Are You There?

|
Things that you look for

Do not exist in this space

Go try elsewhere please

Counterbalance: Astral Weeks

|
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?


In this week's edition of Counterbalance: Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Funny name, nonsensical lyrics, tracks that creep toward the 10 minute mark and more improvisational spirit than you can shake a stick at. What exactly was Van Morrison smoking when he dropped this one on the unsuspecting populace? Fresh and the Qualifier investigate next:

astral.jpgFresh: I'm completely confounded by Astral Weeks' place on The Great List. Don't get me wrong, I like Van Morrison and I'm not above singing "Brown Eyed Girl" to Mrs. Randy Fresh Ocean (because she has brown eyes and she thinks its sweet). But Astral Weeks sounds like a couple of Beatniks, a folk band and a gaggle of hippies were involved in some freak transporter accident that left them fused together in some seething, ugly mass that still has enough dexterity to play the flute. What am I missing?

Qualifier: That's a beautiful story about you and Mrs. Fresh. It gives me helpful insight into your marriage.

I have no idea where to begin as far as what you're missing, because this is quite simply one of the finest albums of the 1960s. Achingly beautiful. I ache.

Remember too that Van Morrison had previously been the pint-sized head thug for the ruffian R&B combo Them, followed by an abortive stint as a top 40 pop singer (the aforementioned "Brown Eyed Girl" era). The leap from all that to a delicate, graceful musing on romanticism is basically unprecedented. It's as if Lost in Translation had starred Tony Danza.

In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?

 
Often parodied, referenced by everyone from Joan Didion to Vincent Bugliosi, and literally analyzed backwards and forwards, few albums loom as largely and ominously as The Beatles, aka The White Album. With a whopping 30 tracks ranging from bare sketches to ornate arrangements, The White Album may be the most controversial album in the Beatles' oeuvre. But is it a masterpiece or self-indulgent wankery from four guys who haven't heard the word "no" in a while? Fresh and the Qualifier investigate.

white.jpg
 
Qualifier: Before we begin, Sir Fresh, we should probably establish one ground rule: avoid discussing whether this should have been cut down to a single album. That parlor game has been played since November 1968, and I'd say it's pretty well played out. That being said, this is an unruly tangle of an album, and even though I've heard it hundreds of times, it still feels like a lot to digest.
 
Fresh: I'll adhere to that ground rule, even though I've groused about just such things in previous installments. But just so we're clear, I don't think this album should be consolidated - I think it should be chopped up and re-released as three separate albums. The Beatles (Pretty, Well Orchestrated Songs), The Beatles (These Songs Rock A Little) and The Beatles (We Are Taking Copious Amounts Of Controlled Substances And Then Recording The Results And Selling It To The Public As A Lark).
 
Seriously though, I love this record. Mostly because it's full of gems and it documents the Beatles slowly unraveling. It's like watching them realize they are stuck in a very small box. They do their best to push against the boundaries but after failing to break out they turn their aggression on each other. And then it's just a free-for-all. Well, maybe not for Ringo.

Counterbalance: OK Computer

|
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?

And then there was Radiohead. Arguably the biggest band over the past decade, the Oxford quintet made their label a mint, jumped shipped and then printed their own ticket, effectively remaking the music industry's business model in their own image. But before the super stardom, the sold out world tours and the eventual creative and financial independence, Radiohead had to transform themselves from a college radio rock band with a respectable following into the juggernaut that gives even the most stolid record exec nightmares, and it all started with 1997's OK Computer. Is Radiohead's OK Computer the towering dynamo critics say it is or is it just another flash in the Britpop frying pan? Fresh and the the Qualifier debate - next:

OK_Computer.jpg

Fresh: Before we talk about where we first heard this record or how it made us feel or why our world is a better place because of it or any of that - I'd just like to throw this out there: Radiohead's OK Computer is to the 1990s (and probably the next two decades) what the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds was to the 1960s (and 70s and 80s). 
 
Qualifier: Hmm... sonically daring, aesthetically bold and fetishized beyond its standing by pale mopey geeks? You may be onto something there, Freshy.
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?


Before Jimi Hendrix hit the scene, face-melting guitar solos were an unheard of commodity. But with 1967's Are You Experienced? The Jimi Hendrix Experience blew the doors of the unmelted face market and began searing flesh with every transcendent guitar lick. Rock, rhythm and blues were never the same afterward but can this all be laid at the feet of Hendrix (and then set on fire) or was it the inevitable evolution of rock and roll? Fresh and the Qualifer investigate in this installment of Counterbalance.

hendrix.jpgFresh: We've talked previously about separating the myth from the music, but this one is a doozy. The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? has 40 years of mystique to dig through. Where do we begin? The classic rock radio staples, the psychedelic freak outs, the down and dirty revisionist blues?

Qualifier: Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). The introduction to "Purple Haze," the album's opening track, employs the tritone, also known as the diabolus in musica. By playing the root note and the flatted fifth, you create an ominous, discordant sound that, believe it or not, was once banned by the church for invoking demons or some such thing. And unlike some of the other famous uses of the tritone ("The Siiiiimmp-sooons!"), Hendrix never resolves the melody by going up to that natural fifth that your brain is expecting. The effect is jarring, and it's a good indication of why Hendrix's music is so well-regarded today.

What I'm trying to say is that in listening to this album anew for this Counterbalance, I was struck by how tightly constructed it all sounds. Hendrix is all over the place, but it never once sounds like he's out of control.

Counterbalance: Highway 61 Revisited

|
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?

 
Bob Dylan makes a return appearance on the Big List with 1965's Highway 61 Revisited. Bob's second LP since going electric, the album features his best-known tune "Like a Rolling Stone" and has been a hallmark of college English classes for 45 years. But are those tweedy eggheads introducing young people to the Lord Byron of our time or polluting students' minds with a lot of liberal claptrap? There is, of course, no middle ground. But our intrepid Counterbalancers will do their best to navigate their way along Highway 61 Revisited.
 highway61.jpg
Qualifier: Well, well, well... look who's back, Fresh. It's your old arch-nemesis Bob Dylan! This time, though, I think you'll find that the tables have turned. This isn't the logy, substance-addled Bob that you summarily dismissed a few weeks ago. This is the lyrically focused, razor-sharp, other-substance-addled Bob you're dealing with. And I challenge you to find fault with this LP, my friend.
 
Fresh: I'm not even going to try to pretend to find fault. I like this album mostly because I like this version of Bob - the rest of them, not so much. Also, there is a whole lot less of Bob on Highway 61, which makes loving Bob that much easier. The one thing I will say: I still have no idea what he's talking about. That's not necessarily a bad thing but . . .
 
"And Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot are fighting in the captain's tower, while Calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers."
 
Seriously, Bob? WTF?!
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?


Rounding out the Top 10 is the Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols, the album that helped launch a thousand ships - full of sailors who couldn't play an instrument to save their lives. The album laid the ground work for the punk revolution - which then gave way to post-punk, alternative, grunge and a myriad of other genres plus the countless bands that inhabit them. On the other hand, critics have lambasted the punk movement, especially the Sex Pistols, for placing more emphasis on style than on substance. Will Fresh and the Qualifier lambast? Or just baste in the rotten, rancid tunes? Never Mind the Bollocks, Counterbalance is next.
 Sex_PistolsNever_Mind_The_BollocksFrontal.jpg
Fresh: I appreciate what Never Mind the Bollocks did for music in general. That's probably the last nice thing I'm going to say about this album. How about you, Qualifier? Do you have any nice things to say about the Sex Pistols?
 
Qualifier: I went out of my way to really listen to Never Mind the Bollocks in preparation for this Counterbalance (unlike previous editions where I just had my manservant give me the gist of the record). I had no idea what to expect. Like many impressionable teens, I picked up the disc in a fit of youthful rebellion then put it aside when the demands of maturity (you know, like finals and stuff) made it seem a little silly.
 
Now here I am, a 41-year-old man with a wife and kids and a mortgage, waiting to see what this disc has to offer me. And at first I was pretty pleased with the overall adrenaline rush of "Holidays in the Sun." The guitars are crunchy, the tune clips along nicely, and overall it was quite pleasant. But after 35 minutes of being hectored by a barely coherent teenager, I was about ready to dig out some old Yes albums and pretend punk never happened.

Counterbalance: London Calling

|
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?
 
The number nine album on the Big List was released in December 1979 and still managed to get called the best album of the '80s. Was it truly a spoiler for an entire decade, or was Rolling Stone just so coke-addled by that time that they lost count? Find out as Counterbalance offers up the right profile of the Clash's London Calling.

london.jpgQualifier: Well, Fresh, this marks the third double album in a row here at Counterbalance. Once again, the rockist love for the grandiose statement carries the day. Are you feeling fatigued? Aggravated? A little too eager to drop the word "sprawling" into the review?
 
Fresh: There are so many different ways I could go with this but for right now, I'm going to stay on topic: I'm sick of the double disc. Also, "sprawl" is a great vocab choice. I'm going to use it in a sentence. The Clash's London Calling is an epic, sprawling disc that will leave you sprawled out on the floor as your mind tries to wrap itself around the sprawl of genres this British band touches on in the course of an hour plus. That last use of "sprawl" might be a bit questionable, but I challenge you to use it in one sentence three times.
 
My problem with the double album is that they go on too long. While my writing may not always reflect the following statement, I'm a firm believer that if you can say something in three words, there is no reason to write an entire paragraph. I think the same thing applies to music. If you had sent London Calling to the chopping block and came back with a solid 40-minute record, would it be any less great?

Counterbalance: Exile on Main St.

|
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?

 
In 1972, the world's biggest rock band was holed up in a rickety mansion in the South of France, writing an epic love letter to the American music they loved. The result is now hailed as their masterwork. But can any album live up to the accolades that the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. has received? Fresh and the Qualifier separate the fever from the funk house - now!

exile-on-main-street-front.jpg Qualifier: Ah... that opening riff... the salacious "Oh yeaahhhh..." that sweet, sweet groove... Truly, my friend, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a better side one/track one tune than "Rocks Off" from the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. And from there the rock just keeps coming, for 67 glorious minutes. I'm not gonna lie to you Freshy - Exile is quite possibly my favorite album of all time.
 
Fresh: You forgot the mention the horns, man, the horns! I'm going to get this out of the way as quick as I can - my first run in with the Rolling Stones was Mick Jagger's appearance in Freejack, which came at a precarious time in my musical development and pretty much turned me off of the band until many years later. Conversely, it was David Bowie's performance in Labyrinth that turned me on to his music. Go figure. Regardless, I climbed on the Rolling Stones bus just a couple years ago, but I love what they've done to and for the American blues.

Counterbalance: Blonde on Blonde

|
In a past life, Fresh and the Qualifier used to get paid to write about music. For years they toiled through a tag-team article called Counterbalance, going head to head, hashing out the relative merits of new releases for the local Chicken Dinner Newspaper. But that was a long time ago - before the economy crashed, sending their frivolous Arts & Entertainment section down in flames.

After wandering in the wilderness, lost and directionless, Fresh and the Qualifier have returned to take on their most challenging assignment: the Greatest Albums of All-Time. Do these critics' darlings hold up, or are they just hyped up?


Robert Allen Zimmerman is a man of many faces and many names. As Bob Dylan he created Blonde on Blonde, album number seven on our great list, and cemented himself as the songwriter among a generation of songwriters. Dylan's music has been dissected every which way from Sunday. Can it stand a little bit more? Fresh and the Qualifier step into the ring with Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde.
 
blonde.jpgFresh: Q-Man, I'm about to commit blasphemy. I like Dylan. But I don't love Dylan. When it comes to Dylan, given my druthers, I'd rather listen to Highway 61 Revisited. When it comes to music in general, given my druthers, I'd probably choose to listen to something other than Dylan. Is there something wrong with me? Did I just cash a one-way ticket to music critic hell?
 
Qualifier: I'm glad you said that, Fresh. It's true that your abject blasphemy has most certainly earned you a place in rock critic hell (move over, guy from Entertainment Weekly). And while I'm sorry about that, I must thank you for blunting the force of my own transgression - I don't think Blonde on Blonde is anywhere near Dylan's best album, and I wish the criticerati would take a breath from their incessant fawning over it.