching on a human level. Noble, even. I didn't think he had it in him.

Grade: B PLUS

Nine Inch Nails: 'Ghosts I-IV' (The Null Corporation)

Nine Inch Nails
"Ghosts I-IV"
(The Null Corporation)

Two hours of electronic instrumentals by the ranking genius of studio S&M? Despite respectful reviews, I shied away, only to be put off when I finally approached by a deliberate piano intro that turns out to be its most annoying moment. Finer minds than mine may find these pieces worthy of continuous attention. I say they're background music, there waiting when your mind drifts speakerward, just distracting enough to change up your mood in a useful way. Moved to revisit Brian Eno's "Discreet Music," I can attest that when I need mental wallpaper, I'll take Trent's. But I don't need mental wallpaper all that much.

Grade: A MINUS

Jay Reatard: 'Blood Visions' (In the Red)

Jay Reatard
"Blood Visions"
(In the Red)

Memphis boy Jay Lindsey skipped high school and ignored hallowed local traditions while generating the 10 years of garage-punk outfits, one-offs, and seven-inches that fed into this 2006 solo debut. Manhandling all the instruments on 15 songs in 30 minutes, he bashes out a sloppy Ramones homage that gets the New Yorkers' tune-smart momentum without finding much comedy in "My family they never knew" or "See you in the park/See you doing well." As the Ramones discovered and Jay came in knowing, this trick is harder than scoffers will ever understand, and there's no reason to think he'll ever try it again. There's also no reason to think he'll ever learn how to spell S-T-A-X.

Grade: A MINUS

Jay Reatard: 'Matador Singles '08' (Matador)

Jay Reatard
"Matador Singles '08"

Arranged chronologically in order of recording and release, these five two-sided singles, one three-song mini-EP, and one split seven-inch cohered better in their original formats -- in sequence, the internally consistent comic-book gothic "Trapped Here"/"Hiding Hole"/"DOA" and sad-sack romance "No Time"/"You Were Sleeping" undercut rather than augment each other. It's not like Reatard is up to the level of classic Buzzcocks or something -- his real but inconsistent pop gift can use a little shaping. So this hodgepodge will grow in meaning if he gets it together and sink from memory if he doesn't.

Grade: B PLUS

Sleeping in the Aviary: 'Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel' (Science of Sound)

Sleeping in the Aviary
"Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel"
(Science of Sound)

What dewy tenderfeet get from Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, the weathered gimp who writes this column gets from Vernon's fellow Wisconsinite Elliott Kozel. Kozel leads actual band members, second fiddle though their bass-drums-accordion/saw may play, and sings like a 14-year-old freaked out by the frog in his throat rather than an angel choking his monkey. Informed by two untimely deaths as well as a Kanye-like combo of ailing mother and fractured romance, Kozel is feeling his mortality more concretely than the average young guy struck by the fact that 25 years equals a quarter of a century. Over a bereft, sardonic, punky power strum, he spins out songs that evoke the nearness of death and the fragility of romance all the more suggestively for not being quite literal about either, which is rarely how it works with tenderfoot image-slingers these days. First he's running around with his girl in the ground, then he's helping his mom with her shot. Both ways he feels terribly alone but knows he isn't.

Grade: A MINUS

The So So Glos: 'Tourism/Terrorism' (Green Owl)

The So So Glos
(Green Owl)

In which a Brooklyn brother band live out their fantasy that Mick Jones took over the Clash and began writing Joe's songs. Rid of its carefully inserted "20-0-8," "My Block" could have been the beloved B-side of "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais": "The rich kids in the hungry neighborhoods out looking for something to eat," exactly. Elsewhere on this nine-song, 27-minute EP they're woozier, which isn't to say less punk. Be glad they're young enough to learn that there are only so many times you can swear your 40 will never turn into a cappuccino before the future bites you in the ass anyway.

Grade: A MINUS

More: Honorable Mentions/Choice Cuts | Dud of the Month/More Duds

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  • March 2009: Clipse, K'Naan and the Living Things Get Nods; Ludacris, Soulja Boy Tell 'Em and More Receive Honorable Mentions; the Knux Are Dud of the Month
  • February 2009: Calle 13, Glasvegas, Guns N' Roses and Nine Inch Nails Get Nods; Fall Out Boy's "Folie à Deux" is Dud of the Month
  • January 2009: Taylor Swift, T-Pain and Kanye West Get Nods; Darius Rucker, Akon and More Receive an Honorable Mentions; Beyoncé's "I Am ... Sasha Fierce" is Dud of the Month
  • December 2008: Buena Vista Social Club, GZA/Genius, T.I. Get Nods; Lucinda Williams, Ice Cube, Young Jeezy and More Receive an Honorable Mentions; Plies Is Dud of the Month
  • November 2008: TV on the Radio and Poet Robert Creeley Get Nods; Iron & Wine, Todd Snider and Blitzen Trapper Get Honorable Mentions; Bon Iver Is Dud of the Month
  • October 2008: Jenny Lewis Gets a Nod; Jeffrey Lewis Is Dud of the Month
  • September 2008: The Hold Steady, Conor Oberst and Randy Newman Get Nods; Natasha Bedingfield Is Dud of the Month
  • August 2008: Nas Names Names (But Not His Album), Death Cab For Cutie Get Complimented and the Dean Deep Sixes the Three 6 Mafia
  • July 2008: Lil Wayne Gets a Good Review from the Dean (He's Also "Dud of the Month"
  • June 2008: Magnetic Fields, Santogold and More Get Compliments; Leona Lewis Is Dud of the Month
  • May 2008: The B-52's, Drive-by Truckers and the Roots All Receive High Marks
  • April 2008: Kate Nash, Los Campesinos!, Erykah Badu, Mika, Kathleen Edwards, Snoop Dogg and More
  • March 2008: Daft Punk, Lupe Fiasco, Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock and More
  • Feb. 2008: Mary J. Blige, Manu Chao, Jill Scott and More
  • Jan. 2008: Hail Hip-Hop! Ghostface Killah and Wu-Tang Clan, Soulja Boy and More
  • Dec. 2007: M.I.A., Gogol Bordello Rate Perfect
  • Nov. 2007: White Stripes Not Icky But Nick Rates Low
  • Oct. 2007: Kanye Graduates With an A-Minus but 50 Cent's a Dud
  • Sept. 2007: Common, Fountains of Wayne, Bright Eyes Make the Dean's List
  • Aug. 2007: Lucinda Is Laudable but Pretty Ricky Is a Dud
  • July 2007: Miranda Lambert, Arctic Monkeys and More
  • June 2007: Wilco, Apples in Stereo, Hot Chip and More
  • April - May 2007: Beck, Nas, the Arcade Fire and More
  • Feb. - March 2007: Beyoncé, Lily Allen and More
  • Dec. 2006 - Jan. 2007: Bob Dylan, the Hold Steady and More
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