Latest Blog Posts

Klinger: Graceland is another one of those albums that came out my freshman year of college, so the temptation is certainly there to yammer on about that magical, terrifying period in my life—how this album was the soundtrack to my first fumbling attempts at a grown-up relationship and all the rest of that nonsense. I’ll spare you and our readers that, though, and save it for my ponderous coming-of-age novel.

Instead, I’ll say that the key to understanding the greatness of Graceland (and make no mistake, greatness abounds) is recognizing just how sorry a state Paul Simon’s career was in by the mid-1980s. After taking the second half of the ‘70s off, he returned to deliver two fairly colossal flops—the 1980 film/album One Trick Pony and 1983’s Hearts and Bones. Now, there are great songs on both records, but there’s also a sense that Simon had given over to a certain fussiness that was sapping the energy from his music. By the time Graceland came out, people my age generally thought of him as a purveyor of AM-radio mellowosity—way hipper than John Denver, but only slightly hipper than James Taylor. That’s why Graceland blew us away. It was as much a revelation for us as hearing that Gumboots tape was for Simon himself.

Mendelsohn: I don’t think there is any question that Simon created something almost otherworldly with Graceland, connecting with a vast swath of the music-consuming public—including a very impressionable six-year-old. And since you won’t get into your coming-of-age story, I might as well indulge. I was just a kid when this album hit and since Simon was making music for people like my parents, they went out and bought it, which inevitably led to me hearing it quite often.

Mendelsohn: Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs marks the first time that we get to talk about Eric Clapton. That seems a little weird to me, Klinger. So two things right off the bat: how did we get this far without talking about Slowhand, and why aren’t we talking about his work with Cream first? Layla turned out to be a one-off record that Clapton managed to get out just before his drug addiction swallowed up his career for three or four years. It’s a fine record, to be sure, but putting aside my personal problems with this album, I’m still a little at odds over its ranking. Placate my misgivings, Klinger, before I start to question other universals facts like how global warming is simply a plot to sell more sunscreen and cavemen caused the dinosaurs to go extinct because they were so damn tasty.

Klinger: Well, Mendelsohn, I think it all comes down to one word (or rather one word that my spell check really thinks should be two words)—backstory. It is true that while Cream albums serve to bridge the gap from psychedelia to the rootsier sounds that followed, Layla has the benefit of an incredible backstory. By now it’s a standard part of rock lore: Clapton had fallen madly in love with one Patti Boyd Harrison, who was not only married, but her husband was his good friend George Harrison, lead guitarist for the Beatles, a Liverpudlian pop combo of some renown. To make a long story that you could look up somewhere else short, he wrote a clutch of songs chronicling the torment that his love for Patti was causing him. He then rounded up Duane Allman and members of Delaney and Bonnie’s band, and the newly dubbed Derek & the Dominos set about recording them in a substance-fueled frenzy.

So in this one album, you’ve got a guitar legend in the midst of an epic battle with his inner demons, a love triangle involving a Beatle, hard drugs, and doomed band members (all of the Dominos died tragically young, except Jim Gordon, who was sentenced to prison after killing his mother). Given all that, it’s fair to say that rock critics didn’t have a chance.

Backstory, Mendelsohn. Makes all the difference.

Klinger: I have to say, Mendelsohn, that I’m kind of kicking myself for having ignored this album for the last 20 years. I think that its dreamlike mélange of swirly guitars and super-plush instrumentation would have served me well in my more contemplative moments. And its poppier moments would have been a nice little kick in the butt when I needed it. But the fact remains that I did basically ignore this album, and I think I have an idea why. My Bloody Valentine is a terrible band name. I know they took their name from some horror movie or something, and I know “bloody” has a different connotation across the pond, but every time I heard their name I thought they’d be some Elvira-garbed bunch of horror-goths, and I was having none of that. [Actually, you’re not too far off the mark, as MBV started out as a goth band—Ed.]

In fact, when I settled in for this, I was most pleasantly surprised by how inventive Loveless is, and at the same time how accessible it is. Opener “Only Shallow” kicks like a Pixies track underneath the big fuzz (although Belinda Butcher’s vocals are more tranquil than Kim Deal’s, even at her most heavily sedated), and there are pop moments that snap me out of my reverie throughout the album. Sure, it has its moments where its experimental sonic collages can seem daunting, but even those are at their core evocative of the sunnier side of psychedelia. I’m not necessarily saying that Loveless is entering heavy rotation at Chez Klinger, but I will say that this has been a surprisingly enjoyable time getting to know an album that I had completely overlooked because Kevin Shields and Co. chose such an unfortunate name. There’s a lesson for young bands in there, Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn: How many Bob Dylan albums must a man listen to before he’s listened to all of them? Is it 42, Klinger? Is it? Because it seems like we’ve listened a lot of Dylan since we started this fun little experiment. That’s a gross exaggeration, I know, but nonetheless, Mr. Zimmerman is again the subject of this week’s discussion, and as I’m sure you are already aware, I’m less than thrilled.

Not that Bringing It All Back Home is a terrible record. It’s got some good stuff on it—we as listeners get to see Dylan emerge from his protest past into a more abstract future and lyrically, most of it is fairly straightforward where the Dylanisms are concerned. I’ve just got this Dylan complex for which there is apparently no cure. Every time Bob starts mumbling into a mic, my heart starts racing and the room feels like it’s getting smaller. So while I try to fight my way out of this box, maybe you can explain to me why we moved back past Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited to pick up another Dylan record—this one by the young, erstwhile folksinger version trying to break away from the overpowering, oppressive folk movement?

Klinger: I don’t even know where to begin. First of all, Bob is anything but mumbling on this album. He’s shouting his new found liberation from the rooftops, and as a result Bringing It All Back Home is nothing short of a joy to hear. Seriously, rediscovering this album this week has been one the high points of this whole Counterbalance project. I had forgotten just how much fun this album is, from the rapid-fire “Subterranean Homesick Blues” through the rapturous “Mr. Tambourine Man” and onward to the incandescent, bittersweet “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. Yes, he’s in the process of fully separating himself from the dogma of the folk movement—and he had already dissociated himself from the protest sounds by the time of Another Side of Bob Dylan in 1964—and the result is a songwriter who has found an entirely new footing, leaving his contemporaries in the dust.

Klinger: Before we get going with what I hope will be a lively thrust-and-parry, I’d like to officially place Daydream Nation‘s lead-off “Teen Age Riot” on my list of all-time great Side One/Track Ones. After a curious little intro of swirly strumming—and surprisingly seductive non sequiturs from Kim Gordon—we are suddenly kicked into turbo with a classic twin guitar riff from Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. For the next six minutes you’re on a wild joy ride, albeit in a rusted out ‘72 Plymouth Barracuda with wheels that are threatening to fall off at every turn. Seldom is noise this propulsive.

“Teen Age Riot” sets the scene for an album that constantly seems to be veering between chaos and control. But at its core it sounds as if Sonic Youth is in complete command of its faculties, creating soundscapes that are rich with architecture. That’s what sets Daydream Nation apart from so many other skronk-merchants. There’s always a sense of purposefulness to their songwriting, so the noise never sounds like it’s there for its own sake.


Is Black Widow Still a Hero? Dissecting the Misogynistic Outrage Against the Avengers

// Short Ends and Leader

"Black Widow may very well be the pinnacle of the modern action heroine, so why is there so much backlash about her role in the new Avengers film?

READ the article