All the News That Didn't Fit

On the Record

The Olympia Connection, Or Lack Thereof


The Numbness Is Just a Bonus

Hiphop City


Soul by the Pound


Incest is Best

The Rise and Fall of the N-Word


If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, Tell the Truth Anyway

You Don't Own Me

Summer Lovin'

Stagger Lee

Music to Lose Your Job By

Boy, You Sure Can Take the Fun Out of Music


Stuart Braithwaite From Mogwai

Going to New York City?


A Whole N'other Level

Who Says Morrissey Fans Don't Get Laid?


Not Modest Enough

While the music critics of America collectively provide the Sampler with an unending source of material, one particular overachiever goes above and beyond the call of duty on a near-weekly basis. I'm talking about the "dean of rock critics," the Village Voice's Robert Christgau.

Besides his pedantic, overwritten reviews, Christgau frequently offers a "Consumer Guide" full of short reviews of new releases, followed by a letter grade. As pointless as it is to grade things like artistic achievement and listenability the same way you grade third graders' math tests, "The Dean" makes it that much worse by grading on a curve that slides from A- all the way down to B+. It's like band in high school, where you get a passing grade just for showing up every afternoon. How many spitballs does one have to throw at Professor Christgau to get a C?

This month, the Sampler is taking the opportunity to go over some of Dean Christgau's work with the red pen.

For starters, he opens the 11/3 Consumer Guide with the following: "Bearing down on hip hop, with plenty left undone, some of it fairly terrific, I believe or hope." -- Class, can you diagram this sentence? Trick question! It isn't a sentence! It doesn't even make any sense! It might not even be English!

"If 1,441 minutes of music go up on the Web today, that's a minute more than anyone can hear in that period, period." -- This doesn't make much sense either, but helps explain why he isn't the Dean of Math Teachers. In fact, he lacks the numerical skills necessary to use a calendar: Consumer Guide's "Dud of the Month" for November was the album that Ben Folds Five put out last spring.

"I hope someday he learns that what made Chuck Berry better than Elvis Presley wasn't soul, even if that rhymes with rock and roll the way Rolling Stones rhymes with (guess who he prefers) Nina Simone. 'New World Water' isn't just the political song of the year, it's catchy like a motherfucker." -- If Warren Beatty has taught us anything, it's that middle-aged white men shouldn't try to rap. And this coming from a review that grades Mos Def's auspicious solo debut lower than the middle-aged likes of Paul McCartney and Marshall Crenshaw.

"'Tis oft claimed he can't sing a lick, but this well-culled collection demonstrates that he's learned to croon a slurp, not to mention rock a bite in the ass." -- I don't think I can even dignify the phrase "croon a slurp" with a smart-ass response. And "rock a bite in the ass"? Does someone actually write this way, or does the copy editor put all the words in the wrong order just to mess with people?

While this isn't specifically Christgau's fault, the Voice's "Pazz & Jop" critic's poll has to be the worst-named journalistic effort in the history of the written word. Any 14-year-old who can bike down to Kinko's to put together a zine can come up with a better name to attach to their efforts. What is Christgau's fault is his contribution to the thing, not as serious a crime against the English language, but a crime nonetheless: "Pronunciamento or no pronunciamento, 1997's top 10 had room for proven noizetoonists Pavement and Yo La Tengo.... In 1998, with alt mopeburger Elliott Smith.... The closest the top 10 came to paradigm shifters was Air and Rufus Wainwright, whose very different projects mine the nonrock past to reconstitute schlock, kitsch, and the masterpieces of Western civilization." -- Where does one begin? "Pronunciamento"? "Noizetoonists"? "Mopeburger"? And weren't "paradigm shifters" what allowed the DeLorian to travel through time in Back to the Future? Air is not only boring, they're French, and while Wainwright may be a critical darling, a masterpiece of any civilization he certainly is not. Later in the same long ramble, Christgau calls suburban country singer Victoria Williams an "album-of-the-decade candidate," and billion-selling Alanis Morissette "underappreciated."

Final note: This isn't at all music-related, but I have to point out USA Today's decision to forgo the use of actual word "dove" in favor of made-up word "dived" in an 11/4 headline on the Egyptian airliner crash. I don't generally have high expectations for USA Today, but "dove" is a pretty simple nautical term not to know. If only they had asked Aquaman....