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Mendelsohn: Klinger, I’ve never been able to make a connection with Wilco and I don’t know why. I have nothing against their music; in fact, given the choice, I’d pick Wilco over most other listening experiences. I liked the entire week I spent getting reacquainted with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it’s not an album I found myself reaching for in the past and I doubt that will change going into the future.

When we got to this album I think my reaction was something along the lines of, “Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is number 71 on the Great List? I guess that makes sense.” I also remember being happy that it wasn’t another Bob Dylan album. Anything in particular on this album you want to talk about? If nothing else, it does have an interesting back story.

Klinger: I’m not 100% sure how you manage to listen to Wilco relatively often without forming a connection to it, but I’m sure that will become clear as we go along here. As for me, I was a big fan of Jeff Tweedy’s pre-Wilco band, Uncle Tupelo, and I remember finding it odd that their split led two solid bands, instead of two lousy bands or one good band and one lousy band—it’s a true rarity in the rock world.

At any rate, I drifted away from Wilco in the early part of the ‘00s—apparently the worst possible time to lose touch, as by all accounts they were delivering their career-defining masterpiece with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Classic Klinger timing. So I had a glancing familiarity with many of the songs on the album, because I was a college-educated middle class white male, aged 30-39, and it was a demographic requirement. But very seldom have I really settled in for a listen. Now that we’re forcing ourselves to listen to the greatest albums of all time as per the Great List, I can say that I regret having lost touch. This is a terrific album.

But I’m sorry for interrupting. You were saying something about a back story?

Klinger: In our attempt to make sense of the most acclaimed albums of all time (as mathematically determined by the Acclaimed Music website), Counterbalance has covered a pretty broad spectrum of musical styles. But as we reach Portishead’s Dummy, one nagging thought keeps occurring to me: whatever we end up saying about the album here, it’s the second trip-hop album we’ve covered so far, and that strikes me as odd for a genre that really kind of died off some time during President Clinton’s second term (or perhaps more accurately, Tony Blair’s first term). For folks keeping score at home, that’s Hip-Hop: 1, Trip-Hop: 2.

But that’s where you come in, Mendelsohn. I rely on you for guidance whenever we have to talk about anything that ends in the word “hop”, so I’m going to need you to talk me through this one. I don’t have anything against Dummy, but I really wasn’t paying much attention to this sort of thing when it was happening, and I feel like I may have missed the broader cultural context. Why is trip-hop so well-represented on the Great List, and why do you reckon is Portishead is so highly regarded?

Mendelsohn: I didn’t know who Jeff Buckley was before we started this crazy endeavor. Now that I know who he is, and have listened to his music, I don’t feel like my life has improved in any measurable way. I’m also a little upset that Jeff Buckley isn’t Jeff Beck, which is who I thought we’d be covering until I actually bothered to read the entire name of the entry.

It’s weird that I haven’t had much of a run-in with Buckley, especially since this album was released right at the heart of my teen years, when music meant everything. But then, I was listening to exactly the opposite of however you might characterize this album. Although apparently, I’m not the only one who doesn’t know who Buckley is either, since the last three people I just asked had the same response. Do you know who Jeff Buckley is, Klinger? And if you do, how exactly would you characterize this album?

Klinger: You do realize the giant can of whoop-ass you’ve just opened up upon yourself, don’t you Mendelsohn? Jeff Buckley may necessarily not be a household name, but he does have a pretty devoted following among music nerds the world over, and I’m sure many of them have already scrolled down to the comments section to alert you to your woeful ignorance. If nothing else, you should at least be aware of his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, which has made its way into the public vernacular as something of a standard, appearing on most television shows in the last decade as well as just about every season of American Idol. If you’re not careful hearings will soon be called to discuss revoking your music nerd status. I’ll probably testify on your behalf. We’ll see.

Klinger: I’ve generally considered John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band to be an album that is more respected than liked. It has a built-in reputation as the by-product of Lennon’s “Primal Scream” phase, a brief time in which he employed the therapies of Dr. Arthur Janov and took to shrieking his troubles away. All of this baggage caused me to think of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band as pure catharsis, an extended rant from a young man who was fed up with the trappings of his culture, and was as a result lashing out at everything around him—the Portnoy’s Complaint of rock, if you will, albeit with fewer masturbation references.

Actually revisiting the album again after so many years, though, I find it to be a far more controlled listening experience than I was expecting. There’s surprisingly little screaming, and in fact it’s quite the tuneful record in places, with Lennon crafting some of his finest melodies (“Love” and “God”, to name two examples). Yes, the lyrics are pretty biting throughout, but it’s hardly the yell-a-thon I had built up in my mind. Lennon seldom even sounds like he’s curled up in the fetal position. But Mendelsohn, I’m going to take a stab here and guess that you were less encumbered by the reputation of this album—what’s your take?

Mendelsohn: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme marks only the second jazz album we’ve encountered on the Great List. The last one we worked over was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and in the intervening weeks I’ve done absolutely no work toward learning how to listen to jazz. My attempts at doing so in the past were also a failure—I received a D when I took a Jazz class my freshman year of college. How hard could it be, I thought? All you have to do is listen to jazz.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the free-form expressionist tendencies that come skittering off this record, but if we’re going to talk about chord structures, odd time signatures, and modality, please don’t be offended when my eyes glass over and I go to my happy place, which, for your information, is a rock concert where all of my favorite bands battle monsters with the power of their rock and roll.

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