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"Step aside, open wide, it's the loner"

Class D

Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
Also applicable: Hard Rock, Folk Rock, Roots Rock, Guitar Heroes
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Neil Young fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Neil Young fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Neil Young got to be one of the most, if not the most, gruesomely overrated solo artists in rock music. He seems to be the love and pride of every music critic - alive and dead, and, at first glance, he deserves it. There are three main points that seem to summarize all of the man's positive value. First, he is thought of as a contemplative, philosophical balladeer, following in the steps of Bob Dylan as far as introspective singing-songwriting goes: his soft, acoustic tunes with presumably deep, hard-to-understand and obviously heartfelt lyrics are often deemed to reflect the very 'spirit of America', if indeed there is such a thing (as an outsider, I wouldn't really know about that!) Second, he's known as an endless experimentalist, shifting from one style to another with such ease as if all of them were nothing but spare pairs of pants. He's never stuck to a single formula, and the 'pushing forth of music boundaries' label is appliable to him maybe more than to anybody else. Third, he's still a rocker at heart, and again, the critics drowned him in a sea of appraisal - both in the era of punk and in the era of grunge, when Neil came out with winners at a time when everybody else of his epoch was mercilessly labeled a sold-out old fart. What could there possibly be done about it? Intelligent, skilled, talented, diverse, emotional and wreckless - isn't it clear that Neil Young is one of the greatest rock musicians, composers, performers, and, well, dudes in existence? The golden boy of rock'n'roll?

Well, actually, no. The critics may bug unsuspecting listeners with their fake, conventional and eventually sterile panegyrics, but they don't fool me. Sure, Neil Young isn't the worst performer on the planet - I enjoy quite a fair share of his output, and some of his ballads and rockers are absolutely breathtaking. He fully deserves the solid D class rating I gave him. Maybe weak C, in a better life. But his strength - the strength that picks him out of the roots-rock crowd and elevates to God status - lies primarily in his cleverly constructed image, and not in his composing talents. (A thing which I already complained about when discussing Frank Zappa; however, I consider Zappa to be a much more interesting musician and performer than Neil, all points taken). Speaking in general, his ballads are often just bland, hookless 'periods' of acoustic strumming, hardly distinguishable melodically from legions of other roots-rockers, uninventive and generic, and the lyrics, particularly on the early albums, may seem all puffed up and mystical and weird, but in fact whenever he's going "prophetic" he's just making, be it conscious or subconscious, a lame emulation of Dylan - always trying to but never succeeding in surpassing the master. His experimentation, to a large degree, is failed: the Eighties saw a collection of strange, mostly unsuccessful industrial, rockabilly, country and synth-pop records that often make even fans cringe. And as for the other epochs, this particular facet of his reputation is fake: even his best albums are anything but diverse, all built on the same gruff electric rocker - soft acoustic ballad opposition (except for cases, and numerous at that, of records with no gruff electric rockers at all). Over the years, he's been consistent, but apart from the weird Eighties, always recognizable.

Finally, his reputation as that of a 'rocker that refuses to be washed up' is deserved, but it's not outstanding - contrary to rumours, Neil isn't the only dinosaur who knew how to rock all the way and knows it still. For my money, Keith Richards always rocked much harder than Neil Young (where 'harder' doesn't necessarily mean adding loads of distortion and trying to pull a Johnny Rotten or a Kurt Cobain - and for some reason, nobody ever mentions that Neil's guitar technique is pretty limited), and he still rocks harder than Neil Young; here's at least one serious competitor for you. And if you try to label Keith Richards as a sell-out, well, you'll only get my hysterical laugh in return. Or take a listen to Lou Reed's Ecstasy... suddenly, the perspective of 'aging with grace' doesn't seem as unique and outstanding as it seemed originally.

Now that I got that off my chest, let me apologize for the roughness and say that Neil really is a serious artist - it's just that general American critical opinion seems to recognize him as one of the two or three of its main national musical heroes, a conception that is wrong, harmful and needed to be dismissed. Just because he managed to play such a Biblical role on After The Gold Rush and Harvest doesn't mean he really knew what the hell he was doing at the time. His pretentions are never matched by his music, and his whiny, but utterly pleasant and sometimes even beautiful voice is never matched by the contents of his lyrics. However, if you do not worry so much about his cultural image and his occasionally meaningless and unimaginative lyrics, but instead just take his albums as they are, without the hype and the nearly religious awe, they are still guaranteed to bring you pleasure - some pleasure, at least, since it all depends on how much you enjoy roots rock, on one side, and hard rock, on the other. There's no denying that Neil is a good singer, guitar player, and a thoroughly intelligent and, well, interesting dude, and although I completely despise the fact that he's been so 'critically revived' over and over again while, for instance, the Rolling Stones have been not, it's still an honour to see the man still stand out loud and proud despite all the circumstances.

My personal intimate feelings? There you go. I consider his blues-, country- and folk-rock stylizations passable, but not very imaginative and definitely undistinguished except by his voice and an occasionally cleverly placed feedback outburst; but then again, I'm not a big fan of the Grateful Dead either and I didn't even like the Band at first listen, so what do I know? You find out for yourself! If you wanna worship Mr Young, who am I to stop you? So on to the reviews, now!



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

What's that, symph-hard rock with folk elements or hard folk with an occasional string quartet?

Best song: THE LONER

Track listing: 1) The Emperor Of Wyoming; 2) The Loner; 3) If I Could Have Her Tonight; 4) I've Been Waiting For You; 5) The Old Laughing Lady; 6) String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill; 7) Here We Are In The Years; 8) What Did You Do To My Life?; 9) I've Loved Her So Long; 10) The Last Trip To Tulsa.

Although this record isn't all that diverse, you can still easily see that Neil Young had a very experimental nature from the very beginning of his prolific solo career. Apparently, on his first solo album he tries his forces in several genres as if the album's main goal were to establish what are the things he's best at. Thus, the record is not really all that good - for every successful gem you get a failed experiment or something. Actually, for me the question of 'what's best on here?' is non-existent: it's the songs that come closer to Neil's preferred genre that always was his forte and never really was subject to any other rock performer. Call it 'soft-hard rock', if you wish: gentle (or not so very gentle, after all) ballads underpinned by a gruesomely distorted, yet masterfully played quasi-metallic riff. I admit it's very hard to try and marry these two tendencies, but when you get a true master to do it, the game's worth it: the 'hardness' gets artsy, and the 'sissiness' gets angry and moody. Terrific ballads like 'I've Been Waiting For You' and 'What Did You Do To My Life?' both qualify in that direction, and the first one is supplemented by a beautiful wailing solo that strongly reminds you of late-period Beatles; in fact, the whole song is kinda Lennon-ish - it even reminds me of 'I'm Losing You' (all right, so Double Fantasy didn't really come out until eleven years lately, but who cares?). And the combination of sweet vocals, 'bland' backups and sharp, poignant guitar tone on 'What Did You Do To My Life?' really makes the song unforgettable - gentle in the verses, slightly menacing and ominous in the chorus, with contrasts sending shivers down your spine.

Best of the pack, however, is 'The Loner', which is certainly not a love ballad - it's the first in a long row of anti-social, misanthropic compositions that Neil is quite known for. Again, it doesn't have a hell of a melody (although the refrain is certainly charming and quite unpredictable), but the addition of a heavy rhythm track gives the song an extra dimension - like, you know, it has depth and kicks butt at the same time? Wow! And it even has some strings on top, not to mention the moody organ background.

Not that the excessive use of strings on the record is a very good idea - they mar the perfectly decent introductory instrumental 'The Emperor Of Wyoming', and Jack Nietzsche's 'String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill' is a waste of tape. But I guess Neil just couldn't resist the temptation to stay on top of all current tendencies (a thing that usually served him well in the Seventies, but nearly ruined his reputation in the Eighties). Since art rock was becoming fashionable, he probably thought adding strings would be his contribution to the genre - truth is, they are almost Hollywoodish, surpassed in their banality only by Days Of Future Passed. Fortunately, both the instrumentals are very short.

Otherwise, the two main inspirations for this record seem to have been soul balladeering and Bob Dylan. Neither, however, have led to particularly interesting results. Songs like 'The Old Laughing Lady' and 'I've Loved Her So Long' are totally inoffensive and sometimes even pretty, but utterly unmemorable and with no edge, and 'Here We Are In The Years' is only a little better because, to tell you the truth, I like Neil's subtle guitar passages on that one - so tasty and inspired. They just sit there and chew this sentimental stuff for serious running times ('Old Laughing Lady' seems to go on forever), but with no obvious results. At least, no immediate ones - I don't have enough time to listen to this record for fifteen thousand times. And when Neil tries to pull a Bob Dylan by taking out his acoustic, creating a pedestrian melody and chanting several pseudo-Buddhist life situations over the course of nine and a half minutes ('The Last Trip To Tulsa'), it's simply unbearable, because he's no Bob Dylan and he just can't arrange the song in such a way that it wouldn't sound grossly pretentious and ridiculous. Gotta give the man some credit for the lyrics, though: that story about chopping down the palmtree is downright amusing, and, of course, those anti-Dylan fans that find his voice unbearable, will prefer to flow in this particular direction.

A patchy affair, this album, with enough filler to seriously lower its rating, yet it has its moments and at least it's not as biblically self-conscious as many subsequent albums would be. And maybe its ultimate enthralling lies in the fact that, whilst it was recorded in 1969, it bears virtually no traces of the hippie style: instead, it's a set of personal revelations, like a half-hearted prelude to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Fans are only left wondering why the hell did Neil feel the necessity to join Crosby, Stills & Nash the same year - the band that simply epitomized the whole hippie movement. Maybe he was feeling lonely? Maybe he thought that falling to the 'power of love' would cure his personal problems? (Well, thanks anyway - after all, it was nobody's merit but his that he managed to save Déjà Vu from utter ruin.) But I guess the correct answer is that he just had to test his limits once more...



Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Should have been called "The Best And Worst Of Neil Young" instead.


Track listing: 1) Cinnamon Girl; 2) Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; 3) Round & Round (It Won't Be Long); 4) Down By The River; 5) The Losing End (When You're On); 6) Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets); 7) Cowgirl In The Sand.

Yep, Neil Young as I love him and as I seriously don't just about totally arrives on this record. It's also the first of his numerous collaborations with whippin' boys Crazy Horse (oops, I meant "backing" boys, actually), and thus, quite heavy in its own way. In fact, while the debut did have a few hints at what was lying in store for us guitar-lovers, mainly in the shape of these poorly heard guitar assaults in the background, it's this album that fully establishes the classic "Angry Neil Young" style. Mean, distorted, crunchy guitars, played as unprofessionally as possible yet as emotionally as possible - which even leads to some people calling this the first ever grunge album. Maybe not quite, though; these guitars are nowhere near as aggressive and ass-kickin' as your typical grunge assault. In fact, I'd go as far as to say they don't really "kick ass" at all, but wait up on that.

The album is more or less equally divided here between "heavy" numbers and "light" countryish/folksy numbers, similar to the ones on the previous album (and even more similar to the ones on virtually every following Neil Young album he did in the Seventies). And I hate to say it, but essentially it's also what draws the line between 'good' and 'bad' for me on this record. Okay, so I don't have anything in particular against the mild country-rock of the title track; it's short, it's upbeat, it's catchy in its own way, and the hickey 'la-la-la' backing vocals are actually hilarious. Besides, the guitar interplay between Neil and Danny Whitten on that song actually reminds of the better moments in the 'heavy' half.

But nothing in the world will ever make me like stuff like 'Round And Round (It Won't Be Long)'. Granted, it's not so annoyingly self-pitying as Neil's mid-Seventies acoustic material, but it's equally melodyless, and no, I'm not dragging out the lyrics sheets to try and analyze the guy's feelings on that one. I could just as well skip this material and listen to introspective Russian "bards" as well - you know, put three chords together, get a battered acoustic, and sing something really really "deep" and "philosophical", looking as serious as possible, as if it's God who's singing through you. Don't forget the cliches, of course. Blah. At least 'The Losing End' has some kind of rhythm to it, which doesn't make it a particularly good country-rock song either, and 'Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)' has that plaintive violin and all - for Heaven's sake, they look gorgeous compared to 'Round And Round', because if you're just picking up an acoustic to play your song, you'd better be goddamn good at that acoustic. Otherwise, just write a poetry book or something. (Not that anybody will ever buy that poetry book, which is why guys like Neil always take care to put their most boring creations right next to the most involving ones.)

But anyway, let's just concentrate on the good side, like the crocodile said to the lichen-struck little lamb. For us, that'll be one short song and two very long ones. 'Cinnamon Girl' is probably the best-known number from the record, and it packs the "proto-grunge tension" into a brief three minutes in a very special way indeed. Two hoarse roaring guitars, one in each speaker, each of them slowly playing the same simplistic "clumsy" riff - that's the Neil Young guitar paradise for you. And then, after a couple verses, come the whacky solos that are so goshdarn "untrained" you can't even call them adrenaline-raising. They're something else. Garage rock as high art, if you wish. Just because nobody else thought of this before.

As for 'Down By The River' and 'Cowgirl In The Sand', they're pretty much interchangeable, except the second one is a little more "rough", so I like it better. They have amazingly catchy melodies, no mean feat for Mr Young; but truth be told, it's not the main melodies, it's the instrumental passages that make them classics of the genre. Simply put, Young and Whitten invent a whole new type of jamming here; double-guitar interplay that's not based on professional skill, but is all mired in "expressivity". On 'Down By The River', it seems like the two guitars are holding a dialogue with each other; on 'Cowgirl', it looks like they're punching each other in the fretboard. One place where you're sure to encounter that kind of playing is on the Who's live records; essentially put, Pete Townshend was among the first rock players to pioneer that kind of soloing - isolated, 'gargling' phrases that don't require that much technique but do require a hell of an artistic, emotional soul to be actually played. But Townshend had just one guitar, and he never really dared to include these lengthy improvisational outbursts to be captured in the studio, saving them for live shows. Neil was probably the first guy to include that kind of guitar playing as an essential part of the composition itself.

Not that it's a spectacular achievement in the pure musical sense, but the exact solos themselves certainly are. It's a damn pleasure to follow Young and Whitten unwrap parts of their improvisations, so you never know where the hell they are going to turn next. Actually, the "meeker" guitar interplay on 'Down By The River' is probably unique... never to be met again. The guitar soloing on 'Cowgirl In The Sand', though, establishes a firm base for all the subsequent Young guitar jams, from 'Cortez The Killer' to 'Like A Hurricane' to 'Change Your Mind'. It's only too mysterious why this kind of song was pretty much abandoned by Neil for almost half a decade after this record, though.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Well, he might not be the next Bob Dylan after all, but the soulful approach on this record really gets under your skin...

Best song: TELL ME WHY

Track listing: 1) Tell Me Why; 2) After The Gold Rush; 3) Only Love Can Break Your Heart; 4) Southern Man; 5) Till The Morning Comes; 6) Oh Lonesome Me; 7) Don't Let It Bring You Down; 8) Birds; 9) When You Dance You Can Really Love; 10) I Believe In You; 11) Cripple Creek Ferry.

This is often considered to be Neil's best, but I can't really do justice to this rumour, seeing as I haven't yet heard everything the man pumped out (and he pumped out quite a lot). Out of the albums I own, though, it is really the most solid and melodically rich, though it takes some time to understand it. By 1970, Neil Young had finally figured out his act, and his plans on here are obvious - he is planning to replace Bob Dylan on the singer-songwriting scene, trying to combine the man's lyrical wit, 'father-of-the-nation'-personality vibe, and stripped-down arrangements with a more heart-wrenching intonation and an occasional tasty distorted guitar lick now and then. In a certain sense, he succeeded: this album started rock critique's lengthy and passionate romance with Neil that lasts up to this day and is as sickeningly overblown as possible. But, musically speaking, he fails: his whiny voice is far better than Dylan's, and this gives most of the songs an unpleasant, pretentious feel: the title track, even if it is one of the best numbers on the whole record, sounds too prog-rockish to be really representative of 'the heart of the nation'. If anything, Neil is simply not the perfect candidate for that 'salt-of-the-earth' image the critics love to assign him every now and then: he's far too clever, experimental, and, well, whiny for that status.

However, this does not mean that the album isn't enjoyable. Like I said, it's a bit hard to get into, but once you've filtered away the filler, the task won't be so frustrating. Most of the songs look simplistic: 'ordinary' acoustic or piano ballads, diversified a little with a couple of moderate rockers, one on each side. Neil is backed by members of the Crazy Horse, his beloved band, but it doesn't really look like a band effort: if not for the lush harmonies on much of the tracks (sometimes provided by Steve Stills), you wouldn't really know 'bout no stinkin' band. But the album is not 'folky' or 'countryish', like Harvest; instead, Neil goes for a more pop approach on most of the tracks. Several of the ballads are utterly dispensable, like the loose, sappy, hookless love ballad 'Birds' or the cover of Don Gibson's 'Oh Lonesome Me' - can a song like that one truly belong on a classic album? It's just a by-the-book country number that doesn't deviate from the 'standard' formula not by one iota. And I utterly hate that monotonous 'pam-pam... pam-pam... pam-pam...' thump of the emotionless, slow, stuttering waltz 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', a song that's as uninspired and formulaic as could be.

But once in a while Neil really hits upon a gold mine: the opening 'Tell Me Why', with its sad, wistful and captivating chorus, somehow does manage to convey that gloomy, melancholic feeling of life's uselessness, even if I'm not sure whether the lyrics really mean it. What could they mean, anyway? Neil isn't an especially terrible lyricist, but I wonder how many people spent large portions of their lives trying to decipher the lines 'Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself/When you're old enough to repay but young enough to sell?' Whatever, the chorus hits a very sensitive string in my soul, hardened as it is against Neil's usual whinings.

Of course, the title track beats it to 'Tell Me Why' as the most incomprehensible, incoherent set of quasi-poetic visions in this record; the lyrics are clearly Dylan-inspired, but, unfortunately, the mood is as far from Bob as possible. Lucky for the song that it has a pretty, if not breathtaking, melody, and that Neil really is a great singer, which no one can deny; otherwise, I would easily have dismissed it as some kind of second-rate prog-imitating crap. Yeah, Neil succeeds in being as incomprehensible as Bob (that's no big problem), but he utterly fails in conveying a specific mood with these lyrics. So forget it and better pay some more attention to 'Don't Let It Bring You Down', a ballad similar in tone but slightly more emotionally resonant. It sounds like its title suggests - some angry and sorrowful lyrics about a dead man lying down by the road and a blind man who lost his cane in the night, but anyway, 'don't let it bring you down/It's only castles burning', right? Arguably the most disturbing and 'politically incorrect' song on the album, even more so than 'Southern Man'. I love hearing the hidden menace and irony in that one - at least we have something with an edge.

The rockers are also quite interesting, and certainly have nothing to do with each other. 'When You Dance You Can Really Love' is, in fact, a conventional pop rocker - with bland love lyrics and a near-dance beat, yet it is quite catchy in its dumbness, and in addition features some incredible piano work from Jack Nietzsche in the final 'jam' section. But, of course, the song that causes the most controversy is 'Southern Man', a song with some obvious references to slavery and the post-Civil War situation in the South but whose message is rather vague. Seems like Young is mocking the traditional Southern ideology, but who really cares in this increasingly industrial world of ours? Me, I don't give a damn 'bout those lyrics, but I sure like the guitar parts on there - a bit tame compared to some of the soloing on Young's debut album, but certainly the most adrenaline-raising segment of this here record.

Taken together with two tasty short snippets (the jolly piano ditty 'Till The Morning Comes' and the countryish send-up 'Cripple Creek Ferry'), these songs really make up for a normal listening - there's almost nothing that would lift you off the ground and carry away into the clouds, but there's at least enough entertainment value to allow you to sit through this without falling asleep. And well, at least it's stylish. That's already saying much.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

A bleak collection of forced out country songs with next to no interesting melodies. Yeah, of course it's heartfelt, but that's understood.

Best song: HARVEST

Track listing: 1) Out On The Weekend; 2) Harvest; 3) A Man Needs A Maid; 4) Heart Of Gold; 5) Are You Ready For The Country?; 6) Old Man; 7) There's A World; 8) Alabama; 9) The Needle And The Damage Done; 10) Words (Between The Lines Of Age).

Overrated, and again, together with Willy And The Poorboys and a couple of other notorious records, a complete mystery to me. Unlike Willy, though, I'm easily observing that Harvest is definitely not a critics' favourite - it might be Neil's best-selling album ever, but the 'intellectuals' are usually tending to put it down, at least a little, and I eagerly raise my voice in the chorus.

See, there's really no words of praise that could prove appropriate for this record. The album's an almost pure excourse into country'n'bluegrass - but not the fast, rollicking country that I enjoy so much, and not even the generic, but understandable country of the Byrds (not to mention John Fogerty): it's Neil Young-country, which means it's slow, dull, 'serious' and totally uninteresting musically. If you're looking for any vintage riffing or various musical curiosities, this is not only not the place to start - it's the place to finish. Yet, for some reason, this was a true multi-mega-seller, and it's a paradox of history that 'Heart Of Gold', maybe one of the most undistinguishable Young tunes (heck, it's even quite simplistic lyrics-wise), went on to become his first and only # 1 in the US. Well... maybe it was accidentally mistaken for a Carpenters song?

All right, I'll be honest and indulgent. It is true that the album has a single, but truly important, quality that partly redeems it: it's an album of a man with a bleeding heart. Most of the tunes, rudimentary and spontaneous as they might be, still carry that sincere and confessive imprint that sometimes makes even a total duffer come to life. The lyrics and singing on such songs as the title track, 'Out On The Weekend', 'Words' and 'Old Man' are simply wonderful, and if you're able to identify yourself with the suffering hero you're fine - you'll adore the record. Unfortunately, I find it hard for me to get Neil's psychological state: I don't even understand what the hell he's singing about half the time. Sometimes he seems to have problems with women ('Out On The Weekend'), and sometimes he seems to express these problems in a horrible way ('A Man Needs A Maid' - really! What are the connotations of this expression, I wonder?) Sometimes he seems to have problems with drugs ('The Needle And The Damage Done'), sometimes with finding the sense of life ('Old Man'). But somehow all of these lyrics sound lost and pointless - like he's so confused he doesn't even know what to do of his problems (except finding himself a maid, of course). Dunno. Seems strange and a little mixed-up.

Now, on to the melodies, and this is where my backlash hits really hard - of course, I don't know crap about good melodies, but I know sure as heck that these particular melodies just aren't the ones I've been looking for all of my life. Sometimes it's just a crazy mess with a couple uninteresting rhythm guitars and a couple of chords - even the frenzied, 'emotional' solo doesn't save 'Words' from being a non-vivacious, stoned out album closer. Sometimes the melodies are just generic country/soul rip-offs ('Old Man', with annoying backup vocals from James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt - hey, no wonder some of the tunes are so similar to the Eagles' early work), and on a couple tracks he goes for an orchestrated, unbearingly sweetened up approach that makes me sick ('There's A World' is nothing but a piece of prime bullshit!)

That leaves just about three or four songs that manage to attract my attention - 'Are You Ready For The Country?', for instance, is already good because it's the only thing that approaches a fast, jolly-rollicky groove, and it's also a welcome distraction from the deadly seriousness of the record. (By the way, notice how Neil begins singing his lines with the words 'slippin' and slidin'', sung exactly in the intonation needed for Little Richard's 'Slippin' And Slidin'? Hah! That's a rip-off for you!) And the album starts out really strong - both 'Out On The Weekend' and especially the title track are really good, with a strong rhythm section, some hooks and probably the most interesting, although a little obscure, lyrics on the record. Finally, there's the wee bit more rockin' 'Alabama' that could have easily fit on Déjà Vu, and not just because Crosby and Stills sing backup vocals... well, come to think of it, maybe just because of that. But that's about it.

Guess he was just going for a lil' bit o' spontaneity on this one - you know, trying to emulate Bob Dylan again. There's a big difference between Neil and Bob, though - while the latter is completely unpretentious, Neil not only 'wears his heart on his sleeve', he tries to shove this heart right into your face in order for you to hear it going boom boom and feel the blood flowing. And I don't particularly enjoy the sight of blood. Makes me sick. Just like this album.

No, no, 'scuse the ol' me. Harvest doesn't make me sick. Just a little fidgety, 's all. But how could you Americans go out and make 'Heart Of Gold' a # 1 when Mott The Hoople's 'All The Young Dudes' was only a # 3 the same year? Where were your tastes? In the TRASH BIN????



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Neil the hitmaker is dead - long live Neil the subcultural hero!

Best song: L.A.

Track listing: 1) Time Fades Away; 2) Journey Through The Past; 3) Yonder Stands The Sinner; 4) L.A.; 5) Love In Mind; 6) Don't Be Denied; 7) The Bridge; 8) Last Dance.

Hola! Theesa really really gooda. Theesa Mr Young going out on tour and not giving a fucking damn about what he's actually gonna sing how he's actually gonna sing who the hell is gonna record this how the hell he's gonna record what he's gonna record and when on Earth goddammit he's gonna make this officially available on CD so that I and a million other people most of which love Neil Young much more than I love him can avoid tracking down this shitty quality bootleg with cracks and hisses all over it and paired with a ridiculous "lost Neil Young album" called Chrome Dreams which is actually American Stars'n'Bars with 'Pocahontas' and a couple other songs replacing a couple other songs.

If you thought that was sort of an uncontrolled hard-to-read rant, you probably haven't heard this album. I have, and I must say I'm impressed. Anyway, the story goes that soon after his back got better after he cracked his spine around 1972, Neil took to the road again, and the original plan was to take both the Stray Gators, with whom he'd recorded Harvest, and Crazy Horse. Except that Crazy Horse guitarist, Danny Whitten, was way too bad on heroin - so Neil had to fire him in the midst of the rehearsing, and Danny died of an overdose soon after. This certainly set a hell of a mood for the tour.

But the tour itself was actually good - loads of material, both old and new, both shitty and genius, a whole bunch of backing people, and even Crosby and Nash joining in sometimes and helping Neil on the harmonies (you can hear both of them propping him up on 'Last Dance' here). The reception was warm enough at first, but it was pretty hard for Mr Young to find himself in the position of a hit-churling superstar which he had accidentally transformed himself into with Harvest. Eventually the tour ended in a drunken, disillusioned mess, and when the dust cleared, people found themselves face to face with this album: nothing like the clean, glossy, mainstreamish (and boring) perfection of Harvest, just a bunch of poorly-recorded, not-too-carefully-played songs, none of which anybody'd heard before: Young's anti-commercial "antidote" to the overt commercialism of the previous album.

And I like it a lot. It's not exactly rip-roaring stuff, to be sure, but it's very humble and thoroughly inoffensive. Neil can be seriously offputting when he transforms his primitive acoustic shuffles into lengthy epics, or when he's overproducing his stuff, but Time Fades Away doesn't give you any of that. There are some mild rockers here, and some pretty ballads, few of them long enough to irritate you even if you don't really like them, melodic and occasionally catchy, and with excellent lyrics as a rule. Time Fades Away is actually very autobiographic: three out of eight songs directly mention Canada, and most of the others have to do with some personal emotional background as well. Granted, Neil might have been too young still (unless you think that Neil is always young, 'scuse me for the obvious pun there) to take this "profound" look at his life or to pen songs with titles like 'Journey Through The Past' (the title song to an ill-fated movie of the same name which Neil was making at the time), but he does manage to get across the impression that he's already qualified, and that's enough for me at the moment.

Besides, the backing band is good! The 'Gators might not have been the perfect spoil for Neil while recording Harvest, but here, in a totally non-sterile atmosphere they're on a roll! Especially good is Ben Keith on slide guitar, but Jack Nitzsche adds good piano throughout, and overall, you don't get the feeling of all that tension ruling during the tour. Take the rollickin' title track, for instance - they seem to be having a good time out there! It's a generic bluesy tune, but with a strong hook in the chorus and all those junkie-related lyrics that certainly hint at Neil's problems but not until you start paying them real serious attention.

I think pretty much all of the "rocking" tunes are cool. For unclear reasons 'Yonder Stands The Sinner' tends to get a lot of shit flung towards it, but I find it charming because it's so rambling and ugly and Neil sounds like he's drunk and his voice keeps crackling but he don't give a damn anyway. It's a little similar melodically to Neil's Buffalo Springfield highlight 'Mr Soul', and he usually manages to get it right when he's in that slightly sarcastic, slightly pissy mood. 'L. A.' functions as a great anthem to the "city in the smog"; it gets memorable on repeated listens, and it's easily the best written song on the album. The mildly optimistic 'Don't Be Denied' isn't as well written, but it's one of those deeply personal songs that, if it hits you, it hits you real hard. I personally prefer 'Helpless' when I'm in the mood for something like this, but 'Don't Be Denied' is a pretty good song all the same. Finally, 'The Last Dance' is a bit of a dark horse - comes at the end, lasts for eight minutes, is significantly darker and denser than everything else, employs help from Crosby and Nash, gets a middle jam section, and is... strange. I still don't know if I like it or not. Hardly a chef-d'oeuvre, but you can never tell with these things. The chorus is pretty, but it's not the main point anyway.

As for the three ballads, they're more or less the same song and very reminiscent of 'After The Gold Rush' (the song), especially 'Journey Through The Past'. So, again, no revelation - no aggravation. They're short and inobtrusive anyway and fit in well between the harder numbers.

In short, another year, another Neil Young album, and this one sets off a chain of good, consistent records unbothered by singer-songwriter genericness; apart from the slightly inferior Comes A Time, I don't think Neil ever made a bad album from 1973 to the end of the Seventies, even if he also never made an absolute classic. Essentially, your preferences in this period will depend on whether you prefer the man in slightly whining mood, moderately whining mood (like here), or seriously whining mood. So make your choice!



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

I know why it's officially unavailable on CD. It's too unpretentious to be available.


Track listing: 1) Walk On; 2) See The Sky About To Rain; 3) Revolution Blues; 4) For The Turnstiles; 5) Vampire Blues; 6) On The Beach; 7) Motion Pictures; 8) Ambulance Blues.

Every once in a while, Neil Young gets off his ass and makes an album that sounds exactly like a Neil Young album, but is actually a little better than that. After the confessional, bleed-all-over-the-mix Tonight's The Night, Neil offered the world this, a record that's not exactly confessional - apart from a few tunes - but exceptionally well-written, tasteful, and intelligent. In short, On The Beach ain't an inch worse than After The Gold Rush, and maybe even slightly better since it evades the occasional sappiness of that one.

No orchestration, no ambivalent ultra-pretentious lyrics, and no blatant commercialism. No obvious conceptual unity either: on here, Neil is ready to take on just about everything. So On The Beach turns out to be one of his most diverse records so far; all it lacks is a superb grinding rocker like 'Like A Hurricane' to fully write out the picture. That said, Neil takes this opportunity to lay down some of the most hard-hitting "minimalist" guitar tracks he's ever recorded, and besides, considering how 'uncomfy' 'Like A Hurricane' actually sits on his 1977 record, among all the country-western send-ups, maybe depriving On The Beach of a jarring metal monster wasn't a bad idea.

There are no bad songs on here really - even the unmemorable ones and the overextended ones at least don't try to hide their simplicity in layers of strings or Linda Ronstadt's backing vocals, and the instrumental work throughout is felt very well. It's just that maybe with all the overextension going on, there's simply not enough songs. Eight songs? That's at least two chances for two more different moods missed.

'Walk On' opens this puppy with a rebuttal to Skynyrd's namecalling on 'Sweet Alabama' ('I hear some people been talkin' me down/Bring up my name, pass it 'round' - geez, some guys can get pretty iffy, eh?), set to a great bouncy poppy melody. Very memorable chorus, too: call that glorious hook on 'I can't tell them how to FEEL...' anything but terrific and I'll tell you you're either a crappy Caroliner Rainbow elitist or a dumb Britney Spears lover or both at the same time. And then there's the pretty ballad 'See The Sky About To Rain', the one that had already been recorded by the reunited Byrds a year earlier and is now easier to find on CD than the actual Young album (see below). Remember what I said about the minimalist guitar work; the steel guitar parts on here are absolutely Rafael-like, except that they weren't actually played by Neil himself - they're credited to Ben Keith, while Neil restricts himself to piano on the track.

Then there's the angriest song on the album, appropriately titled 'Revolution Blues'. Anti-poverty and anti-violence at the same time, an ironic presentation of an outcast's rebellious thoughts, and all that set to a gritty blues-rocker that's not hard-rocking, really, not in the typical Neil Young sense, at least, yet manages to be among his angriest songs anyway. I would actually love to see that one extended instead of 'Ambulance Blues', it's pretty much a perfect vehicle for some monster jams. In direct contrast, the ensuing 'For The Turnstiles' is a banjo-and-dobro quiet country ditty that doesn't go anywhere special but is notorious at least for its weirdness. 'Though your confidence may be shattered/It doesn't matter'. Doesn't matter for what? Heh. And 'Vampire Blues' closes the side on a goofy note - a song about the negative sides of the oil industry. The guitar/organ interplay on the song is a marvel - check out especially the coda, where Neil finally punches up some mildly distorted notes, as if wondering whether to play a real distorted guitar solo or not, and then discards the idea. Cool tools.

The second side, apart from the pretty acoustic ballad 'Motion Pictures', is essentially dedicated to two LENGTHY lyrics-heavy workouts in the title track and 'Ambulance Blues'. This is what I meant primarily when I was complaining about the songs being overlong - they certainly should have been cut in two parts each with one part thrown out to make way for a different song. That said, at least one of the two songs - 'On The Beach' itself - is a gloomy masterpiece, a rare example of a four-phrase-verse blues number with Neil's most confessional self-referential lyrics on the entire album (and thus very much keeping in touch with Tonight's The Night, I guess). Right in the middle, Neil also gives out an economic Claptonesque guitar solo that totally fits the mood, and all I can say is, why the hell didn't he include anything nearly as bare-bones and emotionally resonant on, uh, Harvest, for instance?

As for the nostalgic 'Ambulance Blues', it's certainly my least favourite song on the album, but even that one could have made a decent folk tune if it weren't stretched to that ridiculous eight-minute length. I can forgive Dylan for doing that, I certainly can't forgive Neil Young. And besides, attacking critics is a sign of poor taste ('So all you critics sit alone/You're no better than me for what you've shown' - well, I don't think even the harshest Neil Young critics ever started their reviews by saying 'I'm better than Neil Young').

Ah well. As far as I'm convinced, Neil Young never made a fully ideal album anyway, not even for his own standards. But On The Beach comes pretty close, and all the more shameful is the fact that, like Time Fades Away and American Stars'n'Bars, it still hasn't been made officially available on CD as of the time of this review's writing. Apparently Neil doesn't want to do that for some reason, although I've never seen the exact reasons. Too good honest generous bootleggers are still around, which is why I was able to get this paired on one CD with Stars'n'Bars with the generous help of Fredrik Tydal. Sweden rules.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Err... this is just a Neil Young record. Need I say more?


Track listing: 1) Don't Cry No Tears; 2) Danger Bird; 3) Pardon My Heart; 4) Lookin' For A Love; 5) Barstool Blues; 6) Stupid Girl; 7) Drive Back; 8) Cortez The Killer; 9) Through My Sails.

Tough call, ladies and gentlemen. Not only has this record been hailed by critics - both conventional and amateurish - the 'prototypical' Neil Young album, it also seems to embrace everything that I and people like me love and hate about Neil. This was recorded with Crazy Horse again, and the record is carefully and evenly divided between generic Neil Young acoustic ballads and equally generic Neil Young hard rockers. And "GENERIC" is the true word here, baby. Not in a bad or a good sense; it's just that the album is almost astonishingly predictable. Acoustic ballad? Pretty-sounding, but not at all memorable melodies, complaintive whining, and slightly melancholic lyrics of the psychological kind. Hard rocker? Mid-tempo - or slow - powerful 4/4 beat, crunchy, but quiet, rhythm guitar, nastily distorted slow, relaxed lead playing, and... more complaintive whining. Vintage Neil Young, child.

Understandably, this gets an overall 10 from me: nothing to get particularly excited about, but the solid balance of the record is enough to guarantee a more or less pleasant listen. The biggest problem for me is that the songs aren't at all memorable; evidently, the emphasis was on making this 'Neil Young-style record' so much that Neil forgot to throw in some interesting instrumental or vocal melodies. I mean, what the heck, most of these rockers could have easily segued one into another without any pause and nobody would have noticed. Most probably they were all just built up around Young's lyrics - all of these rhythm tracks (I have a hard time trying to call them 'melodies') could have been thrown together in a matter of seconds.

A couple of tracks do stand out, for better or for worse. Definitely for worse is the album closer, the tepid and throwawayish ballad 'Through My Sails', which substitutes mellowness and completely out-of-place Crosby, Stills & Nash vocal harmonies for real feeling and melody. What a waste of quadruple talent - was it really worth bringing the guys into the studio on this track?

But definitely for the better are the outstanding rockers 'Drive Back' and 'Cortez The Killer'. 'Drive Back' has a magnificent guitar tone - Neil throws on a bit more fuzz than usual and comes out with a real winner, a gritty, powerful proto-grunge number that absolutely TEARS. Whatever one might object, I don't recall anybody else utilizing a guitar tone like that in 1975; or if they did, Neil would still beat 'em up with the way he alternates grumbly power chords with shrill blasts of white noise on the song. Classic material. As for 'Cortez The Killer', it's a grandiose guitar epic that, for some reason, reminds me of 'No Quarter' by Led Zeppelin - while there's no mystic organ and the song speaks of American rather than of Norse past, Neil's majestic, measured out guitar runs give out the same atmosphere: nostalgic, creepy, solemn and cathartic at the same time. A song that fully deserves its eight-minute running time; heck, it might have been entirely instrumental for all I care. Perhaps it would even have been better were it instrumental - we wouldn't have to hear Neil Young grossly misinterpreting Aztec history. Idealizing Montezuma and referring to the Aztec country as a land where 'hate was just a legend/And war was never known' is a bit of a simplistic impression, isn't it? What about human sacrifice, eh? Ah, well, we might as well forgive Neil for some poetic freedom, after all. Who gives a fuck, after all, particularly when the song itself is so impressive and really takes you there?

In any case, these are just the last three songs, and I would face some mighty tight problems trying to come up with something substantial about the first six ones. Hmm... let's see; 'Don't Cry No Tears' is a generic, but enjoyable, blues-rocker; 'Danger Bird' is a painfully slow, generic, unmemorable blues-rocker relying a lot on power chords and this time never deserving of its actual length; 'Pardon My Heart' is a generic acoustic ballad with gentle vocal harmonies that are not CSN but are quite in the standard CSN tradition (pretty, but never squeezes my heart that much - guess it should say a lot to people with unshared love, though, but that's a different situation); 'Lookin' For A Love' is thoroughly generic and, to be frank with ye, I'd much prefer to hear such a song in a better instrumentated version (throw in some banjo, for instance) and on a John Fogerty solo album; 'Barstool Blues' is essentially 'Don't Cry No Tears (Part 2)', which means I don't have anything in particular to say about; and 'Stupid Girl' (not to be confused with the far different Rolling Stones song of the same name) suddenly displays Neil's passion for misogyny. Oh well, at least it alternates different tempos, which is a good sign.

Have I mentioned yet that Neil Young's got such a poor voice? I mean, it isn't all that poor, but it's gruesomely weak for such a powerful rocker as Mr Cowboy In The Sand. Why does he strain so much all the time? Numerous off-key notes too. Crap. Oh well, I suppose I can get used to that just like I got used to the usual style. Not a spectacular album, but a nice one. Oh, and the title refers to Zuma Beach where Neil was residing at the time. Supposedly some kind of high-class resort, which explains the "feel-good" atmosphere of a significant chunk of the album.



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

More 'bars' than 'stars', if you get my drift. But a decent album all the same.

Best song: LIKE A HURRICANE, duh

Track listing: 1) The Old Country Waltz; 2) Saddle Up The Palomino; 3) Hey Babe; 4) Hold Back The Tears; 5) Bite The Bullet; 6) Star Of Bethlehem; 7) Will To Love; 8) Like A Hurricane; 9) Homegrown.

A ragged and messy affair that has just about the weirdest song pairings I've ever seen on a Neil Young album. Apparently, a big bunch of these songs were older outtakes from various jam sessions, some dating to as far back as 1974. And most of these songs are rather straightforward country-rock sendups, rendered even more 'authentic' by featuring Linda Ronstadt on backup vocals for more than half of the tunes. There's nothing on the first half of the album that a second-hand wannabe Neil Young (or Garth Brooks, for that matter) couldn't have done - technically, at least. Some of the actual melodies actually rule, like 'Hey Babe', for instance, which painfully reminds me of a couple other Neil Young tunes I can't identify right now, but the slide guitar line on that one is beautiful anyway. I guess I'll add in a word of praise for 'Bite The Bullet', too, which has plenty of rocking energy for a tune that has Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. The other three tunes are rather generic country-rock filler a la Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and suchlike.

Things get seriously different on the second side, though. Linda Ronstadt is swapped for Emmylou Harris on the short 'n' sweet 'Star Of Bethlehem', a song that has a pretty cheerful (if very minimalistic) melody for a set of depressed lyrics that end with the sacrilegious idea that 'maybe the star of Bethlehem/Wasn't a star at all', at least not for the song's protagonist and his lost love. Then there's the long long long long long 'Will To Love', another one of those confessional acoustic guitar epics that you either love or hate generally. Well I certainly hate it, although, granted, the 'Sometimes I ramble on and on/And I repeat myself till all my friends are gone' line in the middle of the song is tremendously appropriate: I wonder if Neil consciously wrote that line to refer to the song in question. No sir, from 'Last Trip To Tulsa' to 'Ambulance Blues' to 'Will To Love' Neil really hasn't gotten any better in that department. You can evaluate his sincere confessional lyrics - which are good, I won't deny that - however much you want; my position is, if you make a seven-minute song on which you're backed with nothing but your trusty acoustic, you gotta have something really truly special to make the proceedings work (technically speaking, there are some keyboards and even a wah-wah backing up Neil on parts of the song, but they're shoved so far in the background they don't really count). Personally, I know of no such song - except for maybe 'Desolation Row', which wasn't entirely acoustic anyway, and besides, it had an actual melodic hook at least.

However, my complaints certainly do not extend to the album's lone masterpiece, certainly Neil's best love song and a very strong candidate for best Neil Young song ever. (Sorry for the disgusting generic cliches, but in the case of me reviewing Neil that really means something). 'Like A Hurricane' isn't outstanding in the basic rhythmic/melodic sense; it's strictly mid-tempo and strictly four-four. But one thing Neil never really had before that song was his own 'Layla' (or to be more precise, his own 'Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad'), a powerful arena-rocker to truly sweep the audiences off their feet by channelling his most intimate emotions into the form of an angry, bleeding, heart-on-the-sleeve, scorching guitar workout. Oh sure there was 'Southern Man', on one hand, and there were plenty of sad love ballads, on the other hand, but this is easily the first "love rocker" of such a stature that Neil had done, and the best one, too.

The real lyrical hook comes when the major chords switch to minor in the chorus, with the "happy" part of 'you are like a hurricane, there's calm in your eye' replaced by the ominous part of 'I wanna love you, but I'm getting blown away' - that's a hell of a hook, if you ask me. And then, of course, the solos - Neil really lets rip with a rapid sequence of several solos, slowly pumping out the feedback quota with every next tact until the final several bars have the guitar nearly choking from excessive distortion. One can only imagine all the heat and rage and catharsis a live performance of the song can generate (and actually does generate): like I said, the only songs I know that can give it some competition in the "broken heart expressed through a wild guitar solo" department are 'Layla' and 'Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad'. Oh, of course then there's Motorhead's 'Love Me Like A Reptile', too, but that kinda goes without saying.

So that's that, a masterful masterpiece oddly inserted among a very questionable musical background. It's as if you took 'Layla' out of its context and plunged it right inside, I dunno, Clapton's 1976 country-rock sendup No Reason To Cry or something. Oh well, at the very least this musical background isn't offensive or drastically overproduced, and it doesn't build up on generic country lyrics either. And, of course, 'Like A Hurricane' pushes the overall rating up at least a whole point - although, of course, the fact that it's present on most Neil Young compilations really eliminates the necessity of hunting down this obscure rarity, which isn't available on CD, just like On The Beach; but in this particular case, I certainly understand the issue at hand.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

An improvement over Harvest, but that's not really saying much.


Track listing: 1) Goin' Back; 2) Comes A Time; 3) Look Out For My Love; 4) Lotta Love; 5) Peace Of Mind; 6) Human Highway; 7) Already One; 8) Field Of Opportunity; 9) Motorcycle Mama; 10) Four Strong Winds.

And again, six years after Harvest, Neil goes with a pure country-folk album in more or less the same style, as if he thought Harvest had left something unsaid. Even so, if there's little to add to that previous effort, I easily welcome Comes A Time as a relative improvement. I know this decision will be severely unpopular among Neil Young fans, but I have my ground to stand on and I'm gonna stand on it in any case. Yes, I know that Harvest is the primary Bible for Neil fans, but that's the very fact that makes me turn away from it and face this one instead. Harvest suffers from a certain Bible flavour indeed: in 1972, Neil was going for a mega-effect record that would be country and mellow, on one hand, and bombastic, overblown and preachy, on the other. Half of them sounded like sermons and the other half like parables - you could almost see the guy trying on the cross. However, even with all his merits, Neil Young is still no Jesus, and all the preachiness ended up sounding dull - especially when set next to the fact of lack of decent melodies.

Not so, at least, not quite so with Comes A Time. On here, Neil abandons most of his usual pretentiousness and substitutes the universalist vibe for a simpler, more grounded one: the songs he sings mostly borrow heavily from traditional country melodies (a good fact, since we know that Neil couldn't pen a half-decent melody himself unless put to torture), and the lyrics are either plain love ballads or nostalgic, sometimes autobiographic snippets. There's just about a couple high-nose ditties, like 'Field Of Opportunity', and even they are rather harmless - especially because of an absolute lack of bombast. And on one track, the one I consider the best, the gritty 'Motorcycle Mama', Neil even delivers his characteristic rockin' chops. Well, better to say 'bluesy chops', because it's a generic blues tune (on which he's greatly assisted by back vocalist Nicolette Larson), and, in fact, it might not be the best, but at least it's the one that stands out most of all. And I love that tasty, gruff blues riff that Neil punches out with so much taste and precision... and sloppiness at the same time. The most precise sloppiness ever seen, dammit! How's that for words?

Normally, though, the music here is just plain untampered country - acoustic guitars, mellow piano, soft drums, fiddles and diddles, and every now and then an orchestrated arrangement pops up, but that's not a very big problem. He's also joined by Crazy Horse on a couple tracks, but you really wouldn't know - after all, they don't jam anywhere, so what difference does it make? In any case, the album is very even, so that it's hard to pick any favourites or any special duffers. I'd say that the slower songs tend to drag, like the killing, bleeding 'Peace Of Mind' which bores me to sleep all the time I hear it. Basically, what it comes down to is banal lyrics about love problems set to a musical marsh with no discernible melody. Perversely enough, it's exactly the songs recorded with Crazy Horse that also turn out to be among the slowest. However, they are a little better: 'Look Out For My Love' has some really sharp, invigorating guitar playing the likes of which you'd never see on Harvest, and 'Lotta Love'... well, it's just a little pleasant, although I can't explain why. No. Wait. It's crap. Why do I need to defend a crappy song? Why, just because I wrote 'they are a little better' without thinking about it, and I was too lazy to re-write it. Well, now I'm punished by having to pen this lengthy apology for my lying to you. Don't believe me, 'Lotta Love' with its whiny la-la-la's and pedestrian piano playing goes nowhere and has no sense at all. Murky.

So I really prefer listening to the faster stuff, first of all, because it's faster, and second, because it's more generic country, and I like generic fast country 'cause it gets you going. (I hate generic slow country, though, 'cause it gets you sleeping). 'Human Highway' and 'Field Of Opportunity' are the highlights here; they say nothing that hasn't been said earlier in Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, but they say it consistently and say it better. Oh, and say it more sincerely, too: in 'Field Of Opportunity' Neil whines 'let me bore you with this story/how my lover let me down' and he does, at least he pretends he does. Also, I think his whiny voice perfectly fits the mood and acts as an attractive factor here, quite unlike the indistinctive vocal harmonies of the Byrds. The best one of these fast ditties, though, and the second best song on the album (first, if there comes a time when I start hating 'Motorcycle Mama') is the title track, the only one with some real emotional power for me - probably due to the fact that the guitar, banjo, fiddle and vocals find just the exact note in some places and sound so wonderfully together.

Yes, this is not bad. Nothing great here, but definitely worth a listen. You know why it is better than Harvest? You can't safely put Harvest on as background music - you're supposed to be listening to that one, and since it's so painful to listen to, I just hate it. This one, though, well, you're not supposed to take this as a serious music dissertation. You just have to put it on and then go and play a game of Tetris. Or some King's Quest. In case you have your emulation priorities all set straight, you nasty potential Quake-lover.



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Young's take on Dylan intensifies, but, according to Young's standards, this is as high as Rock and Folk can get.


Track listing: 1) My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue); 2) Thrasher; 3) Ride My Llama; 4) Pocahontas; 5) Sail Away; 6) Powderfinger; 7) Welfare Mothers; 8) Sedan Delivery; 9) Hey Hey My My (Into The Black).

For my money, this is the best Neil Young that money can buy. Harvest is preachy, and After The Gold Rush is a bit dull, so make sure this one's among your first buys. In fact, I'd go as far as to state this should be your first buy, because no other album captures the whole Young experience so well. Not to mention that this is a seminal album and one of the major key albums in the whole career of the man, because this is Young's brave response to punk and one of his best, most clear and brilliant artistic statements. But let's get that in the correct order, shall we?

The album was recorded live with Crazy Horse, with the audience carefully muffled out; however, there is still no doubt that it is a live album, judging both by the cover and the final audience response at the end of the show. Moreover, Neil carefully divided the two sides, so that the first one is just him and his guitar 'n' harmonica (the band does join in in a light shuffle on 'Sail Away', though), while the second one is an all-out rocker paradise, with gruff, distorted electric guitars and bucketloads of feedback all over the place. If this doesn't remind you of Dylan's past, you probably know nothing of it: critics at the time compared this stunt with Bringing It All Back Home, however, right now it seems more obvious (though less correct from the chronological point of view) to compare it with the newly unarchived Live 1966, where Dylan first plays his acoustic set and then is joined by the ferociously rockin' Hawks. Again, the comparison is not in favour of Young: his material just doesn't hold a candle to Dylan, and none of the actual songs are among Young's major masterpieces (at least, not according to me).

What matters here is the very statement made by this album. By 1979, punk rock was already fading, but the 'dinosaur rockers' had already faded away several years ago, and Neil rises up to defend the positions of both. It's funny that two of the reviews of this album I've read on the Web (Wilson & Alroy's and Brian Burks') hold the exactly opposite opinion on the message of the opening song, 'My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)': the former claim this to be a eulogy of the Sex Pistols, while the latter says that it primarily eulogizes Elvis Presley and the 'dinosaur rockers'. Indeed, the lyrics are a bit too witty to be easily understood, but one thing's for certain: the concept of a 'dinosaur' is what bugs Neil the most as he proclaims that it's 'better to burn out than to fade away'. After which he calmly proceeds to prove to everybody that he's not yet burned out at all: in a certain sense, the whole concert is built with one intense desire, to prove that rock'n'roll and true music in general are totally independent of age (a concept that I uphold fully and without any compromises). This gives the songs, even if they're not all that great, a new dimension - something of a heroic type, I'd say, and the record never becomes boring.

It's rather hard to pick out a highlight on the first, acoustic side: the songs are rather even, with nothing to stand out in a particular way. 'My My Hey Hey' goes off splendidly, with a very Dylanesque harmonica solo and vocals that are undoubtedly heartfelt and, this time around, fully convincing - after all, Neil is just defending himself, and he stands the test. The allegories of the lengthy 'Thrasher' (no, no, it ain't a heavy metal player, it's just a peasant who thrashes grain) are not very well understood, but the melody is fine - it does borrow something from Dylan's 'Love Minus Zero', but to good effect. After which we get a three-song mini-suite about America: 'Ride My Llama' is a rather complex song, a mystical travelogue lyricswise and a folkie-styled number melodywise; 'Pocahontas' deals with native Indians and their fates in the modern world; and 'Sail Away' is yet another mystical travelogue, this time some kind of a 'we-gotta-get-out-of-this-place' number. Not that you'll remember them very well after you turn off your player, but while they're on, they're fine.

The second side, though, kicks your butt throughout - even if none of the Crazy Horsemen can play worth a crap (their rhythm guitarist seems barely competent and only happy to hide his talent behind a wall of fuzz and distortion, and I could play better than that drummer after a week of drumming), isn't this the necessary attribute of a qualified punk band, after all? 'Powderfinger' starts the side on a wonderful note: the lyrics are just your typical nonsense-making Americano bunch of cliches about me and my Dad and my rifles and hunting out in the mountains and white boats comin' up the river, but the melody is groovy, since, in any case, it's ripped off from Simon & Garfunkel's 'Sounds Of Silence'. At least, partially, and don't bother telling me that it isn't. If it wasn't, no way could I have thought of that song after thirty seconds of listening. 'Welfare Mothers', though, is a worthless piece of metallic crap: why Neil thought this dumb tune, with its leaden riff and stupid social commentary, was necessary on this album, is beyond me. The situation gets a little bit steadier with 'Sedan Delivery' that has quite a bit of that precious punkish drive and energy (yeah, I know I said I hate punk, but punk taken in small doses doesn't hurt anybody), and, of course, the closing track, which is an electric reprise of 'My My Hey Hey', quite naturally entitled 'Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)'. It features almost the same lyrics, although most of them come in reversed order - what a clever idea, but it turns out that the song is even more effective when given this violent, energetic kind of treatment, with feedback basically dripping off your ears. The short bunch of solos that Neil gives out in the course of its rendition are among his most precious ever - forget that crappy Harvest, I tell you, and hearken as the man lets go in order to prove that he's just as hip as Johnny Rotten, and maybe even more! If this is punk, this is the most cathartic that punk ever managed to get.

I don't know yet if it's really the best Neil Young album ever - I still miss out quite a lot. And, come to think of it, After The Gold Rush and others, hell, even his debut album had much stronger melodies overall. But, on the other hand, they all had a lot of painful duffer material, while here there's only one seriously offensive track, and none of the other albums are as strongly compelling as Rust Never Sleeps. What I'd really want to state is that this album breathes - it lives its own life, fresh and full of that delicious live energy that, in fact, can be pulled off only by rock 'dinosaurs'. There, I've made my serious artistic statement. I don't give a damn about Neil Young, but I welcome this album as a metaphor for the battlecry - 'Long Live All The Bearded Dinosaurs!'



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Well, it's live. It's pretty diverse, too. And it's fuckin' Neil Young. His butt looks cute, too.


Track listing: 1) Sugar Mountain; 2) I Am A Child; 3) Comes A Time; 4) After The Gold Rush; 5) My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue); 6) When You Dance You Can Really Love; 7) The Loner; 8) The Needle And The Damage Done; 9) Lotta Love; 10) Sedan Delivery; 11) Powderfinger; 12) Cortez The Killer; 13) Cinnamon Girl; 14) Like A Hurricane; 15) Hey Hey My My (Into The Black); 16) Tonight's The Night.

Critics panned the live documentary which accompanied this release at the time, but, while I can't say anything about the film, not having seen it, I can't really tell what the problem with the actual album would be. Oh, okay, there's one - to my knowledge, Neil Young is the only guy in rock history to release two live albums in a row, one of which would repeat four tracks off the previous one (unless you're talking about something like the endless string of Grateful Dead or King Crimson archive releases, of course). That's kinda weird.

Of course, they serve different purposes. Rust Never Sleeps was a live album, but its being 'live' was more like a vital symbol - to show the world that not only was Neil Young still writing relevant and poignant material, he was also writing and performing it completely in touch with the audiences. Live Rust on the contrary is more of a traditional, stereotypic live album, falling into the "self-retrospective" category at that, as Neil picks songs from pretty much every point in his career, going as far back as his self-titled debut and ending as close as, well, the album he repeats four tracks off. So, in a certain sense, it's Neil's first true live offering as a solo artist, and it's definitely a success.

In a standard situation, Neil is supposed to kick some real ass in concert, and he usually does. There are some problems connected with that, though. It's hard to imagine his softer, acoustic side being represented better in concert than in the studio; and as for his harder-rocking side, well, usually Neil already pulls all the stops in the studio - unlike, say, Deep Purple, who were always saving their most "brutal" side for live performances. It's not like you're gonna listen to, say, the studio take on 'Like A Hurricane' and be amazed and awed and then throw on the live version and be twice as amazed. On the other hand, if you are - like me - a mild believer in the power of spontaneity and "the moment", you'll definitely pick up an extra vibe or two from albums like Live Rust. And besides, it just acts like a tremendous "best-of" collection - with nary a stinker among all the treasures.

The album here was culled from several performances, but is actually structured like a complete concert. It begins with Neil solo, just strumming his acoustic and blowing that harmonica for three songs (two of which are the eternal rarities 'Sugar Mountain' and 'I Am A Child' - not masterpieces by any means, but at least both of them upbeat and melodic enough to warrant listenability); then, for 'After The Gold Rush', he switches to piano, then returns to the acoustic for 'My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)' - which is used to announce the main portion of the show, when Crazy Horse finally walk in and the real fun begins. Not that the acoustic set is bad, but I've said it many times over: in live concerts (and especially on live albums), acoustic sets should be minimalized. Yeah well, at the end of the acoustic set Neil himself says something like 'when I get big, I'm gonna get an electric guitar... when I get real big'.

When he gets real big, it's just one excellent rendition after another. 'When You Dance I Can Really Love' actually shines through all the distortion as one of the most complex rockers to ever have been penned by Neil. 'The Loner' gives a good opportunity to remember Neil's debut - remember that one, with the ugly mug on the front cover? Hey, it was a good album, and 'The Loner' was the best song off it. Bet your life most of the folks on that tour never even heard it before. Then there's sort of an "intermission" with two more acoustic songs (with the cheesiest moment on the entire record: for some reason, 'The Needle And The Damage Done' is preceded by a short audio snippet of an extract from Woodstock - remember that scene when it begins to rain and somebody shouts 'hey, if you think really hard, maybe we can stop this rain!'? well, it's here all right, and I have no idea why, whatever for and due to which friggin' reason). Then there's, uh, 'Sedan Delivery' and 'Powderfinger', but you already heard them on the previous album.

My favourite section (and I assume that everybody's favourite section, how could it be otherwise?) actually starts from track 12 and continues right until the very end. This is where Neil plays all of those really great improvisational rockers, lengthy, plodding mastodonts that he's the absolute master of. 'Cortez The Killer', 'Like A Hurricane', the ravaging reworking of 'Tonight's The Night', and a couple of short breathers like 'Cinnamon Girl' and the show-summarizing 'Hey Hey My My (Into The Blue)' in between. This is truly a great section. And no, the songs aren't really better than the originals. The originals delivered the red-hot solos, the passionate vocals, and the inspiring backing band work just as well. It's just that they're all gathered together which makes it all so exceptional. For my money, I'd rather have an 18-minute Neil Young grungey improvisation than an 18-minute bunch of Neil Young acoustic mumbling, pardon my insensitivity; this is what makes the man great. And these are not just improvisations, but actual songs with wonderful interwoven solos! Watch out for that thunderous feedback blast on the fifth minute of 'Like A Hurricane' to blow you away!

In short, maybe the four-song repetition is dumb, but whatever you think, Live Rust is definitely an excellent summarization of Neil's decade of work (and actually, just as worthy, or maybe even worthier, than the famous Decade compilation of studio highlights). Apparently, Mr Young thought so too, because his next decade of work would prove to be radically different from the first.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Neil the King of Synth-Pop? Don't laugh... it's not as far from the truth as you'd suspect.

Best song: I GOT A PROBLEM

Track listing: 1) Weight Of The World; 2) Violent Side; 3) Hippie Dream; 4) Bad News Beat; 5) Touch The Night; 6) People On The Street; 7) Hard Luck Stories; 8) I Got A Problem; 9) Pressure; 10) Drifter.

The worst year in rock music caught Neil Young engaging, respectively, in the worst sub-category of rock music: generic synth-pop. Predictably, the album flopped and the critics panned the old boy even further, because, of all things, who on Earth needs Neil Young doing synth-pop? Spare poor little me.

And yet, while I quite predictably hated the album on first listen, it's turned out not to be as horrendous as it originally promised to be - positively amazing. In fact, it's certainly not worse than any of Phil Collins' better records, and that's saying something: after all, Phil was certainly the grand master of synth-pop when it came to its 'cheesy' side (I'm not talking Depeche Mode here - don't like them either, but that's a different story), but he never managed to bring any real excitement to his records. And Neil does the impossible: combining an ultimately generic and dismissable style with intriguing content - the lyrics, while certainly not supernatural, are far from cartoonish, and there are some real hooks in some of the songs that don't let the tunes just disappear from your head like ordinary routine synth-pop stuff (you know, the one that just goes chunka-chunka-chunka-chunka while the drum machines go boom-a-boom-a-boom-a-boom. Oh, well. Never mind).

Speaking of drum machines - the drumming actually sounds real on the album (that's because it is real: drum machines are used very sparingly, and Steve Jordan doesn't encode his electronic pounding too far, so that it often retains a live feel). Likewise, the synths themselves are not always overbearing - there's plenty thick, catchy bass lines and wailing guitar on the album to save it from sounding entirely poisonous. Note that I still give the record only an eight: nothing is going to save synth-pop from being the most miserable of all genres, but at least Landing On Water sounds better than oh so many of its lesser 'peers'.

The songs themselves differ in quality, of course. My favourite is 'I Got A Problem' - it's not that the song is the best on here (perhaps), but it's unquestionably the most prominent: unlike most of the other material, it's more guitar than synth-based, pinned down by a monstruous minimalistic riff and Jordan's titanic drumming, and the resulting melody is of the kind that stick in your head despite all the odds. So it must be good; the only thing that lets it down are the repetitive and rather simplistic lyrics (after all, Neil had always had problems - the difference is, he used to speak about them in a less straightforward manner than 'every time we talk about it I break out in a cold sweat').

Other tunes well worth mentioning include the fast-rocking, catchy, infectious 'Pressure' (don't you just love that crazy whistling in the instrumental section?); the pretty, gentle ballad 'Bad News Beat' which would, however, easily benefit from a less synth-heavy arrangement - hell, I can easily picture a beautiful acoustic arrangement of the tune fitting into the stylistics of After The Gold Rush; and do not forget the moody, depressing 'Hippie Dream' with its ominous bass riff, in which Neil waxes nostalgic about the good old days - 'There was a time/When the river was wide/And the water came running down/To the rising tide/But the wooden ships/Were just a hippie dream'. The most intriguing thing, though, is that midway through the song suddenly changes key and Neil states that 'Just because it's over for you/Don't mean it's over for me/It's a victory for the heart/Every time the music starts/So please don't kill the machine'. So? Is this another constatation of the 'it's better to burn out than to fade away' philosophy of seven years ago? Or a humble acknowledgment of a self-sell-out? In any case, this is about the only time I've heard the line 'don't kill the machine' in the context of a rock song; most of the time, of course, we hear just the opposite. Neil is obviously riding the machine - and he seems to enjoy it? Whatever.

In any case, riding the machine has its downsides as well: the highlights I've listed are all interspersed with heaps of rather nasty-looking dreck which I don't even blame Neil for: it's hardly possible to make a consistently good Eighties' synth-pop album, I'd warrant. 'Touch The Night', for instance, sounds like a bad outtake off a Deep Purple reunion album - corporate heavy metal with some plastic soul thrown in for good measure; and I hate the mock-funk 'People On The Street' with all my might. I mean, I'm not a funk fan in the first place, but synth-funk? Somebody put a stop to that. Oh well, at least one gotta give the man his due: he goes shooting off in all directions, exploring all the corners of the poor synthy genre, both bright and dark. 'Hard Luck Stories', for instance, is both catchy and exciting, on one hand, and trashy and bad-tasted, on the other. What do I do with that song? The vocal melody is good, but the arrangement sucks everything it's possible to suck. And why the hell did he need the help of the San Francisco Boy Chorus for on 'Violent Side'? And why is 'Drifter' so long? That guitar melody is groovy, but five minutes of 'te-de-doo' is a rather long period, eh...?

So many questions, and so few answers. Oh, well. If by any chance you like this album, I'd like to reassure you saying that it gets a very very very very high eight. Almost a nine. But not enough for a nine. Well, maybe a ve-e-ery weak nine on a particularly good day, especially if we put it on after Phil Collins' Face Value and definitely not after one of Neil's own better albums. And if you're not a purist or anything, this is probably not the last record to acquire for your Young collection. Frankly speaking, if most of Eighties' synth-pop sounded like this album, I'd possibly have to revise my conception of popular music in the twentieth century. At least a little bit. In some ways.



Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Too much horns for my tastes, and the production's way too slick and uninventive for the record to be a blues highlight.


Track listing: 1) Ten Men Workin'; 2) This Note's For You; 3) Coupe De Ville; 4) Life In The City; 5) Twilight; 6) Married Man; 7) Sunny Inside; 8) Can't Believe Your Lyin'; 9) Hey Hey; 10) One Thing.

This is the last of Young's lengthy and, for the most part, critically unsuccessful series of experimental albums - a year later he would make the glorious comeback as a 'grunge' rocker and completely re-instate the critics' rabid faith in him. For some, however, This Note's For You heralded the comeback - it was somewhat less of a pure experiment, as the album contains its fair share of trademark Neil ballads. Essentially, though, what the man did on here was to record a bunch of not too original, retro-sounding blues and R'n'B tunes and record them with a fully-equipped brass section: in fact, the saxophones and trumpets are the next prominent element on the record after Neil's guitar, and on the rockers they frequently overshadow Neil as well. Thanks, at least, that they aren't synthesized; but if you're not a big jazz or hardcore Chicago blues fanatic, listening to all the songs on a row may cause severe allergy on brass for ever after.

Strange, though, I wouldn't want to entirely dismiss this album. For starters, there ain't really a non-decent song on here: at the worst, the tunes simply lack imagination and inspiration, but certainly not solid melodies or awesome musicianship (the brass section is really tight). And, since yours truly is by no means an anti-blues or anti-roots-rock person, I can easily tolerate even the most generic compositions. After all, when it comes to the blues, Neil Young is certainly no Eric Clapton, but he's no dull ZZ Top, either. The worst problem is that most of this stuff is recorded according to the 'try it you'll like it' formula - no soul, no true passion, nothing to cling on to and nothing to help you treasure the record and distinguish it among a thousand similar ones.

Therefore, I mostly prefer the balladeering stuff on here, especially the most quiet songs like 'Twilight' and 'Coupe De Ville' which highlight Young's whiny voice. It hasn't changed a bit since the last twenty years, and all the better: it's finally become adequate. It was one thing - to go ahead and try to sound like a wisened old man in the Seventies, but it's a completely different thing to sound like an old man when you are an old man. In fact, my guess is that it's mostly this newly-acquired balance between the pretentiousness and the life experience that helps make, say, Harvest Moon such a fascinating listen as compared to Harvest itself... but hey, we're running ahead. I was talking about the ballads, right?

Well, so 'Twilight' is very good; I do get the feeling that the 'midnight saxophone atmosphere' banalizes the song, and I could easily do without the brass on it, but otherwise, it's a soulful, nearly tear-inducing love ballad that gotta rank together with Neil's best stuff. And 'Coupe De Ville', with its mild, quietly strummed guitar and silky, tender vocals, is a highlight as well - you can even tap your foot to it, aided by the gentle percussion beat. In another age, somebody would have made a disco hit out of it; luckily, Neil didn't ever make a disco album. Or did he? I haven't yet heard it, then. Probably should have done; it's a wonder he never tackled foxtrot on his records.

Unfortunately, even the ballads are hit and miss: 'Coupe De Ville' is fine for the first time around, but when several songs later it returns to you in a recycled form in 'Can't Believe Your Lyin', you might actually repent in having just been so overemotional. When it comes to the sappy line 'you have changed my life...' backed by moody Fifties-pop-like trumpets, I cringe and I crumple and I slowly melt in my chair. And the album closer, 'One Thing', drags on for six minutes and doesn't even have a distinguishable melody - crime! perversion! hideous! Of course, the fact that pretty much NONE of the lyrics ever amount to something more than the tritest love cliches, helps a lot. Man, I'd take Dylan's Selfportrait over this stuff any time of day.

Back to the rockers - I actually respect a couple of these, too. 'Ten Men Workin', with its funny graveyard references, is a terrific barroom opener - just the thing you need to put on for a good party, of course, preferrably in a karaoke version and without the strained grunts of the band imitating the work of ten gravediggers. And both the title track and 'Life In The City' are standouts here since they're the only tracks that manage to light a bit of a fire: the latter injects a mini-dose of social critique, while the former is Neil's protest against the sold-out nature of show-biz: 'Ain't singing for Pepsi/Ain't singing for Coke/I don't sing for nobody/Makes me look like a joke'. Punctuating it with sharp, vehement lead guitar and a great swingin' rhythm, Neil manages to make the song unforgettable - to be honest, I really recommend it as a show opener for any band with enough self-respect so as not to fall into the trap of commercialism.

Overall, the Surgeon General reiterates his warning - HIGHLY hazardous for persons with an allergy on Chicago blues and stuff, but quite recommendable for Neil Young fans. Sure, the two or three real highlights do not make the whole album stand out, and it certainly can't be regarded as an innovative achievement or anything like that, but if you got cash to burn, there are far worse ways to do that.

Then again - why should you burn cash? Why not give it to somebody who'll make a wiser use of it? (Me, for instance!) Just give me enough cash, and I'll have the complete works of Billy Joel and Jimmy Buffett reviewed here by tomorrow's end! .........

There. I think I just pointed out the miserable fate of a paid rock critic in the last paragraph. 'Pity the critic', as my good friend Bryan B. would have remarked.



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Rockin' in the pseudo-alternative world?

Best song: DON'T CRY

Track listing: 1) Rockin' In The Free World; 2) Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero Part I); 3) Don't Cry; 4) Hangin' On A Limb; 5) Eldorado; 6) The Ways Of Love; 7) Someday; 8) On Broadway; 9) Wrecking Ball; 10) No More; 11) Too Far Gone; 12) Rockin' In The Free World.

A man can't live on perspective-less experiments forever. So what does a man do? "Say", the man says, "it's been a long time since I got all those rave reviews from the press and stuff. I wanna be a critical darling once more, and if possible, save the world in the process". And what does it take? Why, make a long long record with all kinds of introspective acoustic songs and anthemic electric songs on it. You need to have a few condemnations of the cruel industrialized society. You have to put in a few words about how taking drugs isn't really cool. You have to throw in a couple really sensitive love ballads so as not to get scolded for lack of diverse ideas. And, of course, you shouldn't forget the feedback. Preferrably make it really distinctive.

In all seriousness, Freedom is an album that screams: "Look at me! I'm specially pre-packaged for five-star reviews!". Just about every insightful person at the time, and many people nowadays as well take this as Young's masterful comeback, and in a certain sense they're right - one thing at least is obvious, on Freedom Neil returns to the things he does best, and makes perhaps the quintessential Young album to own, showcasing every side of his classic persona in a way that even Rust Never Sleeps never could demonstrate. But Freedom also marks Young's conservation and sterilization as the 'elder statesman' (not in the good sense of the word), and if you ask me, there's but one tiny step from an album like this to Neil's rather, um, pathetic reaction to the WTC bombings. Here, Neil is still raving and ranting, but he's also wonderfully stable, calm, collected, conservative, inoffensive and commercial. It is his Born In The USA, to be sure, and with but a little twitch here and there and a bit of 'muscular attachment' you could picture Bruce on the front cover instead.

Granted, I overreacted a bit at the beginning - it's not a bad record. In fact, as far as pure melodic skill goes, these songs are decent, almost all of them. Hooks? You got 'em. Dedicated guitar playing? Definitely. Passionate singing? Yes, he does seem like he actually cares. The thing is, there's nothing spectacular about these melodies. Now you go ahead and bet your life he actually spent more time writing them than when he did universally panned "crap" like Landing On Water. I personally won't give a toss. It's typical Young material, not better or worse, but way too socially-and-critically-oriented this time. Even Neil's classic cruel and savage treatment of the guitar is pretty obnoxious in places. Usually he just makes his songs hard and dirty, here they are all essentially clean and polished, and the feedback sounds like it's been consciously overdubbed where it was needed in the general context. Like in Eldorado, where that verse about the bullfighter goes steady and calm with an acoustic rhythm, and then BLAM! BLAM! you get several grungey explosions which smash your ears to dust and then go away as quickly as they appeared. Once feedback used to be a way of soulful expression, now it is a gimmick. Ha!

I thoroughly despise the main ideas behind 'Rockin' In The Free World' - Neil's main anthem of the album, naturally telling about how bad the world is with the singalong chorus ringing out in all of its sarcasm, keep on rockin' in the free world. (Again, direct associations with the double entendre of 'Born In The USA'... you still followin' me?). That is, I don't exactly despise the ideas (there's hardly anything despisable about 'em on their own), I just doubt the man's sincerity and intelligence when he does that stuff, and even if he is sincere, there's still something revoltingly fake about that stuff. At least the second version, the rocking one, has some punchy riffage to it; the acoustic can go to hell for as long as I care.

I do, however, like it when Young drops the populist anthemization and turns to more intricate stuff like the nine-minute long 'Crime In The City' with its mystically tinged acoustic rhythmic pattern and lyrics that kick the shit out of the straightforward 'that's one more kid never go to school' crap (at least, in places). I don't actually understand what helps that song go on for a friggin' nine minutes, but at least there are lots of verses out there... duh... Other highlights include 'Don't Cry', a love ballad where the feedback is actually very wittily meshed in with the basic rhythm for once, making the tune some sort of a weird cross between a ballad and an industrial noisefest; and Neil's cover of 'On Broadway' is good dirty fun. 'No More' has perhaps the best vocal hooks on the album, even if they're no great shakes (and why does the song sound so similar to 'Eldorado' musically?).

But even so, there's some barely listenable schlock like 'Wrecking Ball' ruining the flow of the record, and the bolero tempo on the ballad 'The Ways Of Love', I suppose, has something to do with the 'experimental leftovers' or something. Actually, as far as I know, Freedom was pieced together from at least several scrapped projects of Neil's, including a monolithic hard rock album and a monolithic ballad album, so if it doesn't exactly seem to flow like a cohesive album would be supposed, keep that in mind. For me, it's not the flow that's really important here.

In any case, despite the generally solid rating of the record, I'm sad to say it has only managed to disappoint me - I expect more from 'comebacks' than simply a well-polished, rather lifeless nostalgic recreation of the past with a bunch of anthemic and populist gimmicks thrown in. Maybe I'm being too hard on Neil here, but you gotta understand me: I was expecting a revelation, and all I got was... nothing I didn't hear before in much better quality. Okay, so it's not bad for a comeback record, but geez, man, can't you feel the sellout in here?



Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

More like it. Nothing you ain't heard before, but the very fact it ain't WORSE than anything you heard before almost makes it BETTER.

Best song: it's all one song, except for that big slump at the end

Track listing: 1) Country Home; 2) White Line; 3) Fuckin' Up; 4) Over And Over; 5) Love To Burn; 6) Farmer John; 7) Mansion On The Hill; 8) Days That Used To Be; 9) Love And Only Love; 10) Mother Earth (Natural Anthem).

I guess now is as good a time as any to finally, once and for all, justify the fact that Neil Young is such a stubborn two-star artist yet consistently gets such good grades within his own limits. See, whenever Neil is rocking out - and in my humble opinion, that and only that is what he does best and that and only that is what essentially puts him in his own unique place where he cannot be touched by anybody else - he is basically a one-trick pony (when he's not f'!#in' up in the Eighties, that is - did you spot the f'!#in' unconcealed reference to this f'!#in' album?). He rocks out perfectly fine, but through the more than thirty years of his solo career I'm not sure he bothered to change his guitar tone even once. And he's had so many gruff mid-tempo rockers before, many of them doubled and tripled through live versions, that he's more or less used up his repertoire of original riffs and solos. I can't - and won't - prove this, but my intuition does tell me that a good bunch of the songs on here are merely rewrites of some of the older stuff, and then they'd later crop up again on further albums.

For all its worth, Ragged Glory is very much interchangeable with Mirror Ball, Broken Arrow, the harder part of Sleeps With Angels, and, well, with the harder part of Rust Never Sleeps as well, I guess, and with much else. There are no hidden surprises on the album. No unpredictable turns. No new, untrivial kind of phrasing, no experimentation, no 'catching up with the times'. It's just Neil Young, reuniting himself again with Crazy Horse after a decade off. They go into the studio and record ten new songs - and I guess every single one of 'em was pretty much recorded in one take and then put on record with no overdubs. That's something called "spontaneity", which means that such a recording has a very high chance of capturing the artistic spirit in all of its immediacy and freshly inspired by the moment. It also means that the artist can put similar records out in droves within a very short span of time, and Neil did (he's arguably the most prolific of all the 'old time' rock dinosaurs in the Nineties, not even Chicago come close).

And yet you gotta give it to him - he still does it good. There might not be much more stylistic diversity to Neil the rocker than to AC/DC at this moment, but just like AC/DC, he's pumpin' out 'em rockers like crazy, and they rock. And they're real rockers. They're actual songs where guys get together and play chords, not just move their hands up and down the fretboard like some wretched post-grunge goofband like Nickelback or whoever else is there playing on MTV at the moment. They're long songs, too, some of them going over ten minutes and having long long solo passages which are all very similar but also all very natural, as you'd expect from Neil. This, not the slick commercial product of Freedom, should be considered the guy's true comeback. I'm not sure how much it sold, but I'm gonna bet my life it sold much less than Freedom, because it doesn't have any natural consumer-attracting Springsteen-style singles like 'Rockin' In The Free World'. Critics loved it, though, and they were right this time.

So I'm not going to sit over there and ruminate over which melody on here rips off which other melody. I was kinda irate that the vocal melody of 'Days That Used To Be' was ripping off Dylan's 'My Back Pages' so blatantly, but then I noticed that both Mark Prindle and the All-Music Guide noticed that, too, independently of each other, and so I kinda thought there was no way Neil wouldn't be aware of that or of the fact that the rip-off would be recognized. So it was an intentional rip-off, I guess, and the song should be taken as a Dylan tribute rather than a Dylan copyright infringement. (But just don't you go telling me after this that it's "useless" or "ridiculous" to draw comparisons between Dylan and Young. You just do not tell me that any more, get this?).

The funny thing is that Ragged Glory is all so long and so dirty-sounding and so loud and so distorted, and every single song ends in a gritty blast of corrosive feedback, and one of the songs has an F word in the title (parental advisory!), yet overall, the mood is in fact very peaceful. Heck, another song, the longest one and one of the most gruesome as far as the Feedback Attack goes, is called 'Love And Only Love'! And then there's 'Mansion On The Hill' where, according to the lyrics, 'psychedelic music fills the air, peace and love are living there still' or something like that. Not to mention the accappella 'Mother Earth', in between the verses of which the band slaughters some old folksy tune resembling 'Amazing Grace' by Hendrix-izing the melody - that one is a preachy environmentalist anthem! (It's also the weakest number on the album, I believe).

So that's the deal - we're sympathizing with those new generation kids playing this grunge music, but we're definitely not sharing their bleak, pessimistic view of life. You wanna have gritty grunge riffs? You got 'em, but you won't have this "the world sucks perennially and for eternity" bullshit from us. 'You got love to burn, you better take a chance on love' - how far is this removed from 'love is all you need'? You can't shake off the influence of Flower Power that easily. It's a wonder Neil actually could get together with all 'em grunge kids. Unless I'm underrating grunge or something.



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Holy cow! Where has he been all his life, hiding these gorgeous melodies? Sowing and reaping?


Track listing: 1) Unknown Legend; 2) From Hank To Hendrix; 3) You And Me; 4) Harvest Moon; 5) War Of Man; 6) One Of These Days; 7) Such A Woman; 8) Old King; 9) Dreamin' Man; 10) Natural Beauty.

Surprise, surprise! Having just stunned the world with his 'electric' comeback (whatever my or your reaction to it might be, it was objectively a 'comeback' in a sense, of course) on Freedom after a decade full of critical and commercial embarrasments, and then proving that he could still rock as uncompromisingly as ever on Ragged Glory, Neil has struck one more blow against the foes of his reputation, represented by this masterful 'acoustic' comeback. When I first put this on, I was ready for almost anything - seeing my 'love' towards Harvest, what could be possibly expected of a 'sequel' to Harvest that comes off twenty years later? Amazingly, Harvest Moon turned out to be... great. Well, not that great: non-diehard Young fans can probably get a bit bored near the end. But it's so far ahead of its 'classic' predecessor that I now urgently feel the need to exclaim: Do Not Buy Harvest! Get Up And Buy Harvest Moon Instead!

Actually, the more I read on the subject, the better, to my further astonishment, I understood that most critics really feel the same: everybody admits that the 'sequel' is better than the original, but still it's the 'original' that is considered 'classic' and not the 'sequel'. In some places this leads to ridiculous things: thus, the All-Music Guide in its review says that 'Harvest Moon is a better album' and yet they give it three stars while giving Harvest four and a half! Where in the name of God do we live? Is it the planet Earth or the Land of Confusion?...

Anyway, let me just tell you what the whole hoopla's about. Harvest was a patchy affair, with Young not bothering to write solid melodies and bogging it all down, down and further down in sloppy, rambling, slow arrangements, orchestration and all. Here, Neil is really careful enough not to repeat the same mistake. Not that the melodies strain too far from each other: it's still the same country-folkish sound, but it's chained down by a steady, bouncy rhythm section, and there's enough hooks to hold your attention throughout. Even more important, I can identify with many of the songs - and considering my general anti-Neil attitude, it's a rare, rare chance. Don't be confused by the Biblical album cover - Neil doesn't really present himself as a prophet or a sage on this record, although a couple of more pompous tracks come close ('War Of Man'; the closing epic 'Natural Beauty').

The overall subject here is nostalgia - nostalgia and a melancholic, though by no way pessimistic look back on the years. So the lyrics are often quite explicit - 'From Hank To Hendrix' and 'One Of These Days' reek of gentle, moving reminiscences, 'Old King' is simply an ode to a dog, and there are even simple, unadorned love ballads (title track) that sound unnaturally sincere and genuine. In fact, this is the first Young album that has songs that move me to tears; if it doesn't move you to tears, your soul is probably even harsher than mine.

What can be said of these songs? It's even hard to describe them, as they are quite similar. But do not forget the highlights (and they are numerous) in any case! One of the best here is 'From Hank To Hendrix', with possibly the best harmonica line that Neil had ever created. I used to wonder what the hell makes it so appealing when I realized it was actually 'backed' with an accordeon - a brilliant idea! Had it been previously realized, I wonder? It gives the track an extra level of rich spiritual depth, and that's coming from someone who is usually unwilling to admit the immeasurable depth of Mr Young's talent. 'Unknown Legend' is a straightforward folkish ballad (ah, hell, most of these are) with a simple, yet brilliant vocal melody; 'You And Me' is one of Neil's more convincing Simon & Garfunkel-esque ditties; and of course, there's the poppy, a bit dance-style title track, a bit less 'soulful' than the others, but the slight touch of irony only makes it more 'soulful', actually! And hey, aren't these guitars beautiful?

The biggest problem that people might experience with the album is that it's somewhat monotonous - one mid-tempo ballad after another, and he sure doesn't vary the style much - apart from 'Old King', a strange country popper about Neil's dog that's highlighted by a weird, disjointed banjo rhythm, everything sounds the same. On a first and distracted listen, mind you: these songs are really different, though the mood is mostly identical. But, like I said, there are clever and cunning hooks almost everywhere - the melodies flow smoothly and in the right directions, and Neil's voice is just as powerful (read: whiny) as it was twenty years later. I'm not a fan of 'Such A Woman' (the piano and synths water down what could be a perfectly fine ballad), I still can't solve the enigma of 'Dreamin' Man', and I still consider 'Natural Beauty' to be overlong - at a couple of minutes, it coulda been the ideal album closer, but at ten minutes it drags so much that I hardly ever endure it to the very end. It is standing there in its rightful place, of course, as a sweeping gospel-influenced (but still relatively minimalistic) anthemic climax, but there's just a bit too little actually happening over the course of those ten minutes, and the status of 'Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands' would be unacquirable for the number. But don't let it really bother you - the good songs are so shattering that I really don't care. And unlike the exaggerated bathos of the "socially relevant" numbers on Freedom, this record doesn't give the impression of having been thrown together for the critics' sake... maybe this is why it has been conveniently praised and then passed over. Don't make the mistake of passing it over either.



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Not sure WHAT he's trying to achieve here, but an oblique Neil Young album is always better than a straightforward one, anyway.

Best song: SAFEWAY CART. Or PIECE OF CRAP, hey, why should we all be so serious?

Track listing: 1) My Heart; 2) Prime Of Life; 3) Driveby; 4) Sleeps With Angels; 5) Western Hero; 6) Change Your Mind; 7) Blue Eden; 8) Safeway Cart; 9) Train Of Love; 10) Trans Am; 11) Piece Of Crap; 12) A Dream That Can Last.

Neil was certainly on a roll this time. You know, there's this breed of guys who can be seriously entertaining or seriously annoying depending on which part of their image they prefer to emphasize on a given album. Bruce Springsteen is one o' them guys, Neil Young is the other one. You can catch him in a whiny confessional heart-on-a-sleeve mood, when the endless self-pitying can really get to you; you can catch him in a preachy universalist mood like on 'Rockin' In The Free World', when it's pretty hard to draw a difference between Neil and, uh, John Cougar; or you can catch him in a puffed-up metaphysical mood, like on 'After The Gold Rush', where you just don't know what the hell is going on.

But you can also capture him somewhere in between all these, which is exactly what Sleeps With Angels is. The album itself is dedicated to Kurt Cobain (it's him that sleeps with angels, see?), and Neil again teams up with Crazy Horse on here to deliver some more grungy rockers in the memory of the Nirvana founder; however, Kurt's suicide is merely one of the elements that lie in the basis of the record. What are the others is hard to tell - there's a little bit of everything, I guess, but really nothing that would hit you like a hammer and make you develop a violent counter-reaction. There's a feeling of disturbance, discomfort, doubt and even torment, mixed with vague traces of optimism and good will, throughout the album, but Neil doesn't concentrate on any particular emotion long enough. If anything, it's just a mighty confused record, with no definite conclusions to it, which actually throws some people off the track - but really, if you're talking about me, that's the way I like my Neil Young best. What would you like to hear instead, 'Let's Roll'? Eh??

Since it's so confused, it's also pretty diverse musically, though, of course, not in a White Album way. The rockers all seem pretty similar, same sludgy mid-tempo riffless grooves with the classic Neil Young guitar tones and the classic Neil Young syncopation. The ballads can be poppy, or they can be more country-western like those on Harvest Moon, but they're still ballads. Yet just about every song on here seems well thought out, never really a throwaway or filler piece, with lyrics that'll keep you thinkin' and melodies that'll keep you groovin'. It sure is long, though, and maybe taking advantage of the CD format to extend the running length over an hour wasn't such a good idea.

Although I certainly wouldn't want to cut the length down through the most obvious choice - the fourteen-minute long album centerpiece, 'Change Your Mind'. It's essentially a 'rocking ballad', and a bit too preachy for me ('when you get weak and you need to test your will... distracting you from this must be the one you love', oh thank you doctor, I had no idea), despite the catchy chorus and the pretty 'change your mind, change your mind' backing harmonies. But it's stretched out to this "hideous" length by including a couple ominous distorted jamming interludes a la 'Cortez The Killer', which seems like a great idea to me. Optimistic preachiness constantly interrupted by moody, doom-laden guitar grumbles kinda undermines the generic effect of the former - so that the two main "moods" of the track can't really exist without one another. That's good.

Out of the rocking stuff, two more obvious highlights come to mind. The blues jam 'Blue Eden' is a three-headed dragon (granted, a little bit overweight from consuming too many gentlemen, so that he can only move very slowly) breathing fire and spitting ash - funny that the 'embracing, distorting, supporting, comforting... all over you' lines are actually reprised from the preceding 'Change Your Mind', although the two songs are directly opposed to each other in mood. And the sliding bassline in 'Safeway Cart' might just be the moodiest element ever (at least, out of the easily identifiable ones) to be found on a Neil Young record. Actually, that's the second bassline - there's a regular bass pattern there, plus this second sliding bass note repeated over and over. Very spooky and disturbing. Oh yeah, there's also the title track, of course. I'd say the dissonant screeching guitars on there pave the way for the Dead Man soundtrack, but of course, more important is that it's Neil Young's take on "the story of Kurt and Courtney". It's short, inspired, and dangerous-sounding - as supposed.

The ballads aren't really the strong part of Sleeps With Angels; some, like 'My Heart', seem slightly underwritten and underarranged. Even so, it has the pretty 'Driveby' and the funny country-'Western Hero' (which has the exact same melody as the Stones' 'Indian Girl' and probably as a whole bunch of Neil Young's own songs; actually, I'm not raising the question of self-repeating here, even if I do get an intuitive feeling that at least half of the melodies on this album had been used before, but whatever the case, here they're used in a different context, so let's just leave it at that). But my attention still prefers to go to the terrific 'Piece Of Crap' rocker at the very end of the album. The only song on here that really KICKS ASS! It's faster, it's more energetic, it has Neil Young condemning the consumer industry ('I tried to plug it in/I tried to turn it on/When I got it home/It was a piece of crap') and other things along the way and it has Crazy Horse members yelling 'PIECE OF CRAP!' at the end of each verse. It's so goddamn at odds with all the rest of the album, yet I'm so glad it's on there. Might just be my favourite Neil Young song after all these years. Heh.



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Actually, trying to be "hip" and "in step with the times" doesn't necessarily mean looking like a jackass. (Yeah, I'm talking to you, Mr Mick).

Best song: SONG X

Track listing: 1) Song X; 2) Act Of Love; 3) I'm The Ocean; 4) Big Green Country; 5) Truth Be Known; 6) Downtown; 7) What Happened Yesterday; 8) Peace And Love; 9) Throw Your Hatred Down; 10) Scenery; 11) Fallen Angel.

This is basically a straightforward sequel to Ragged Glory - ten more songs of jagged, crude, wham-bamming riffery and something that no "tasteful" jazzy finger flasher would ever dare call "soloing". Except that this time Neil is being backed by young-and-hip Seattle grungers Pearl Jam instead of the old and battered Crazy Horse. A symbolic gesture for sure: seeing himself fit to adopt the "Godfather of Grunge" title heaped upon him by the media, Neil obviously just wanted to support the hype and play with some real "grungers" - and seeing as how Nirvana was already unavailable, he chose the next best thing.

On first listen, it might seem that Ragged Glory and Mirror Ball are indeed the friggin' same record. Both probably took like a couple of hours to throw together - because the only thing that actually needs to be thrown together are the lyrics and, oh I dunno, one basic riff upon which all the rest is suspended. And actually, the lyrics of Mirror Ball are pretty much in the same vein: ruminations of an old hippie who can still sound tough and jarring but is mostly intent on carrying the thirty year old vibes of peace and love (heck, one of the songs on the album is called exactly that) through the entire record.

However, the sonic texture of Pearl Jam is still different from Crazy Horse. For one thing, there are two guitarists out there (and Eddie Vedder isn't one of them), and with Neil, that makes up to three guitars on almost every song. And the Pearl Jam guitarists are given much more space to shine than that sole Crazy Horse guy, and in the end it all comes down to a dense, thick-as-a-brick sound which is actually much more murky than the one on Ragged Glory. This doesn't always work well because sometimes the melodies just become shit altogether due to too much feedback on every part. But usually it works, and another benefit is that they seem to all be taking turns soloing, so you get the usual ear-destructive crunchy riffs-as-solos from Neil and then you get more melodic soloing from the Pearl Jam guys, not necessarily in that order, and that's positive.

I've heard some people complain about the lack of melodies - doesn't seem to make much sense to me, really, because, while some of the melodies seem to rely on two rather than three chords, and others rip off melodies from other albums and sometimes each other, they're still all there. And besides, an album that begins with 'Song X' really can't be a bad album. That's a great song! 'No tuning, nothing', Neil says at the beginning, and then they launch into a slow hypnotic shuffle that's somewhat of a cross between a plaintive dirge and an old sea shanty. A sea shanty done by a bunch of gruff grunge guitarists - good or bad? I vote for good. And catchy, inviting you to bob your head up and down and mumble along with the backing vocals - 'hey ho away we go, we're on the road to never...'. And while the song's lyrical message may not be far removed from the Springsteenisms of 'Rockin' In The Free World', the song is just way too dirty and freaky and lacking any commercial potential to become a dumbified anthem any time soon. And Pearl Jam as a band may suck or they may rule, but they sure give the guy a full sound - the complete power of the Old Testament kind. Biblical fury and anger at its most obvious.

'Act Of Love' is also a highlight, milking its absolutely minimal, almost Ramones-like melody, for all it's worth - and while I would understand anybody who'd want to wrinkle his nose and say that it's a pathetically cheap way to achieve a "majestic" effect by merely piling not one, but three guitars playing the same three chords on top of each other and amplifying them to the max, I wouldn't say that the effect in question is actually not achieved, because it is. Especially when one of the three guitars suddenly switches from the low pitch to a much higher one, almost choking in the process... such little details are a total gas to perceive.

As the album progresses, though, much like Ragged Glory, it starts to lose me - as good as the formula might be in theory, it is wearying, and once they don't establish a good hook going on, it all turns to rot. The slightly faster, romantically uplifting 'I'm The Ocean' and the gorgeous climactic chorus of 'Big Green Country' still maintain the high of the moment, but starting with 'Truth Be Known', really good tunes are harder to come by, and my hands start subconsciously grapple for the fast forward button. 'Downtown' establishes a solid Seventies-reeking hard-rockin' groove and has further hippies references, but 'Peace And Love' and 'Throw Your Hatred Down' have no groove potential at all. They still have good soloing and nice choruses, though. But then the endless 'Scenery', more atmospheric than anything else, washes everything away in a sea of predictable distortion.

It's not as I'm putting this album down, mister! No, you already know my point of view - this may be monotonous, but it's the kind of thing Neil Young does best. You know how Dave Coverdale is at his best when he screams "she got big fat tits and everything", and it's the only reason for his existence? (Which, to me, is horrible, but I gotta give it to him - nobody does it as disgustingly as Dave "Spot That Cock" Coverdale.) Well, Neil Young is at his best when he rocks out, and that, too, is his sole (or, at least, the absolute main) reason for existence. But still I have to rate it lower than Ragged Glory, just because it's one thing when you advocate simplicity as your muse, but it's another thing when you try to bottle simplicity and make a formula out of it. At least Mirror Ball is still consistently listenable - which is more than I could say about Neil's next endeavour in the same genre.



Year Of Release: 1996

One of the weirdest soundtrack albums I've ever heard, no doubt about that.

Best song: .....

Track listing: 1) Guitar Solo 1; 2) The Round Stones Beneath The Earth...; 3) Guitar Solo 2; 4) Why Does Thou Hide Thyself, Clouds...; 5) Organ Solo; 6) Do You Know How To Use This Weapon?; 7) Guitar Solo 3; 8) Nobody's Story; 9) Guitar Solo 4; 10) Stupid White Men; 11) Guitar Solo 5; 12) Time For You To Leave, William Blake...; 13) Guitar Solo 6.

Another shocking move for the fans: Neil Young suddenly went ahead and made a bizarre instrumental soundtrack for a perverse country-western film. (Not an entirely unprecedented move - rumours say that After The Gold Rush was also originally intended to be a country-western soundtrack... instead it became just a typical revelatory messianistic early Seventies record, heh heh). I never saw the film and do not intend to do so in the nearest time, although the plot seems weird enough and curious to actually get interested in it. Briefly speaking, it has a lot to do with William Blake; if you want to know more, please consult the All-Movie Guide. I know I did, but, frankly, I already forgot the plot, and I won't bother checking it out again, because there's nothing more stupid than reading movie plots without actually seeing the movie. Now the music is... oh, wait, tick tick tick, here comes my splitting of personality again...

Personality # 1 (The One That Thinks Neil Can't Go Wrong): 'This is a superb album. While none of the tracks can actually be called 'songs' or even 'tunes', they are undoubtedly among the most daring, bold, fearless musical explorations ever created. Neil doesn't play his guitar - he uses it as a manipulative sonic instrument, to provide ragged, disturbing, mind-upsetting waves of sound that exchange with each other, running in different directions, creating different moods, causing your mind to relax and to be on its guard at the same time. These are not even solos - this is some kind of an innovative, insightful musical therapy that breaks new ground in music making. The 'notes' as they are played cannot be mistaken - they're dirty and full of feedback, so it is Neil, but this time they are not just used as obligatory soloing - they are independent and take off on their own. The occasional organ solo completes the brilliant picture. The breaking of the ocean waves in the background only adds to the deepness and richness of sound, making the record a truly unforgettable experience. And the dialogs? Why, the dialogs, taken from the actual film, do not serve as simple interludes in between the instrumental bits, to take more place; they actually contribute to the mood. What is a soundtrack? It is music destined to appear in films, music that can hardly be imagined or understood without taking its legitimate place as only one of the elements constituting the movie. The dialogs help recreate the movie atmosphere, so that the music should be more easily understood and more thoroughly enjoyed. All in all, a stunning masterpiece and one of the most brilliant and original soundtracks ever written. A 10 for this one, now!'

Personality # 2 (The One That Thinks Neil Can't Go Right): 'This is certainly Neil's worst, most overblown, ridiculous and ear-destructive embarrassment he'd ever commited to tape, let alone film. There are no songs on here, wait, there's even no music: no music at all. Most of the time, Neil just dicks around with his guitar, extracting the same notes over and over again, notes that could easily be played by a three-year old if given enough fuzz and distortion. Maybe he wanted to create 'mood' or 'ambient' music, become some kind of a Brian Eno for the guitar, but this is neither moody nor ambient, it's just unprofessional shit that he tries to pass for 'art'. One of the last 'solos' drags on for more than ten minutes, dammit! Ten minutes of murky noise - how's that for a Nazi torture? He never even varies the tone - it's just the same, again and again. Even worse, the only other element that's present here are the endless pieces of dialog between actors that are taken from the movie and will not do anything for you if you haven't seen it (actually, they'll hardly do anything for you if you've seen it, either). Rent the movie if you're so interested, but don't even think of buying this ridiculous crap! A 1 would be too much of a rating - I'd probably leave this unrated, as it ain't music in any sense of the word. At all.'

Gee, the fit is over. Coming to my senses, I find out that, perversely enough, both personalities have their fine and strong arguments, and in a certain way, I agree with both. First, I must say that this certainly is not music, at least, not in the traditional sense of the word; so I'll indeed leave the album unrated. Second, I do not find the dialog bits particularly irritating; actually, I like listening to such kind of stuff (that's just me, though - I also like taping down the dialog off the Gabriel Knight games and listening to it!) And I do not find the very idea that Neil tried to carry out on this album irritating or stupid: for the first three or four minutes, I'm actually hooked! On the other hand, this album drags on for more than an hour, and that is a bit too much even for me; I think it's even a bit too much for hardcore Young fans. In other words, I don't mind sitting through this once, and I don't even mind putting this on sometimes - when I'm in the mood - you know, when you're alone in the house, on a dark and gloomy evening... wow, this can get real creepy. Maybe you shouldn't do that.

Whatever be, this record makes sense - even if it does not provide too much enjoyment. Don't dismiss it on first listen, easy as it might be. Who knows what kind of future creators of new music genres will proudly cite Dead Man as their chief inspiration? Who knows? Granted, you could say the album itself borrows a lot from the... uhm... industrial scene, or whatever, but it really has an atmosphere all of its own. Weird. Even weirder than hearing the Grateful Dead's Infrared Roses right after American Beauty, if you get my meaning.



Year Of Release: 1996
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Some good songs here, disguised as shitty ones; you just have to sit through piles of boring feedback dreck to get to them.

Best song: SCATTERED

Track listing: 1) Big Time; 2) Loose Change; 3) Slip Away; 4) Changing Highways; 5) Scattered (Let's Think About Livin'); 6) This Town; 7) Music Arcade; 8) Baby What You Want Me To Do.

Back again with Crazy Horse, and not necessarily for good, so it seems. The album is nowhere near as long or thoroughly embarrassing like Dead Man, but both share one serious flaw: they're not for the uninitiated. In the latter case, this means that, if your ear is not perfectly attuned to the kind of ragged, dirty sound that Neil is so famous for, you'll probably not be able to distinguish between these songs at all. Same problem could be actual for his previous records that relied on the same formula (Ragged Glory and Mirror Ball), but looks like on here he finally hits rock bottom. Namely, the album begins with three lengthy epics - 'Big Time' (7:24), 'Loose Change' (9:49) and 'Slip Away' (8:36) - which all sound the same: the band crashes and bashes at more or less the same, rather slow, tempo, Neil mumbles some lyrics which are absolutely impossible to hear as the recording's quality does not top the most mediocre of bootlegs, and most of the time is given to sloppy, messy, feedbacky solos. Actually, here's yet another link to Dead Man: quite often, these solos sound more like the kind of buzz-saw imitations Neil practiced on that soundtrack, only this time they are set to a solid rhythm section. The worst blow comes in the middle of 'Loose Change', when the band suddenly sticks to repeating the same simplistic riff over and over again for about four minutes (and it reappears later, too, particularly at the end of 'Scattered'), so that at one point it begins to seem that something's wrong with your CD.

However, as horrendously lame as that 'artistic' trick is, it doesn't really conceal the fact that there's also some solid material here. For one, the three lengthy marathons are followed by four perfectly short and perfectly melodical tracks. The overall sound is still the same - bass/drums plus a couple heavily distorted guitars - and the arrangements are about as far away from each other as a plaice's eyes (whoah, now here's a good fishing metaphor), but these are good, entertaining songs. 'Changing Highways' starts the fun with a countryish type of boogie, whatever that means; actually, I'd heavily recommend people who think that 'country rock' equals 'country' take a good listen to this song and see what real country-rock is all about. There's a good, quirky harmonica solo, too, and the song is almost defiantly short, just as the previous three were defiantly long. That Neil, he's really a freaked out one... 'Scattered' is countryish, too, though not as joyful or fast paced, but not a clone of the Great Album Opening Mess, either, as it has a clearly defined riff and vocal melody, and some autobiographic lyrics in 'I'm a little bit here/I'm a little bit there/I'm a little scattered everywhere'. Plus, the sloppy arrangement really does the song good - were Neil to go for a lighter, more traditional arrangement, this would certainly seem much too banal. Next comes 'This Town' that manages to seduce me, too, with its 'chunka-chunka-chunka' rhythm and an almost nursery rhyme melody. Come to think of it, most of these melodies are so simple they'd easily fit nurseries all over the world, although I'm not too sure as to whether little children would enjoy the feedback mess and all the dirt. Finally, 'Music Arcade' finishes the 'quartet' of minor masterpieces on a quieter note: the song would have easily fit right on Harvest Moon, as it's just Neil strumming his acoustic and humming to himself as if nobody were around. It also has his best lyrics on the record - no kidding. Funny, the melody is somewhat sad, while the lyrics seem to be optimistic, as it's essentially the phrase 'don't worry be happy' that has made its long and treacherous way through the warped corridors of Young's wicked mind and came out as a thousand different questions and metaphors.

Of course, the song would have made a fitting and suitable ending for the album, but, of course, Neil had to go and spoil it by adding on another lengthy, never ending bore - the cover of Jimmy Reed's 'Baby What You Want Me To Do', arranged as a pseudo-live recording with artificial crowd noises all around it. It's not as dirty as the three 'suites' that open the record, and it never pounds on your head like the last four minutes of 'Loose Change', but it just drags like a paralized dog, as if the band were totally stoned out and played their instrument in a half-comatose state. Neil is not heard at all, the tempo is drastically slow (as far as I know, this song is usually done faster), and the band never knows when to stop, adding one more after one more after one more... guh. I usually turn down my CD before this one comes on. Even Roger McGuinn did a more decent version on it on Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde.

A weird album, of course, but, after all, Neil Young is much too unpredictable to not release a weird album after he'd already released a weirder one. Well, like I said, there's some really good stuff and it ain't that long. My advice to Neil, however, would be to make his new studio release as gimmickless as possible: it's obvious that the guy is far from spent, but if he keeps abusing his listeners' patience like that, well, I'll just have to stop bothering about the sucker. AT ALL.



Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

I wonder why all the loudness and distortion aren't enough to, like, actually wake up these guys.

Best song: SEDAN DELIVERY, by an extended country mile

Track listing: 1) When You Dance (You Can Really Love); 2) Barstool Blues; 3) When Your Lonely Heart Breaks; 4) Mr Soul; 5) Big Time; 6) Pocahontas; 7) Human Highway; 8) Slipaway; 9) Scattered; 10) Dangerbird; 11) Prisoners Of Rock'n'Roll; 12) Sedan Delivery.

As if all the sludge and chaos of Broken Arrow weren't enough, Neil Young goes on tour again and rewards his fans with this double live CD, cumbersome in all possible aspects. Starting from the very fact that it's painfully long in general, yet just as painfully short for a double CD - a bit over forty minutes each, so that just about any singular song on here could have been cut out in order to make the packaging far more reasonable.

As for the actual music, well, it's simply this: the main style of Broken Arrow as applied to songs from any particular given Neil Young period. Very slow, very lethargic, very long songs - twelve of them in all, over two CDs? I'm definitely not pleased. And it really doesn't matter if Neil has a great rocking style worked out with dem Crazy Horsemen if it's just the same style over and over again. Of course, I guess Year Of The Horse was never intended to become a classic or anything. It's more like a minor defective brother to the glory of Live Rust and Weld. It actually concentrates on Neil's lesser-known material, too; the only true "Young classics" I can see on here are 'When You Dance (You Can Really... well you know)' and maybe 'Pocahontas', but I'm not sure if that one's really being considered a classic. Elsewhere, there's lotsa material from Zuma (no 'Cortez The Killer', though - too famous!); a couple numbers from the long-forgotten Life, way off from 1987; and yes, a bunch of numbers off Broken Arrow, played exactly in the same way as they are in the studio.

I mean, what do you want from a CD which begins with the shout 'It's all one song!'? Consider yourselves warned, gentlemen. It actually opened kinda nice, with Neil delivering a really passionate version of 'When You Dance'; but then again, it's one of the man's best songs, after all, and one of the most hook-filled and, well, interesting from a purely melodic point of view, so it'd take some serious effort to butcher that one. (They do try - the usual distortion levels do try to mask the clear definition of the riffs and all, but you can get through this eventually).

But that's all right for songs with 'special' melodic qualities; arriving at the second number, we already find that the only thing to enjoy about the performance is the distortion itself. I dunno, I just don't see any energy delivered on this song. Nor on any of the Broken Arrow numbers. It's almost as if somebody fed the entire band some tranquilizers before the show - not an overdose, but just enough so that their emotional states could be pretty even and becalmed that evening. There's no crescendos or climaxes, except that sometimes the drummer starts bashing all over the cymbals to create x+1 more elements of noise than one second before that. That's nice to know, but it doesn't really uplift me. Nor do I see Neil standing out there and toying with the sound; often, he is able to use his distortion as a powerful technique to create diverse sonic effects (much like Hendrix), but not here. It's just booooring.

There are, of course, a couple "softer" numbers, but they don't save the picture. 'When Your Lonely Heart Breaks' is 'minimalistic' - mainly in the sense that the bass player hits one note per five seconds and the drummer follows his example, and the guitar sounds like a bad parody on Mark Knopfler. 'Mr Soul', rearranged here as a mid-tempo harmonica-driven blues-rocker, could have been done better by your average barroom band. And 'Human Highway' is sooo slow, sooo quiet, and sooo morose, I'd rather listen to John Denver instead.

Eeeh... The electric arrangement of 'Pocahontas' and 'Scattered' are good, but I suppose that's mainly because they're short. And what's that I see? A thirteen minute version of 'Dangerbird'? When the song wasn't even good in the first place? You must be joking. It's even slower than the Zuma version; I mean, do I really need to hear like three seconds of feedback from every note Neil is playing? Geez.

So the album only redeems it with the last number. It's like for just one song, the band finally wakes up from the endless slumber and delivers a revved-up, totally annihilating version of 'Sedan Delivery'. The only fast song on here, the only one where you can actually find some traces of true rock'n'roll excitement instead of morose post-grunge noise-making. I may be exaggerating the quality of the track, though, because it stands in such sharp and direct contrast to everything else I can't help actually noticing it. But one classic rendition doesn't make a good album.

Beware, too: Year Of The Horse seems to be a frequent guest in used CD sections, and for good reason. It might give a totally erroneous picture of Mr Young - pretty sure that had it been my first acquaintance with the man's live sound, I'd have immediately written him off as a pseudo-talented charlatan hiding a lack of talent behind this ugly wall of distortion. I don't know if the entire tour was spent like that, with the band basically sleepwalking for most of the show, but if it wasn't, then Year Of The Horse should be relegated to the bin of "Most Stupidly Assembled Live Albums Ever", along with Who's Last and the Stones' Love You Live and, um, well, whatever comes to mind.



Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Neil's "Selfportrait", happily gobbled down by critical opinion?????...

Best song: GOOD TO SEE YOU

Track listing: 1) Good To See You; 2) Silver & Gold; 3) Daddy Went Walkin'; 4) Buffalo Springfield Again; 5) The Great Divide; 6) Horseshoe Man; 7) Red Sun; 8) Distant Camera; 9) Razor Love; 10) Without Rings.

The quintessential "throwaway album", and something unique, too - unless you want to make a point for Neil's 'experimental' Eighties period, I can't really think of any other records that would be so deliberately "off the cuff" and so sincerely not sporting any particular 'message'. Maybe Comes A Time, in a certain sense, could qualify, too, but apart from that... well, you should imagine the general critical disappointment at the time this came out. Here's Neil, making glorious epoch defining feedback-drenched albums over the entire last decade, and now this? A short, minimalistic set of ten acoustic numbers with nothing distinguishable about them? Oh, sure, they ate it up - after all, this isn't a bad record - but for a "two thousand" album, this sure is, uhm, meek.

I, however, think, that the record should be treated adequately. It is by no means a swooping statement; it's not even Harvest Moon, because that album, as stripped down as it was, still had the proverbial 'spirit-of-America' attitude to it, with echoey trembling guitars, majestic harmonicas, titles like 'From Hank To Hendrix' and a gospel-like conclusion. Nothing of the kind here. In fact, it was originally intended to be just Neil and his acoustic, but in the end he brought in a full rhythm section, a keyboardist and some backing vocals to boot, and yet, it's still by far the most minimalistic production on a Neil Young album.

Now the problem is that the actual songs aren't too good. The melodies are less hook-filled than on Harvest Moon and not at all memorable. And this kind of absolute minimalism really stands out as evil for Young's reputation; I miss the subtle harmonica/accordeon duets, I could stand just a bit of orchestration, I could this and I could that... cuz I don't want to just sit here and listen to Young playing his acoustic - he's a poor, dirt poor acoustic player. (He's a poor electric player as well, but at least his feedback style is unparalleled). All I actually can do is sit and relax, because the atmosphere is nice. Quiet calm waves of primitive acoustic sound, accompanied by one of the whini... er, gentlest voices in existence singing Neil's heart out. That's the only ticket to ride, baby, unless you squirm your nose and say 'I'll better go listen to Nick Drake' and ruin the whole magic.

I actually dig the introductory number... Neil himself said he was in this bus and had to write a song and all he had in his head was the line 'good to see you again', so he made a song out of it. Good chorus, good impression - Neil's "gentle" intonations are so friendly that I'd rather have no-one else sing a line like 'good to see you again, my friend' to me. Kudos also go to Ben Keith's steel guitar playing, on this track and throughout the album. But sometimes Neil is just being too gentle - like on the rather ridiculous 'Daddy Went Walkin', which begins as a jiggy folk ditty and then incorporates McCartneyesque balladry, two rather incompatible elements, and for both sections, Neil treats the song as if it were made of china. Somewhat artificial, if you ask me - remember how Bob Dylan resuscitated these jiggy folk ditties on his early Nineties' folk albums? Sloppy and raw? 'Daddy Went Walkin' is so polished it's almost unbearable.

The "crucial" number on this record, the most talked about one, was, of course, 'Buffalo Springfield Again', a song inspired by Young's recent work on the release of the B.S. boxset. 'Like to see those guys again, give it a shot, maybe now we can show the world what we got, but I'd just like to play for the fun we had' - these lines were, of course, transmitted by everybody who had ears, and in the end a cornered Neil Young had to admit he had no actual plans of reforming the band. The song does sound charmingly nostalgic, though, and while one could argue that this is just a sly hypocritical Mr Young making a bait for the critics, one could also refrain from arguing and just enjoy the warm vibes.

The last six songs, however, just mix up in one enormous inseparable blob in my head, no matter what I do about it. Haven't I heard 'The Great Divide' earlier? Where? Somewhere, I don't remember. 'Horseshoe Man' and 'Red Sun' drag along like wounded turtles - granted, loving and caring turtles, but turtles all the same, and I don't need to have them anywhere near me. Only 'Razor Love' seems fit for inclusion on Harvest Moon, with a slightly more profound sound to it, and with actual rises and falls of the vocal melody, spilling heavy aching nostalgia all over the place.

But whatever be, don't count me angry or anything - this is a perfectly adequate record, and since it's short, concise and inviting, I find it "aurally acceptable". It catches Neil at peace with himself; just one year before, he was recording with Crosby, Stills & Nash again, and now he was definitely still soaked in the shiny optimistic vibes of those guys - at long last, Young makes an introspective album that's not depressed, even if it happened to be a formal throwaway. But maybe not? Maybe this is the moment of enlightenment, and we all missed it? Maybe this is the sonic Nirvana Neil has been looking for all his life? The ultimate goal? The Holy Grail of singing-songwriting?

Hmm, well, probably not. Had it been that way, Neil would have saved himself a lot of trouble just opting for backing guitarist to Jimmy Buffett.


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