Mendelsohn: The last couple of times we’ve had to do an Elvis Costello record, I have been nothing but receptive. Normally, I find Costello’s music to be fun and refreshing. This week you’ve handed me Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, and to be honest, I’m not entirely impressed. It’s a good record, mostly well-thought out, excellent production—everything is spot on, but it’s missing the frenetic energy that punctuated Costello’s early releases (There are also a couple other differences I’m sure we will get to in a little bit). But while I was wandering around this album trying to figure out why it wasn’t clicking, I got bored and started looking up old reviews. I don’t normally check the old reviews, simply because most music critics are wankers, and nobody cares what they have to say. But with nothing else going on I decided to do it anyway. For the most part, Imperial Bedroom received glowing reviews. Until I got to Robert Christgau, who called the album pretentious (and that man knows the meaning of the word, believe you me). I could see that, Christgau. I don’t find it exactly pretentious, but it seems like Costello’s need for studio experimentation is going a little against his own grain. Sort of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
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Klinger: So for those of you who are paying attention, we’re trying something different around here. When we were covering the Great List in numerical order, we just took turns. Then, once we started talking about critical acclaim using our own choices, we each led off talking about our picks. Now, in an effort to shake things up a little bit, we’re forcing the other one to start talking about our selections first. Flying in blind, without a net. For those of you who aren’t paying attention, you can skip this preceding paragraph.
Except I’m afraid our inaugural effort will be a little anticlimactic, Mendelsohn, because the album you’ve chosen is one that I’m not only intimately familiar with, it’s an album I actually choose to listen to in my spare time. Nilsson Schmilsson is for some reason the only Harry Nilsson album on the Great List, clocking in at a criminally underrated No. 938, which tells me that something has gone horribly wrong around here. It may have been his commercial breakthrough, and it did birth two superhits with “Without You” and “Coconut”, but it’s hardly the lone tentpost in Nilsson’s career. The album represents a break from his earlier, more baroque albums, placing him smack dab in the juicy mainstream center of the 1972 pop scene. And I guess anything that puts a talent like his in the public consciousness is a net gain for society. But I’d hate to think that Nilsson will be best remembered for singing a couple hit songs and being next to John Lennon when he punched a waitress. He was a gifted songwriter and a hell of a singer who deserves a lot more acclaim in his own right. Is that what led you to pick Nilsson Schmilsson, Mendelsohn?
Mendelsohn: I have gone on record that I don’t particularly like ‘achingly beautiful’ records. In the long decades since we began Counterbalance there are two that probably qualify for the ‘achingly beautiful’ category: Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Jeff Buckley’s Grace. I’m sure I am missing a couple. There is probably a Nick Drake record I should include and an AC/DC album or two—although they contribute to a different kind of ache. I would like to add an another record to ‘achingly beautiful’ list (not the head-aching list). Please turn your attention to the xx’s self-titled debut.
Klinger: Remain in Light. When you talk about Talking Heads, you’re going to have to talk about how great Remain in Light is. People love that album, and rightly so. Few albums have brought such a diverse array of musical styles into one funky intellectual gumbo of sound. After that, you’ve got to talk about those great early records—77, More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music. Bold statements that bring the daring of punk into tight focus while maintaining pop sensibilities. Smart, funny, fearless. Brilliant.
Editor’s Note: This article was published on 14 January 2011.
Klinger: I gotta be honest with you, Mendelsohn. For years, I operated under the assumption that the only Bowie you really needed were the Changesonebowie and Changestwobowie compilations. Bowie just seemed like one of those artists for whom the hits told the story. That’s not a dig, either; I was inclined to lump CCR and Sly in there, too. But I was under the impression that anything beyond the FM playlists was strictly for people who showed up at parties wearing glittery unitards.
Eventually I came around and recognized that there’s a lot going on in Bowie’s deep catalog (I think it was Station to Station that did it for me, or maybe Hunky Dory), but even so, if you had played The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars for me during that time, I’m not entirely sure you would have changed my mind.