Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s
Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s is a music reference book by American music journalist and essayist Robert Christgau. It was published in October 2000 by St. Martin's Press and collects approximately 3,800 capsule album reviews, originally written by Christgau between 1990 and 2000 for his "Consumer Guide" column in The Village Voice. Text from his other writings for the Voice, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Playboy during this period was also featured.
|Subject||Albums, capsule review, discography, music journalism, popular music|
|Published||2000 by St. Martin's Press|
|Preceded by||Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s|
The book is the third in a series of "Consumer Guide" collections, following Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981) and Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s (1990).
As the music industry and record production expanded during the 1980s, Robert Christgau found himself overwhelmed by records to listen to and review for his "Consumer Guide" column in The Village Voice. In September 1990, he abandoned his original letter-grading scheme on a scale of A-plus to E-minus, which had B-plus records as the most commonly reviewed and grades rarely going lower than C-minus. Instead, he decided to focus on writing reviews for A-minus to A-plus albums, with A-minus becoming the most common and those that would have ranged from B-minus to C-plus largely ignored. This change was made because, as Christgau later said, "most of my readers—not critics and bizzers, but real-life consumers—used my primary critical outlet for its putative purpose. They wanted to know what to buy."
In this new format, B-plus records were only reviewed occasionally and most were filed under an "Honorable Mention" section, featuring one short phrasal statement for each album alongside its recommended tracks. Records he considered poor were relegated to a list of ungraded "Duds" or featured in a special November column dedicated to negative reviews (titled "Turkey Shoot"), with the highest possible grade a B-minus.
Christgau refined his new format further as the 1990s progressed, anticipating the decade's rapid increase in music recording and the diversification of the CD into longer album lengths and archival releases. In 1992, he started a "Neither" (or "neither here nor there") category denoting albums unworthy of an "honorable mention" but better than "duds". The following year, an argument with fellow critic Eric Weisbard persuaded Christgau to review in each column a "Dud of the Month", which, unlike the "Turkey Shoot", featured "a fair number of dull, disappointing, or overhyped B's". In the book, Christgau advises consumers to regard anything graded B and lower as a failure.
The book explains each grade as follows:
- A-plus: "a record of sustained beauty, power, insight, groove, and/or googlefritz that has invited and repaid repeated listenings in the daily life of someone with 500 other CDs to get to."
- A: "a record that rarely flags for more than two or three tracks. Not every listener will feel what it's trying to do, but anyone with ears will agree that it's doing it."
- A-minus: "the kind of garden-variety good record that is the great luxury of musical micromarketing and overproduction. Anyone open to its aesthetic will enjoy more than half its tracks."
- B-plus: "remarkable one way or another, yet also flirts with the humdrum or the half-assed."
- Honorable Mention: "an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure."
- Honorable Mention: "an [sic] likable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well enjoy."
- Honorable Mention: "a worthy effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well like."
- Christgau later clarified that the three- and two-star honorable mentions "are B pluses I adjudge unworthy of a full review; so are most of the [one-star]'s, but I leave myself hedge room at the very bottom when there's something I feel the need to weigh in on briefly."
- Neither: "may impress once or twice with consistent craft or an arresting track or two. Then it won't."
- When the "Neither" entries were later republished on Christgau's website, they were indicated by a cartoon impassive face.
- Choice Cut (indicated by a cartoon meat slice): "a good song on an album that isn't worth your time or money--sometimes a Neither, more often a Dud."
- The "choice cut" entries are indicated by cartoon scissors ( ) on Christgau's website.
- Christgau, Robert (2000). Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-24560-2.
- Christgau, Robert (January 1, 2019). "Xgau Sez". robertchristgau.com. Archived from the original on January 1, 2019. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
- Murray, Noel; Phipps, Keith; Ryan, Kyle; Modell, Josh (October 6, 2006). "Inventory: 17 Essential Books About Popular Music". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 20, 2018.
Reviews and interviews about the book
- Cartwright, Garth (May 11, 2001). "Master of the rock review". The Guardian.
- Dansby, Andrew (February 16, 2001). "Critic Christgau Wraps the '90s". Rolling Stone.
- Klein, Joshua (March 29, 2002). "Robert Christgau: Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums Of The '90s". The A.V. Club.
- Manzler, Scott (October 31, 2000). "Christgau's Consumer Guide To Albums Of The '90s". No Depression.
- Murray, Noel (January 4, 2001). "A Critical Matter". Nashville Scene.
- Pick, Steve (December 13, 2000). "The Pleasure Principle". Riverfront Times.