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Friday, Jul 8, 2011
Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn take on Joy Division's Closer in this week’s edition of Counterbalance. It’s Number 41 on the Acclaimed Music list of the Greatest Albums of All Time. This is the way—step inside!

Mendelsohn: I love the Great List if for no other reason than its complete lack of musical semblance. One minute we are rocking out to James Brown and the next we get pitched a curve ball of an album by Joy Division. I’d like to think I could step up to the plate and hit this one out of the park, but the off-speed pitch that is Closer, has left me wanting. So I’ll defer to you. Can you make this foul ball of a record make sense for me?

Klinger: You may have confused the hard-S Closer for the soft-S, ninth-inning-pitcher closer. Happens a lot. But let’s try for a little context. By 1979, punk had revealed itself to be pretty much a dead end. Turns out there are only a finite number of ways to play four chords. Instead of making a beeline for the dogma of hardcore, some savvy bands recognized that there were two potentially better paths: you could expand your palette, like the Clash did with their glorious Technicolor panorama London Calling, or you could double down on the darkness, and that’s what Joy Division did. Both of these approaches had attributes that did a great deal to create what became the sound of the next decade. And Closer further refines the sound that Joy Division began developing on their debut—the brittle drums, chattery guitars and hard, upfront bass all became a hallmark of the 1980s. And that’s not even factoring in Ian Curtis’ doomy intonations yet.

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Friday, Jul 1, 2011
Counterbalance tackles the Hardest Working Man in Show Business as James Brown's Live at the Apollo clocks in at number 40 on the list of the most acclaimed albums of all time. As it turns out he’s freakishly strong and slightly slippery. It’s Star Time!

Mendelsohn: Klinger, I didn’t want to do this one. I’ve been putting it off only because I’ve enjoyed this record so much that I didn’t want to stop listening to it. I know we have deadlines and such, but damn, this album is hot. If we finish this column I’ll have to move on and listen to something else and that’s really depressing.

Klinger: Don’t worry, Mendelsohn, Joy Division’s right around the corner. I was a little curious as to your whereabouts, but I’m glad to hear it was because you wanted to make this moment last forever. And you’re right—Live at the Apollo is a sheer delight from beginning to end, although it does raise some important questions regarding its placement on the Great List.

For one thing, James Brown had a career that spanned over 40 years. He was there when R&B met soul, and he was midwife when those two gave birth to the funk (he’s said to have kept the placenta in a jar on his mantle). So why then, of all the albums he released, is this live album from 1963—well before he had his most notable and groundbreaking hits—the one that squeaks into the top 40?

Tagged as: james brown
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Friday, Jun 24, 2011
The Great List of the most acclaimed albums of all time makes its first foray into jazz, beginning with Miles Davis’ 1959 favorite. With no lyrics to quote, Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are having difficulty writing this introduction.

Klinger: I have to be honest here, Mendelsohn. We’ve now done dozens of these things, but this is the first one I’m actually nervous about writing. I’ve read my share of jazz criticism, and I’m all but consumed with the fear that I’m no match for the erudite insights and intimate knowledge of musical theory of Leonard Feather or Stanley Crouch. People have written whole books—chapter books!—about Kind of Blue. What can we say about this album?

Mendelsohn: First, I don’t know who Feather or Crouch are, thereby relieving me from caring. Second, people have written books about lots of things, like gravity and dinosaurs. It doesn’t necessarily make the subjects they were written about important or true and it doesn’t mean people will actually read them. Third, I think my copy of Kind of Blue is broken—no matter how loud I play it, this record still makes me want to take a nap. Am I doing something wrong? Should I try turning the volume up even higher?

Klinger: Yes, and also try listening to it without your jam-jams and Mr. Snugglebunny and a mug of hot cocoa.

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Friday, Jun 17, 2011
In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum. Counterbalance wrestled with the album and the album was overcome. U2's The Joshua Tree is next on the Great List—Klinger and Mendelsohn have a listen.

Klinger: Mendelsohn, I’m not going to lie to you. U2’s The Joshua Tree came out my freshman year of college. A time when everything is huge—the books you read, the friends you make, and the albums you hear are all imbued with epic importance. It’s the only time in your life when it’s OK to be a pretentious dork. Hearing this album again puts me right back in that time. So no matter how many points I lose from my hipper/punker/avant-gardier friends, I simply cannot help but like this album.

Mendelsohn:  I can get behind that kind of enthusiasm. I too have albums that make me feel ways about things. But, and I’m sure you could see this coming a mile away, The Joshua Tree is not one of them. When I reached the legal listening age in the mid-‘90s, U2 had transformed from honest seekers on the musical war path into a garish, sideshow pop culture act. It wasn’t really my thing. And then Bono got appointed goodwill ambassador to every country in the world and I really tuned the band out.

But listening to The Joshua Tree for this project, it’s not hard to see that the hype is justly deserved. This album is a grandiose listening experience. Not in terms of a spectacle but more along the lines of a natural wonder like a tornado or the mighty Mississippi River or a dog pooping in your yard—you can’t help but stare. I know that’s what the band was going for and they seemed to have nailed it.

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Friday, Jun 10, 2011
Hey, ho, let's go—talk quietly in the corner about the Ramones' self-titled debut and entry No. 37 on the Great List in this week's Counterbalance.

Mendelsohn: Klinger, I can’t decide whether the Ramones’ Ramones is a complete work of genius or the second-worst thing I’ve ever heard while having to listen to albums that made it onto the Great List (the first being an album from another punk band, whose name I refuse to utter lest it lend credence to their perceived stature).

Klinger: I’m glad you came to me with this problem, Mendelsohn. You wouldn’t be the first one to have trouble with this, and I think I can help. Let’s start with the more controversial position, since my New Media Consultant tells me that’s the quickest way to get this column to go “viral” with the “young people”.

Now remember, there are no wrong answers here. What makes you say that this record—this landmark album that forever changed the face of rock and paved the way for some of the most exciting music of the past 35 years—is in fact, despite its iconic status and rave reviews, terrible?

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