Mendelsohn: I’m of two minds when it comes to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu. On the one hand, there is some top-notch song-writing and instrumentation on this record—just high-end, super slick, well-executed recording. On the other hand, I’m supremely annoyed every time Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all sing at the same time. It might just be a consequence of production, since all four prime movers acted as producers. I imagine that none of them wanted to turn down their own vocals even if they were just backing vocals. Maybe it’s just the way they sing those vocals. I’m not really sure.
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Klinger: Hey Mendelsohn, ever play that game Taboo? Where you get a word or a name and you have to get the other person to guess it without using any words from the list? Like if you get Groucho Marx, you can’t use words like “cigar” or “mustache” or “nudist”? Let’s try that with this week’s Counterbalance. We’re going to talk at length about the Gang of Four’s 1979 album Entertainment!, but we can’t use any of the words that critics invariably fall back on when describing the group’s sound. So our Taboo words are scratchy, angular, and chattering—let’s see how we do!
While you’re planning your strategy, I’d like to go on record that I wish I’d had the good sense to get into Gang of Four and groups of their ilk while they were still a going concern. I was this close when I was young, having gotten into Elvis Costello and whatnot when I was a young youngster, but somehow I got myself distracted by the classic rock that was unavoidable and I ended up with a bunch of Eric Clapton cassettes. And to think I could have been the coolest/dorkiest 13-year-old in my suburb.
Mendelsohn: Hey, Klinger, I didn’t know Al Pacino released a record of folk tunes. I think he made a good choice sticking with the acting career. A couple of the songs are OK, but the majority of this album is a snoozer. That said, why do you think Pacino would go so far as to release a record under the name Leonard Cohen? That’s just weird, right?
Klinger: Mendelsohn, that sharp thud you just heard was my head hitting my desk. I’ve just spent the last couple weeks reacquainting myself with one of the most intelligent songwriters of the 20th century, and realizing that I’ve been sorely negligent in my Cohenology study. In this time I’ve come to understand that Leonard Cohen’s work not only rewards repeat listenings (to use a standard rock snob turn of phrase), but actually demands serious attention in order to fully appreciate the nuances of lyric and melody, and you come back saying it’s a “snoozer”? Songs of Leonard Cohen is one of the smartest albums that the Great List has handed us to date, the work of popular music’s most literary lyricist. If you found it to be a snoozer, I humbly submit that you’ve done it wrong. If you’re trying to rile me up right now you’re doing a great job.
Also he clearly looks more like Dustin Hoffman.
Klinger: In all of rock lore, there are few stories more compelling—more shocking even—than that of Rod Stewart. After years of knocking around the London R&B/Blues scene, and a fruitful time as the lead singer for the Jeff Beck Group, Stewart had emerged as one of the finest musical interpreters of his generation. He was able to take a huge range of styles, from folk to gospel and wring pathos, joy, or longing from them, and often all three in the same song. He had the voice of a (then) modern-day Sam Cooke, and the right instincts to make him a force in the roots-based rock sound of his time. Not only that, he was developing as an emotive and sensitive songwriter in his own right, although he still had a certain callow tendency to work through. All in all, though, his career was just beginning to blossom in the early 1970s.
Klinger: You and I have been on this crazy mission to discuss the most acclaimed albums of all time, as enumerated by the Acclaimed Music website (readers, head over there to check out his methodologies and algorithms and whatnot), for three years, and in that time we’ve only covered a handful albums released since the turn of the millennium. Some might argue that’s not enough. Others might argue that’s too many. I just shrug my shoulders and say that math is complicated. In most cases, I do suggest that many of these albums will lose their cachet over time, and they’ll likely slip down the charts as new albums are released and old albums are reassessed.
There’s something about LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, the latest post-millennial record to turn up on the Great List, that leaves me with the impression that it will somehow remain canonical, even if it did drop a bit with the Great List’s most recent update (readers, also check out the Excel spreadsheet over there to see where things are moving around. It’s really quite fascinating.) I’m not sure if I can quite yet put my finger on where I’m getting that impression, though. I’m leaning toward its overarching sense of its place in the larger rock tradition, but I’m not 100% sure. Mendelsohn, you’ve spent a good bit more time in this milieu than I have—maybe you can help?