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  • A Journey Through Neil’s Past: Part Three 1989-1996

    3 Nov 2013, 18:57

    Eldorado EP

    The precursor to Neil Young's late 80s 'comeback' was released only in Japan and Australia. It opens with one of Young's heaviest songs and the kind of track that perhaps contributed towards Young's admittedly dubious status as the 'Godfather of Grunge'. It was reportedly written about Stephen Stills. Cocaine Eyes is a statement of intent, a ferocious and raw song both musically and lyrically. The version of Don't Cry which is present here is a different version to the one that would end up on Freedom, it is approximately 45 seconds longer. It is one of three songs here that were also on the full album, Eldorado and On Broadway are the other two. Heavy Love, which is the other exclusive track, is less notable than Cocaine Eyes but is a solid Young rocker.

    Eldorado is more than just a teaser for the Freedom album, it is worthwhile even just for Cocaine Eyes, but after a tumultuous decade it hinted that Young was getting his house back in order.

    Freedom

    Freedom was to form the foundation for Neil Young's 1990s renaissance. It was as far a cry away from Young's genre experiments of the past decade, in which he would commit almost exclusively to one genre or style in any given album. Instead it is a varied album, perhaps Young’s most eclectic album since After the Gold Rush.

    The opener is an acoustic version of Rockin' in the Free World. In truth it isn't a great performance. Young's vocal is abrasive and it doesn't stack up against the acoustic version of Hey Hey, My My from Rust Never Sleeps, which is far more evocative incarnation of what is now a classic rocker. Crime in the City is Young at his story-telling best, weaving a fluid and compelling narrative. Hangin' on a Limb is a beautiful acoustic song, which is only enhanced further by Emmylou Harris' backing vocals. It invokes Gram Parsons classics such as Heart's on Fire. The Ways of Love and Someday are the weakest tracks on the album. Both are lightweight and although they are not entirely without merit it would be a stronger album without them. No More is an up-tempo anti-drug lament which is worthy of The Needle and the Damage Done and Tonight's the Night, if slightly more accessible. The album finishes with the classic version of Rockin' in the Free World.

    Overall Freedom was a fine 'comeback' for Young to end a commercially disastrous decade but it proved one that would reign in a 5 year period which would consolidate Young's reputation as one of the most enduring musical artists of the modern era.

    Ragged Glory

    Ragged Glory was Young returning to work with Crazy Horse. In truth it feels like it is picking up where Freedom left off with the electric version of Rockin' in the Free World. While there isn't any one song that quite reached the legendary status of that song, this is a much more consistent album than Freedom. The tone is constant throughout. The distorted guitars and the hippie themes are omnipresent. The opener, Country Home, was written in the 70s and like songs such as Too Far Gone from Freedom display more of a connection with the 70s than most of Young's work from the previous ten years did.

    White Line is a reworking of a song called River of Pride which was originally set to be on the original Chrome Dreams album. F*!#in' Up is perhaps one of the best known songs from Ragged Glory. A live staple for Young himself it has been covered by bands such as Pearl Jam and I recall an interview in which Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous discussing the song in an interview a few years prior to his untimely death. An indication of Young’s continuing and wide reaching influence.

    The (nearly) closing trio of Mansion on the Hill, Days that Used to Be and Love and Only Love are three of Young's most majestic rock songs. 'Mansion' and 'Days' in particular are drenched in 70s nostalgia and perhaps even a longing for the past. Love and Only Love features extended guitar workouts and a superb chorus.

    Ragged Glory doesn’t contain the same variety as Horse classics Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and Zuma but it is Young at his most unbridled and energetic.

    Harvest Moon

    There is a distinct split within Neil Young's persona. The first is the 'Grunge Godfather' who is exemplified by Ragged Glory. The second is the guy who shot to fame in 1972 with mid-tempo country-rock songs like Heart of Gold and Old Man. It is interesting then Young's quintessential 'rock' album was followed by the long awaited sequel to the album that spawned those hits back in the 70s. The shift to quieter terrain was an act of necessity because Young had developed tinnitus following the touring for Ragged Glory (see the live albums Arc and Weld for an indication of why this may have been the case).

    The opening track, Unknown Legend is vintage Young and is a heartfelt ode to his wife Pegi. Harvest Moon is perhaps the best known song from the album but it is perhaps the most lightweight. That's not to say that it is at all weak, it is the sound of a contented man and sits nicely as a companion piece to Unknown Legend. War of Man recalls the opening riff of Goin' Back from the Comes a Time album, while the lyrics reflect a much more sombre tone than the rest of the album up to this point. It could almost be the flipside to Love and Only Love. Both songs are preoccupied with conflict of some description, the lyrics of both songs take a personal angle on war yet the hook on Love and Only Love sounds more hopeful than those present on this song; “No one wins, It's a war of man”.

    From Hank to Hendrix is one of my favourite Neil Young songs of all time. The lyrics are enigmatic, the central lines “Can we get it together? Can we still stand side by side?” is open to interpretation. It may well be about divorce, I've always read it as an anti-prejudice sentiment. Perhaps with a racial tilt, or perhaps about something completely separate. It sums Young up at his enigmatic best that his writing can be interpreted in different ways.


    Sleeps With Angels

    Sleeps With Angels is considered by many to be a latter day equivalent to Tonight's the Night. It is true that it shares a similar tone and both albums were made in the wake of the death of a musician (Danny Whitten for TTN and in this case, Kurt Cobain) but Angels is a more wide reaching album. Only the title track seems to directly reference Cobain's death. It shares the lo-fi aesthetic of Tonight’s the Night but also is possibly the most consistently restrained Crazy Horse performance. A performance that lends an ominous tone throughout.

    The album opener, My Heart, feels at first like a curveball in the context of a Neil Young and Crazy Horse album but it isn't completely out of place. It is in fact a perfect intro to the album. It is delicate and heartfelt and displays the kind of vulnerable lyrics that were second nature to Young during his 1970s zenith.

    Prime of Life kicks into gear and contains perhaps the most optimistic lyrics of the whole album. Driveby and Sleeps with Angels are two of the darkest songs in the set. On the former Young laments; “I can't believe a machine gun sings, Driveby” while he deals with Cobain’s death head-on in the title track “He's always on someone's mind”, Young ponders amid the sound of distorted guitars. On Western Hero the style shifts to a more acoustic setting and the breadth of the subject matter is wider but the impact is no less heartfelt. He laments the fallen soldier but also displays an empathy with those who survived the war “Through the years he changed somehow, he’s different now”.

    The extended guitar work on Change Your Mind adds to the long line of Crazy Horse extended-jams in Young’s catalogue. Interestingly the verses are more effective than the hook which does fall flat in a relative sense but each instrumental part elevates the track once more. Piece of Crap could be Fuckin’ Up: Part 2. It is a punk-fuelled anti-consumerist rant which actually lightens the mood.

    Sleeps with Angels may well have become my favourite of all Young’s 90s albums. It has a dark undercurrent and an almost noirish tone which stays with the listener. At the same time not much of it is particularly immediate. Until recently, Ragged Glory would have been a clear winner in any head to head. Sleeps with Angels, however, may well have more depth than any album Young has made since On the Beach.

    Mirror Ball

    Mirror Ball was recorded with Grunge disciples (if you subscribe to the ‘Godfather’ thing) Pearl Jam. Young uses Pearl Jam like he would use Crazy Horse. In fact it is hard to imagine this sounding too much different if it were a Crazy Horse record, the only gripe perhaps being that Pearl Jam clearly don’t have the same kind of familiarity with Young. There are no tracks like Change Your Mind from Sleeps with Angels or Love and Only Love from Ragged Glory, which contain the extended instrumental sections. Nonetheless the inclusion of Pearl Jam added weight to Young’s enduring and escalating status amid the 90s hard and alternative rock scene. The idea behind this album being a minimalist dirge. Young can be heard telling his bandmates "No tuning, nothing," before Song X kicks in. I used to have a major problem with this album, I could barely hear Young’s vocals. Somehow that is less of a problem now, I can’t explain why.

    The album’s highlights include the opening trio Song X, Act of Love and I’m the Ocean. The latter being one of Young’s best songs of the decade. The tempo of the drums are what really drive the song. Even through the dirge of guitar noise seeps a relentless melody. The opening lyrics “I'm an accident, I was driving way too fast” may refer to Young’s own past, he continues in the second verse “People my age, they don't do the things I do”. Young was no doubt aware of his own status, otherwise he may not have been making a record with Pearl Jam in the first place.

    The rest of the album maintains the pace, only breaking for the 46 seconds of What Happened Yesterday and Neil Young’s pump organ. That gives way to one of the most memorable guitar riffs on the album, belonging to Peace and Love. The lyrics of such barely even need to be analysed. Throw Your Hatred Down continues a similar lyrical theme but the central lyric itself carries its own weight, once again it barely requires an explanation. Though it is an effective lyric in a way it also highlights the album’s main shortcoming. That being the lack of more than two or three really memorable individual tracks. The raucous production values in Mirror Ball are reminiscent of Ragged Glory but the reason the earlier album is a classic is the sheer number of great songs that are in that set. One gets the feeling that Young had either run out of great songs by this point in or that he was holding back. Nonetheless Mirror Ball is more than a mere Young-Jam indulgence.

    Dead Man

    Without the benefit of the visuals of Jim Jarmusch’s superb feature film, Neil Young’s soundtrack to Dead Man is perhaps a bit more arduous than the average fan might want to experience too frequently. The recording process was straightforward, Young set up his instruments in a recording studio and played them whilst watching the film. There are sections of dialogue taken from the film through the disc. The effect of the excerpts of dialogue are lost here to an extent though. Without any real context they tend to sound like incoherent ramblings. The writing in Dead Man doesn’t have the same effect as a film like Pulp Fiction, in which the dialogue zips along in a way that lends itself perfectly to sound-bites. Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack may be fundamentally flawed as a single entity, although not without a passing charm. Despite this, within the film itself it is inspired.

    Broken Arrow

    I once read a review of this album in Q Magazine in which they awarded it 1 star. This was before I’d ever heard the album. I eventually bought the album anyway, expecting the worst, this was when I was younger and actually put stock in critics reviews. The opener Big Time kicks in immediately with a catchy yet sludgy, almost doom-laden riff. What follows are enigmatic, freewheeling lyrics that effortlessly ooze from Young’s pen and the kind of extended guitar workouts that made Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s name. Loose Change continues the theme, it is moderately less memorable but is still a solid track. Slip Away is a slow electric dirge with a hazy sounding vocal hook and equally hazy sounding guitar solos.

    Really the first three tracks on this album are just Young and The Horse jamming. By the time Slip Away has finished the album is roughly 25 minutes old and it is clear that Broken Arrow isn’t going to win any new fans. On the other hand that has never concerned Young before this point. Changing Highways is an up-tempo number which breaks any monotony. Scattered contains a catchy hook with quite an understated melody yet an effectively catchy one. This Town is quite forgettable but Music Arcade is the real anomaly in here. It is a solo track containing some of Young’s most compelling lyrics of the decade. It has that unique Neil Young quality of sounding optimistic yet sorrowful at the same time. Lyrics like “I was walkin’ down Main Street, Dodgin' traffic with flyin' feet, That's how good I felt”.

    The album ends with a rough sounding rendition of Jimmy Reed’s Baby, What You Want Me to Do which is almost drowned out by the sound of a bar full of people. Its inclusion is slightly baffling but 30 years into Young’s career it would be naïve to expect anything less. Broken Arrow is an uneven album, it is undeniably top-heavy and it was a low-key end to a resurgent decade for Young but taken on its own merits it is a worthwhile addition to his and Crazy Horse’s canon.
  • Kdo's Live Music Mondays!

    7 Mar 2013, 1:45

    04/04/2013

    Well I joined in with this live Mondays game so I may as well do it properly now. So I am dropping this journal and will try to update it every Monday. Hopefully I can keep it going. I wasn't sure if I'd listen to much this week and I ended up scrobbling 5 albums so it has started pretty well.

    I will also try to keep each week within a general theme. This week began with Slayer because I've been on a thrash kick lately and you don't get much more thrash than Slayer. I then went a bit punk, thrash was influenced by punk and in truth I always thought that Danzig and Misfits straddle the two genres anyway.

    1.) Slayer - Decade Of Aggression
    2.) Misfits - Evilive
    3.) Danzig - Thrall-Demonsweatlive
    4.) The Damned - The Captain's Birthday Party
    5.) NOFX - I Heard They Suck Live!

    Live album of the week: Has to be Slayer - Decade of Aggression.


    Bring on next Monday!

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    11/04/2013

    I wasn't sure whether to do multiple journals or to just add to this one. I think I'll try to contain this to one journal for now...

    So this evening I listened to some prog rock/metal, then some doom metal. I only managed four sets but in my defence they are fairly long ones.

    1.) Anathema - A Moment in Time
    2.) Porcupine Tree - Warszawa
    3.) Paradise Lost - Draconian Times MMXI
    4.) My Dying Bride - The Voice of the Wretched

    Anathema are one of the best live bands I have ever seen and I actually saw them support Porcupine Tree once so that's probably why I listened to the 'Tree' second. My problem with Warszawa is perhaps that I am less familiar with their earlier work than I'd like to be so some of their elongated tracks are slightly lost on me. The Paradise Lost one is a live rendition of their 'classic' Draconian Times (although I always thought Icon was their best). I do seem to forget that PL's albums are often very top-heavy so once they rip through four or five classic tunes it gets slightly mundane. My Dying Bride is what it is, they have basically been doing the same thing for 20 years now. Still a classic Doom band though.

    Live album of the week: Anathema - A Moment In Time. No matter what 'new' songs Anathema come up with they still sit perfectly next to the older ones. Not always the same in terms of tone and style but the standard is impeccable. In this case it is a great gig spanning Eternity to A Natural Disaster (so roughly '95 to '03).

    So that's me for this week. I am easing out with a set of four live tracks from Red House Painters 'Retrospective'. It's not a 'live' album as such so I'm not really counting it.

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    18/03/2013

    This Monday saw a switch to some live Hip Hop and two of the greatest groups ever to grace the genre, Cypress Hill and Wu-Tang Clan.

    1.) Wu-Tang Clan - Live At Montreux 2007
    2.) Cypress Hill - Live At The Fillmore

    Wu-Tang are sound like a tremendous live act, I missed out on seeing them a couple of years ago. They rip through the songs like a punk band would, leaving little room to catch a breath but the energy on stage is palpable. Solo tracks from some of the main members in the form of Bring the Pain (Method Man), Cherchez La Ghost (Ghostface Killah) and Ice Cream (Raekwon) are all classics and sit well within Wu's catalogue.

    Cypress Hill sound at their best when they are performing hip hop classics like How I Could Just Kill A Man and Pigs. Increasingly their 'rock' sounds like generic nu-metal and so an amped up version of I Ain't Goin Out Like That left me yearning for the original bass heavy hip hip arrangement. Still, it is admirable that Cypress Hill were willing to leave their comfort zone and in truth (Rock) Superstar still sounds pretty good.

    Live album of the week: Wu-Tang Clan - Live at Montreux 2007.

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    25/03/2013

    I mixed it up more than ever this week. From punk to country via soul and ska.

    1.) Bad Brains - Live at the Fillmore 1982
    2.) D.O.A. - Live at the Fillmore 1981
    3.) Bill Withers - Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall
    4.) Toots and The Maytals - Unplugged On Strawberry Hill
    5.) Johnny CashLive at Folsom Prison



    Live album of the week: Johnny Cash - Live at Folsom Prison

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    01/04/2013


    This was a Neil Young day. I decided to work through the Performance Series discs of his that I own.

    1.) Neil Young - Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House 1968
    2.) Neil Young - Live At The Fillmore East
    3.) Neil Young - Live At Massey Hall 1971
    4.) Neil Young - A Treasure
    5.) Neil Young - Dreamin' Man Live '92

    Live album of the week: Neil Young - Live At Massey Hall

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    08/04/2013

    1.) Belle and Sebastian - Live in Belfast, 2001
    2.) Black Sabbath - Live Evil

    Live album of the week: Black Sabbath - Live Evil


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    15/04/2013

    1.) MC5 Kick Out the Jams

    Live album of the week: Well...can you guess?

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    22/04/2013

    1.) Leonard Cohen - Live At The Isle of Wight 1970
    2.) Leonard Cohen - Live In London
    3.) The Roots - The Roots Come Alive

    Live album of the week: Leonard Cohen -Live In London

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    06/05/2013

    1.) Radiohead - I Might Be Wrong
    2.) Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - Ruin Jonny's Bar Mitzvah
    3.) Faithless - Faithless Live In Cannes EP
    4.) Bloodbath- The Wacken Carnage

    Live album of the week: Bloodbath - The Wacken Carnage

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    13/05/13

    I inexplicably missed Live Music Monday!!!


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    20/05/13

    Eric Clapton - Unplugged
    Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom Live
    Roy Orbison - Black & White Night

    Live album of the week: Roy Orbison - Black & White Night

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    27/05/13

    UK Subs - Strangle Hold
    Snoop Dogg - Live At Coachella (2012)
    The Gathering - A Noise Severe

    Live album of the week: Snoop Dogg - Live At Coachella (2012)

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    03/06/13

    Aerosmith - A Little South Of Sanity
    Simon & Garfunkel - Live From New York City, 1967
    Tom Waits - On the Scene '73

    Live album of the week: Simon & Garfunkel - Live from New York City, 1967

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    10/06/2013

    Eels- Live At Town Hall

    Live album of the week: Well....Eels I think


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    17/06/2013

    Kathleen Edwards - itunes live
    Great Lake Swimmers - itunes live
    Laura Marling - itunes live

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    24/06/2013

    Pink Floyd - Pulse

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    01/07/2013

    The Cure - Show
    Motörhead - The Wörld Is Ours - Vol 1 Everywhere Further Than Everyplace Else
    Masta Killa - Live

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    08/07/2013

    Arrested Development - Unplugged
    Pennywise - Live at the Key Club
    Nirvana - Live at Reading

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    15/07/2013

    The Enid - Something Wicked This Way Comes - Live at Claret Hall Farm & Stonehenge

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    22/07/2013

    AIRtist - On Air (Live at Ozora Festival)
    The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Wins! [Live Radio Sessions]
    Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister: Live At The Barbican

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    29/07/2013

    Amorphis - Forging the Land of Thousand Lakes

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  • My Top Artists and Tracks of 2012

    9 Ene 2013, 18:36

    I am a slightly late posting this but I did manage to take a record of the numbers on New Years Day so it is all accurate.

    As is often the case my listening habits have been largely influenced by the live shows, once again I have been to too few but I certainly made the most of the gigs that I did make it to. In fact the top 5 in this years top artist chart are all acts that I went to see during the year. New albums by Kathleen Edwards and Anathema helped propel those two into the top 5 (in Anathema’s case they are currently top in my number one overall artist chart).

    As with last years list, there aren’t many ‘new’ acts, Me First and the Gimmie Gimmie Gimmies are the best fit for that description. I notched up all 93 scrobbles for them in a single evening, their infectious pop-punk covers proved easy to enjoy and difficult to turn off. Other notable ‘new’ entries include Sun Kil Moon, their new album is one of Mark Kozelek’s best for quite some time. Frank Zappa’s appearance on Spotify has allowed me to begin working through his catalogue of work, I still have some way to go, 128 tracks barely skims the surface.

    As for the top 20 tracks, well the range is narrow to say the least. Weather Systems by Anathema and Voyageur by Kathleen Edwards dominate the chart, accounting for 13 of the 20 tracks combined. A mid term obsession with Twin Peaks, in which I watched the feature length Fire Walk With Me twice and all 30 episodes of the TV show within 2 months, means that Julee Cruise claims 3 of the spots.

    Ritual by Ghost is a song that I discovered on a compilation CD that my father owns and resulted in me buying their album. As a whole it is solid but Ritual seems to be the stand-out track. The top track is Leaves by The Gathering and featured on their first great album, Mandylion. The instrumental part midway through is sublime and is the main reason I kept coming back to the song last year.

    TOP ARTISTS

    Katatonia 480 listens
    Anathema 451 listens
    Bruce Springsteen 449 listens
    Opeth 310 listens
    Kathleen Edwards 309 listens
    Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band 233 listens
    Sun Kil Moon 167 listens
    Leonard Cohen 155 listens
    Nina Nastasia 155 listens
    Tom Waits 142 listens
    Rancid 131 listens
    Frank Zappa 128 listens
    The Gathering 122 listens
    Bob Dylan 118 listens
    Queens of the Stone Age 118 listens
    Ice-T 112 listens
    Pink Floyd 108 listens
    Me First and the Gimmie Gimmie Gimmies 93 listens
    2Pac 93 listens
    Thin Lizzy 90 listens

    TOP TRACKS

    The Gathering - Leaves 19 listens
    Ghost - Ritual 16 listens
    Kathleen Edwards - Sidecar 15 listens
    Anathema - The Lost Child 14 listens
    Kathleen Edwards - Change The Sheets 13 listens
    Anathema - The Storm Before the Calm 13 listens
    Kathleen Edwards - Empty Threat 12 listens
    Kathleen Edwards - Mint 12 listens
    Kathleen Edwards - For The Record 12 listens
    Anathema - Untouchable Part 1 12 listens
    Anathema - Untouchable Part 2 12 listens
    Julee Cruise - Into the Night 11 listens
    Julee Cruise - The Nightingale 11 listens
    Katatonia - The Promise of Deceit 11 listens
    Kathleen Edwards - Chameleon/Comedian 11 listens
    Anathema - The Beginning Of The End 11 listens
    Buzzcocks - Harmony In My Head 10 listens
    Julee Cruise - Falling 10 listens
    Anathema - Balance 10 listens
    Anathema - Lightning Song 10 listens
  • A Journey Through Neil’s Past: Part Two 1980-1988

    30 Nov 2012, 3:50

    This is the second part of what is likely to become a four part journal. The idea for this came from me wanting to listen to all of Neil Young's albums in chronological order. I began doing do in a kind of diary structure. As I got further into Young's catalogue I became less consistent in terms of the amount of time between listening to each album so I decided to do away with the original format. Here is simply my opinion of all of Neil Young's albums between 1980 and 1988. The very end of the decade ushered in a whole new era for Young so Freedom, although technically an 80s album, will be reviewed along with the 1990s.


    Hawks & Doves

    Neil Young's music took an abrupt shift with the advent of a new decade, not just in a stylistic sense but also interms of the standard of his work. Rust Never Sleeps, which was his final album of the seventies, was consitent with the general quality of his previous work. Rust's follow up, Hawks & Doves, was not. It is a lesser work than Rust but oddly enough it does share a similar structure. One acoustic side and one electric side. The acoustic tracks are fine although they are the sort that you might imagine Young could have written one hundred of and thought no less of it. Lost In Space and Captain Kennedy are the highlights of the opening set but in truth they are no better than the more run-of-the-mill tracks on an album like American Stars n Bars.

    The second half is played with electric instruments and has more than a country tinge to it but if anything it is country-lite. Stayin' Power and Coastline are inane rubbish, they were by far the weakest songs Young had released up to this point in time. Union Man is okay in a kind of comedic sense but once again it would have stood out like a sore-thumb on any of Young previous albums, Stars n Bars included. Comin' Apart At Every Nail is the sole stand out track of the second half of the album. By the time the title track comes around it's clear that although Hawks & Doves is a (mercifully) short album it is a stark reminder that no one is untouchable. Young's vocals are now abrasive rather than evocative, the songwriting significantly less tight than it has been since his catalogue of work began. Taken with a pinch of salt it can be enjoyed but it isn't one of Young's most fondly remembered pieces of work and it was the beginning of a troubled time in his career.


    Re-ac-tor

    Young's second album of the 80s opens with the refrain “You were born to rock, you'll never be an opera star”. The intentions are clear from the offing, this is a Crazy Horse album and it rarely lets up. The uptempo opening salvo Opera Star and Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze form a decent start to the album. Young's voice is decidedly more ragged than on any previous Crazy Horse albums but the instrumentals make up for it. It is the third track, T- Bone that really highlights just how obtuse Young was becoming. The refrain “Got mashed potato, ain't not no t-bone” is repeated throughout the 9 minute song. It is a perplexing one to listen to and has the aura of a man who has other things on his mind rather than making music, more of that in the Trans review. Get Back On It and Southern Pacific are forgettable rock by numbers. Motor City and Rapid Transit are moderately more interesting songs concerning automotive pursuits, of all things. The lyrics of the former seemingly pay homage to the Detroit car manufacturing scene. That's rock n roll alright.

    There is a song on Re-ac-tor that could be considered a masterpiece, that song is Shots and it is the one true gem on the album. It's not only one of the most coherent songs on the album but it is also the most satisfying. It certainly outdoes T-Bone on that count. The instrumentation is excellent too, the guitars sound like machine guns, they throb throughout the song giving it a haunting quality which befits the lyrics.

    The best thing that can be said about Re-ac-tor is that the guitar work is solid throughout, even on a track like T-Bone, there is still some value in the Young-Crazy Horse musicianship. It is the songwriting that generallys fall short, aside from the excellent closing track. Re-ac-tor can still be quite an enjoyable album, ultimately, for the most part, it's just a bit of a frivolous one.


    Trans

    Trans begins with the unremarkable but generic Little Thing Called Love before it leaps headfirst into the world of electronic-rock. Six of the tracks here have Young singing through a vocoder. The cleanly sung Hang On To Your Love appears about midway through to break the monotony, although in truth it's as light as Young has ever been. By far the best use of the electronic style is displayed in a trio of tracks; Computer Age, Transformer Man and the almost proggish Sample and Hold. That is followed by an unecessarily silly version of Mr Soul which really could have been left off. Just like with Re-ac-tor, the best track on the album is the closing one, Like An Inca. It bares a resembalce to Young's earlier a guitar workout tracks such as Like a Hurricane. It is sung with clean vocals so there are no vocoders in sight on this one. The lyrics are enigmatic yet compelling, like much of Young's best work it seems to read as well as it plays and it contains perhaps Young's best chorus hook of the 1980s.

    Trans was an understandably polorising album which baffled many, something that Young's albums would do throughout the 1980s. The critics were particularly cruel. Young would later say that the album wasn't just a mere genre experiment, his son has cerebal palsy and was only a child at the time of the albums release. He used various technologies to communicate due to the severity of the illness and this is reportedly one of the reasons Young recorded the songs in this way. With that in mind Trans begins to make a lot more sense. It is an undeniably challenging album which is misunderstood by the majority of people and although it's no masterpiece it was his best album of the 80s to this point.


    Everybody's Rockin'

    Everybody's Rockin' is a lark-about record, Young was clearly having the time of his life with it too. Perhaps the most suprising thing about it is some of the reviews that are written, even now, take this way too seriously. A few years ago I read a Q Magazine review which refused to give it any stars! The trick to this album is not to take it too seriously, Young certainly didn't seem to be doing so. Take Payola Blues as an example and the irony of a lyric such as 'I never hear my record on the radio'. Young clearly wouldn't have been expecting this album to dominate the airwaves but perhaps it is a reference to his earlier post-Harvest work such as Tonight's the Night or On the Beach or even his 80s output thus far. Either way it is entertainingly self-referential. He even manages a few swipes at then record label executive David Geffen, who famously tried sued Young, his own artist, for making unrepresentative records. Perhaps understandably he even throws a few digs at Geffen into the mix. This album was supposedly the result of Geffen demanding a rock n roll album follow the excentricities of Trans and Old Ways, which had recently been rejected by the label!

    The songs themselves are a mixture of covers of early rock n roll songs and song Neil Young originals. Of the originals Wonderin' is the strongest, although the offbeat humour in Payola Blues does give it a run for its money (no pun intended). Wonderin' harks back to the early 70's, it is a song that Young used to perform live with Crazy Horse when touring around the time of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere and After the Goldrush.

    Everybody's Rockin' is a short album, it is roughly 25 minutes long. The decision to keep it brief turned out to be a wise one because although it is an entertaining record if it was much longer it would begin to grate on even the most devout listener.

    Old Ways

    Old Ways is often regarded as Young's 'real' country album. Indeed he enlisted the help of genre pals Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. His intentions are made clear with an opening rendition of the country staple The Wayward Wind. Performed as a duet with Harris, it lends itself well to Young's style and predictably Emmylou's presence enhances its effectiveness.

    The next two tracks refer directly and with intent, to country music. Get Back to the Country is an uptempo ode to the genre that Young appears to feel most in-sync with. He sings; “when I was a younger man, got lucky with a rock n roll band, struck gold in Hollywood, all the time I knew I would, get back to the country”. This kind of self referencing isn't a new to Young, Thrasher described his time with Crosby, Stills and Nash, for example. Get Back to the Country is decidedly more light-hearted though, it is about as 'fun' as Young gets without compromising the actual songwriting process.

    Are There Any More Real Cowboys? May well be the strongest song in this set. A duet with Willie Nelson, the two croon about the state of mainstream country music. They refer to the seemingly materialistic aesthestic, 'diamond sequins' and perhaps even a lack of discipline within the culture of the scene “Not the one that's snortin' cocaine, When the honky-tonk's all closed”. Instead they call for a culture that returns to the hard working “cowboy” who is more concerned with more traditional pursuits. It's an impassioned song and although Young may not be a 'true' country singer, he certainly sounds more genuine that a number of the musicians who have made their permanent home within the genre. The final verse with Young and Nelson singing in unison is a sound to behold. When they grasp for the answer to the titular question for the final time there is a tangible sense that their lament is genuine, not that we ever really doubted it.

    The real exception within the set is the aptly titled and enigmatic Misfits. It refers loosely to country culture, describing a loner who takes solace in a saloon and juxtaposes this brief narrative against astronauts watching a Muhammed Ali flight. It may be a song that knowingly defies analysis, the final line reads “Do you know what that means?” A sign that Young is as playfully enigmatic as ever.

    Old Ways presents a solid piece of work, with a few stellar moments. The most important aspect of Old Ways is the consistency, there aren't any weak tracks, something that cannot be said for all of Young's work during the 1980s.

    Landing On Water

    Landing on Water is one of the most nondescript albums of Young's career. The highlights are Touch the Night, which strangely evokes the songs of Jim Steinman, and Hippie Dream, which seems to be a criticsm of ideals represented by the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash. At its very worst the album is woefully misjudged. Having a boys choir provide the backing vocal “Have to fight to control the violent side?” for the song Violent Side, seems naïve and careless, although the intention may have been to be stark or ironic, it doesnt sit well.

    Landing on Water is a hard rock album but it is a bland one and it quickly extinguished any excitement that Young was apparently putting his genre exercises to one side. If this was the result then it seemed a return to rockabilly might be a welcome one. The performances feel synth heavy and overproduced, while the songwriting is largely uninspired for Young's standards. This is towards the bottom of the pile. It would be the next millenium before Young would make an album that was quite this poor.

    Life

    Life would continue with the hard rock style that Young returned to with Landing on Water. The difference this time is that Young has brought his band Crazy Horse back for the ride. It goes without saying that Crazy Horse bring the raw energy that was missing in Landing on Water. This sounds more like a Neil Young rock album.

    Mideast Vacation is a statement of intent. Punctuated by a military drumbeat, the lyrics concern a glorfied account of war, in fact Young name-checks Rambo at one point. Long Road Home is a heartfelt and rousing call for America to look at its own wartime past. Inca Queen is another quiet number that continues Young's 'Inca' thread from previous albums. Prisoners of Rock and Roll is an unabashedly straightforward rock song that sounds like a perfect foil for Crazy Horse. It contains one of Young's final digs at David Geffen's previous interference in his work.

    When Your Lonely Heart Breaks evokes Young's love songs of the 70's and although it isn't as effective as Only Love Can Break Your Heart or I Believe in You, it contains similar themes. Tellingly, he never refers to himself in the lyrics. Perhaps he has moved on during the intervening years and is now the one dispensing advice to others rather than searching for it himself. In I Believe in You he poses the questions, in When Your Lonely Heart Breaks he puts forward the answers. Young would certainly become something of a father figure in the 90's to the younger generation. Perhaps Life was Young drawing a line under a turbulent time in his life and career before he would launch a full scale resurgence in the early nineties. Of course that would have to wait, Young was to let his hair down with his final genre experiment of the decade with his next album.

    This Note's for You

    Young's final album of the 80s before his critical and commercial return to form was his final genre album. This Note's For You is a blues rock album which makes use of a horn section throughout. It begins with Ten Men Working, an uptempo song which really sets the tone, it embraces blues music in a way that indicates Young's enthusiasm for the genre. The title track is brief but it is one of the strongest on the album. Young even made a music video for the track which, perhaps surprisingly, won the MTV music video of the year award, beating acts like Michael Jackson and Madonna. Incidentally these are the kind of performers the tongue-in-cheek video pokes fun at. The video ends with Young holding up a can of soda which displays the words “Sponsored by Nobody”. The lyrics share a similar tone to this. Young lists the various companys (such as Miller and Coca Cola) that he doesn't “sing” for. It is protest through self-gratification. This Note's For You is an entertaining track and like the video that accompanies it, it feels very off-kilter. In other words, very Neil Young.

    For the mostpart this is a rollicking album with Young showing a profiency for the blues. The songs still aren't classic but they are perfectly fun to listen to. Particularly the uncharacteristically chirpy Sunny Inside and Hey Hey, in which Young ironically repeats the refrain “Turn off your MTV”. Twilight and Can't Believe Your Lyin' slow down the pace and at times even evoke early Tom Waits. The finest cut from the whole abum may well be One Thing. It is a down tempo lament with some nice guitar work and the kind of mournful vocals that made songs like Star of Bethlehem so effective in the 70's.

    This Note's For You at least ended Young's genre albums on a relatively high note. He had now signed back to Reprise records for the forseeable future and with it would come a revival that would solidify Young's legendary status within the rock community. The 1980s would soon be a distant memory.
  • My Top 20 Tracks of 2011

    1 Ene 2012, 13:52

    1. The Gathering - Confusion 21 listens
    2. Remembrances - Blood on the Wall 21 listens
    3. The Gathering - In Power We Entrust the Love Advocated 15 listens
    4. 2Pac - Pain 13 listens
    5. Deftones - Diamond Eyes 12 listens
    6. Gravenhurst - The Velvet Cell 11 listens
    7. Anathema - A Simple Mistake 11 listens
    8. Caitlin Rose - Sinful Wishing Well 11 listens
    9. Belle and Sebastian - I'm Waking Up to Us 10 listens
    10. The Damned - Neat Neat Neat 10 listens
    11. The Gathering - Saturnine 10 listens
    12. The Gathering - Nighttime Birds 10 listens
    13. Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg - Ballad Of The Chrome Nun 10 listens
    14. Belle and Sebastian - I Didn't See It Coming 10 listens
    15. My Dying Bride - For You 9 listens
    16. My Dying Bride - A Kiss to Remember 9 listens
    17. The Gathering - On Most Surfaces 9 listens
    18. The Specials - Do Nothing 9 listens
    19. The Gathering - Kevin's Telescope 9 listens
    20. Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg - Fat 9 listens


    I'm not one for overplaying individual songs, many great tunes have been ruined by overexposure over the years. There are only twelve unique artists of the twenty that made it into the list and in fact 6 songs are from The Gathering who I belatedly 'got-into' last year. Their majestic, Confusion deservedly lies in the top place but it is interesting that tied for first is essentially a clone. Blood on the Wall is a song by a little known (even to me) band named Remembrances and it is clear that they were heavily influenced by bands like The Gathering. It is gothic metal really at is primitive best, what is even more astounding is they are band that I discovered on this website, the three songs of theirs that I own are last.fm downloads. I have tried to track down more of their music but so far that endeavour has been without success.

    This is, in all honesty a relatively narrow cross section. Over half the list is songs from bands who are or have been metal bands. There is lo-fi and folk-rock in the form of Gravenhurst, Belle and Sebastian and Caitlin Rose. Punk band The Damned, a single Ska song by The Specials, the excellent Jefferson Airplane spin-off by Kantner, Slick and Freiberg does at least provide something in the form of classic (if underappreciated) pop-rock. Finally, the rediscovery of a 2Pac song which was a b-side on a Warren G single and also the closing credits of the rather uneven film Above the Rim. It is a frustratingly under-produced song yet still has more than enough vigour (thanks in no small part to a mind-bogglingly good guest verse by Stretch) to rank as one of 2Pac's best songs. It is the lone hip hop track in the list.
  • My Top 20 Artists of 2011

    1 Ene 2012, 13:03

    1. Tom Waits 243 listens
    2. Neil Young 230 listens
    3. The Damned 213 listens
    4. PJ Harvey 195 listens
    5. Anathema 169 listens
    6. Stiff Little Fingers 165 listens
    7. The Gathering 144 listens
    8. Katatonia 138 listens
    9. Belle and Sebastian 136 listens
    10. Bob Dylan 135 listens
    11. My Dying Bride 132 listens
    12. Mojave 3 127 listens
    13. 2Pac 127 listens
    14. Low 123 listens
    15. Nina Nastasia 112 listens
    16. Leonard Cohen 105 listens
    17. Opeth 100 listens
    18. Bruce Springsteen 98 listens
    19. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band 93 listens
    20. LL Cool J 92 listens


    Even a glance it is clear that I have not been particuarly moved by much 'new' music recently, in fact it has been a while since a new band excited me. Perhaps Arcade Fire was that band but even then it took me until after the hype had settled to realise what a talented group they were. Whether it is due to my own stubborness or simply a lack of interesting music is up for debate. By my own reckoning only three of my top twenty artists released a new studio album in 2011, those three being Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, and Opeth, hardly spring chickens, any of them. PJ Harvey's performance in this list can no doubt be attributed to the excellent Let England Shake while Opeth's can partly be put down to me just trying to get my head around Heritage. I still haven't quite managed that one yet.

    Live gigs have also had a heavy influence; The Damned, Stiff Little Fingers and Anathema are three examples of this. Perhaps the most notable though was an unlikely tussle between doom metal giants My Dying Bride and lo-fi legends Low. They both played in Manchester in the same building on the same evening last May and so a quandry of nearly epic proportions was born. Thus ensued a 'listen-off' which took me a month or so to resolve. Eventually I plumped for MDB and I didn't regret the decision.

    My last.fm journal on Neil Young and finally discovering Time Fades Away bumped old Shakey up the list while a bout of nostalgia saw me revisit the two men who pretty much single handedly got me into rap music during the mid nineties, LL Cool J and 2Pac.

    There really aren't any great surprises here though, even to me. It is easy to be aware of ones last.fm charts but in the myriad ways of sorting and displaying them some do creep through undetected. Others are more deliberate, such as The Gathering. This was the year that I they broke through my consciousness, particuarly their masterpiece Nighttime Birds, it was released in 1997. I keep returning to that quandry about new music. It seems as though the too few great bands that currently inhabit the edge of the mainstream like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes are hardly 'new' anymore. Why are all the main festivals in the UK headlined by bands that really should have seen their day? Download is set to be headlined by Metallica and Black Sabbath this year. Perhaps my favourite moment ever at Glastonbury was seeing Leonard Cohen on the Pyramid stage in 2008 and my all time V Festival high point would be a toss up between Manic Street Preachers in 2007 or Radiohead in 2006.

    Perhaps 2012 will open up more possibilities although I cant help the feeling that I am distancing myself further from whatever excuse for a 'scene' we have these days. The truth is I am more likely to move backwards rather than forwards.
  • A Journey Through Neil’s Past: Part One 1968-1979

    6 Abr 2011, 0:42

    I have decided to embark on a voyage of sorts through Neil Young's back catalogue in as much entirety as I am able to manage in the coming months. The aim is to do an album a day but for one reason or another, this may not be possible. We’ll see how it goes. Also this is all just for a bit of fun so if anyone happens to read this please feel free to comment but don’t take it too seriously. This will be undeniably slanted towards my own particular interpretation of Mr Young’s (mostly) wonderful music.

    *The dates denote the day I listened to a given album.

    06/04/2011

    First off then Neil Young’s first solo album Neil Young from 1969, and it is worth noting just what an underappreciated gem from his early career this. His voice sounded even more vulnerable and tender than the one we are more accustomed to back then and the songs are not really so far removed from his Buffalo Springfield efforts, it’s easy to imagine I Am a Child appearing in the track list, for example.

    In this album Young has already begun to assert his uniqueness, even this early on in his musical development. In what would be come typical idiosyncratic fashion the album begins with The Emperor of Wyoming, an instrumental number. This eases into the classic, The Loner, which really announces Neil Young’s arrival onto the scene. The most part of the album that follows is fairly conventional however slightly folksy The Old Laughing Lady hints at a more experimental entity while the somewhat odd Last Trip to Tulsa hints at his extravagances. Personally the highlight of the album is the wonderful Here We Are in the Years. For a short song it is split into three distinct parts with the middle verse packing the most punch, both musically and lyrically.

    Listening back to this album for the first time in a while it does hold up well, even against Young’s best. Of course an important piece of music was just around the corner.

    07/04/2011

    Hot on the heels of the first album Neil Young enlisted Crazy Horse, previously known as The Rockets, for Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. The result was a rougher and edgier album which has become one of Young’s most celebrated albums over the years since its release, I have read that it was John Peel's favourite. Cinnamon Girl with its and infectious melody has become one of his live staples over the years and one of those songs which demonstrates Young’s broad appeal. It has been covered by acts as diverse as Los Lobos and Type O Negative. Down by the River and Cowgirl in the Sand demonstrate just how comfortable Young was playing with Crazy Horse and they are each a great showcase for Neil and Crazy Horse. Although he would reprise the concept of the elongated guitar jam song later in his career with songs such as Cortez the Killer and Change Your Mind, River and Cowgirl are arguably the best songs of this kind that he recorded with Crazy Horse.

    Amidst the storming electric guitar led songs are two quieter, almost lo-fi, efforts. Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long) is the first but the second of the two is the most impressive. On its surface Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets) is a heartfelt, confessional song and frankly I’ve never seen the need to delve further into the significance of it. Sometimes the straightforward interpretation is the most evocative. The vocal performance from Young is compelling but so it the inclusion of the violin part which serves as a stylistic departure but also compliments Young’s mournful performance perfectly.

    The inclusion of Crazy Horse was a stroke of genius as it turned out and their contribution more than justified the joint billing.

    08/04/2011

    Another stylistic change would occur for Young’s third album, After the Gold Rush. He ditched Crazy Horse part way through the recording sessions, but not before they had recorded three tracks. Young had achieved considerable success with CSNY earlier in the year which, whether he wanted it to or not, seemed to change his landscape somewhat. Although After The Gold Rush is a quieter album than it’s predecessor it is still a diverse one. Southern Man is the real exception, it is a rip-roaring protest song and is a high point of the album. The guitar playing is superb and the recording really emphasises the intensity of Young’s vocals, whilst his guitar playing is every bit as frenetic. Other stand out tracks include, Only Love Can Break Your Heart which is a heart rending ballad, Tell Me Why which is lyrically enigmatic but it has a great folk-pop melody and the title track which contains some of Young’s best ever abstract lyrics.

    A rarity for Young came in the form of Oh Lonesome Me, which was originally an up tempo country song for Don Gibson. It was one of the three songs recorded with Crazy Horse and the result was a wonderfully woeful down-tempo rendition, which for me surpasses the original. I Believe In You which is most similar in mood to Only Love Can Break Your Heart should in all rights be the last track on the album but with Neil Young being Neil Young this isn't the case. The record closes with a one and a half minute song, Cripple Creek Ferry which in stark contrast to most songs on the album is a lark-around, campfire song and it rounds off the album in typically eccentric fashion.

    After The Gold Rush may be slightly uneven when viewed as a whole but there is no denying that there are plenty of gems within the track list.

    09/04/2011

    Without doubt Harvest is Young’s best known album and although for most artists this would generally be a bad thing (how mnay good tunes have been ruined due to over-exposure over the years?) the same can’t really be said for Harvest. Heart Of Gold still retains its power despite solid radio exposure even today and although the title track and Old Man are similarly styled country-rock they are both equally good songs, if not better. Young would reprise (or sequelise depending on your outlook) the Harvest 'sound' in future works such as Comes A Time and Harvest Moon and he would return back to the country intermittently in between. Perhaps the best of the ‘country-rock’ songs on the album is the opener, Out On The Weekend. The elongated harmonica intro is a fine mood setter and it provides a suitable opening to the album as a whole.

    The two musical departures are A Man Need’s A Maid and There’s A World, both recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and too admittedly differing degrees of success. A Man Needs A Maid is a sometimes misunderstood ode to loneliness, the achingly beautiful lyrics and vocal performance are only accentuated by the orchestral arrangement. On this evidence alone it is a bold move which works, however There’s A World is less effective and this is even more evident listening to live recordings played with the piano as the sole instrument. The lyrics to There’s A World are less personal so there feels like less of a connection already but the orchestral arrangement rather than bring the performance together, pulls it further apart. The performance at Massey Hall, for example, is a much more intimate and as a result the song rings rings truer in a more stripped down setting.

    The penultimate track, The Needle And The Damage Done is as sparing as anything Young had put on record to date. Recorded live and with only his acoustic guitar this account of the effects heroin abuse is as much harrowing as it is beautiful and although it is only two minutes in length it is perhaps the most memorable piece of music on the album. It was in fact much more in the mould of what was soon to come from Neil Young.

    25/04/2011

    Right then well it’s been a while since my last entry however in my defence I thought it prudent to allow the next album time to sink in, after all until recently I’d never heard it in its entirely. I am of course talking about Time Fades Away. Still snubbed by its creator, it is one of the most singular experiences in Young’s catalogue. It was mainly new (or unheard, at least) songs all performed live at various venues and it documented a tour which Young embarked on during a turbulent time in his life. The pivotal events being the commercial success of his career and the death of Crazy Horse member Danny Whitten to a heroin overdose.

    The album opens with the frantically up-tempo title track. Journey Through The Past follows and is more familiar, notably from the Massey Hall and the Harvest sessions. I liked the country-rock version recorded previously but there is no doubting that the song works well with just Young and his piano. Even after the first two or three tracks what is so immediately noticeable about Time Fades Away is how similar the feel is to Tonight’s The Night, which of course had not yet been released. The ‘ditch’ reference when applied to Time Fades Away seems to be more related to the mood of the album than anything else. Young doesn’t overtly reference specific events. One criticism of his early albums is that his lyrics emphasised self-pity. There is little, if none of that here; instead his songs are performed with discord, anguish and at times, anger. The result is music that isn’t as instant as say that on Harvest but it has more depth.

    The blues inflected Yonder Stands The Sinner has young wailing through proceedings and it one of the strongest songs on the album. Amongst the frenetic numbers it is the quieter moments make the album’s dynamics work. Love In Mind, although recorded two years prior to the other songs on this set is one of Young’s most tender songs ever and although it is slight, it is resonant. Dont Be Denied feels like a lost Neil Young classic which as much as any song on this set documents where he was at the time. Towards the end he observes that he has become “a millionaire through a businessman’s eyes”. This sentiment paired with that of L.A. and also later songs like Revolution Blues and On The Beach demonstrate Young’s unease with fame. The Bridge which is the penultimate song is the weakest of the eight songs but it does at least deliver hopeful lyrics before it gives way to the 8 minute Last Dance. It is a song which quite aptly showcases the discord, anguish and anger that I referred to, pretty much at once all in one track.

    It is a sign perhaps of Young’s gift that he can almost freewheel his way through these songs, singing out of tune and at times playing out of tune, and for it to still sound so appealing. Hopefully one day this will get the full release it deserves.

    26/04/2011

    On the Beach was recorded after Tonight’s The Night however it did get a release before that album. It is quite easily the best produced of the three ‘ditch’ releases. On The Beach opens with the defiant Walk On which really wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any Young album prior to Time Fades Away. See The Sky About To Rain is one that Young plucked from his Harvest era. This time accompanied by what sounds like a pump organ and steel pedal guitar rather than the straight forward piano arrangements that he had previously aired. It’s one of the best songs on the album and doesn’t feel out of place despite its slightly unconventional arrangement.

    One of my favourite characteristics of On The Beach is that it is a diverse album. Until this point After The Gold Rush was Young’s most diverse work but it felt a bit choppy, On The Beach flows much better. In addition to this the mood of On The Beach feels a lot more sober than on Time Fades Away and Tonight’s The Night. I’ve seen it written that young wasn’t being consumed by anguish on the album but that he had come to terms with the recent events in his life. It certainly feels like an album which, although still in a bad place senses that there is somewhere to move on to. In a sense that sentiment is true but I also think that this album is a lot more about what was happening on the outside rather than on the inside. This coupled with the array of ‘topics’ he deals with seem to lend it added importance. On the rocking number, Revolution Blues he is inspired by Charles Manson, On The Beach is Young dealing with fame and Ambulance Blues appears to have a different topic for each verse. It’s the longest song on the album and is a slow paced acoustic song which contains some of the best lyrics he ever recorded.

    The title track is perhaps in my top 5 Neil Young songs ever, in fact it almost certainly is. It is the most downbeat of all the songs on this set, lyrics like ‘the world is turning, I hope it don’t turn away’ indicates a man who is in a bad place but doesn’t want to stay there. It’s achingly poignant and demonstrates that wonderful ability Young has to be succinct but still to be tremendously effective. In a funny way though, On The Beach is a hopeful song. My reference earlier to Young not being consumed by self-pity and anguish is affirmed by the line ‘though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away’.

    All in all this is a more collected Neil Young than the one who let everything hang out, musically and lyrically on his next album. On The Beach may be Neil Young’s best album for more reasons than I have written about here. It’s one for the ages and hopefully in time it is one that will get more recognition than the Harvest's and the Rust Never Sleeps of this world.

    11/05/2011

    Tonight's the Night is one of Young’s most famous albums and it says a lot about his own idiosyncrasy that this would be the case. The album is one of virtually no commercial appeal. The vocals are out of tune, the recordings are rough almost as if live (there’s little distinction between the sound on this and Time Fades Away) and the subject matter is perennially on a downer. Even the cover art is ‘lo-fi’.

    Bookended by two different versions of the title track the opener is a classic but the closer pales in comparison. It feels like a bit of an after thought. The superb Tired Eyes would have made a better closer. One of the strengths of Tonight’s the Night is that there is an ambiguity to much of the lyrical content. That this leaves more to interpretation works in the albums favour. Borrowed Tune is one of Young’s most delicate piano ballads. Mellow My Mind is a shockingly convincing lament. Rockers World On A String and Lookout Joe are highlights but even they don’t compromise the mood. World On A String, although it sounds like a drunken blues sing-a-long, is an outstanding two and a half minute burst.

    The Danny Whitten number Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown is a welcome change of tone. Although it is filled with poignancy listening back, the feeling of the recording is that at the time it was feel good. It is certainly better version than the one which features on the Crazy Horse album.

    In terms of the recording I am always intrigued by the account of Nils Lofgren as described in Jimmy McDonough’s biography whereby he describes the recording process of the album. He would be getting to grips with a song thinking that he might nail it on the next take or two only for Young to announce that that was it, that was the take that he was going to stick with. Perhaps this is the way music should be made. Too often albums sound overproduced, evermore so these days. Music is ultimately a raw form and so often that is when it is at its best.

    24/07/2011

    So I have been shockingly remiss over the last couple of months and in fact while I sit wriiting this I am in fact listening to Codeine’s Frigid Stars album. It fits quite nicely though because the gravelly tones of Codeine may well have taken root in songs like Dangerbird and Cortez the Killer. In fact it is hard to imagine bands like Sonic Youth existing the way they have done without the influence of this album. I have of course, of course, returned to the music of Neil Young and in fact my next port of call was his second Crazy Horse album, Zuma. I’m not going to deny it, Zuma is one of my favourites. I might even say that it is joint number one with On the Beach.

    Zuma opens with Don’t Cry No Tears which is almost effortless up-tempo rock number and it’s one of Young’s catchiest songs. That is followed by the superb Dangerbird, one of my favourite down-tempo guitar tracks of Young’s. One of the things that makes Young stand out from your average rocker is the combination of complex lyrics and complex musicianship, I love the imagery he conjures up and both aspects contribute equally. Both are present in Dangerbird and to glorious effect. Pardon My Heart is the kind of song that Young has specialised in it’s a delicate and tender song which segways nicely into Lookin’ For a Love, a hopeful ode to the love of his life, of course he hasn't met her yet.

    Barstool Blues is another one of those great rockers that Young has which reads about as well as it plays. The lyrics, much like Dangerbird, conjure vivid images and a has a combination of melody and Young singing in that anguished wail that was so prominent on Tonight’s the Night. Drive Back stands as one of Young’s strongest no-nonsense rockers. Cortez the Killer is so famous it hardly feels necessary to discuss it and Through my Sails is a fittingly calmed way to complete a rip roaring album. Even if Stupid Girl is relatively weak, Zuma is still an excellent album with little or no pretence. It’s just Neil Young and Crazy Horse doing what they do best and to great effect.

    13/09/2011

    American Stars 'n Bars is an odd entry in Young's catalogue. The main reason being that by quite some way it was his most uneven album up to this point. The opening 4 tracks sound are a country rock sound which is more Gram Parsons-lite than Harvest. I say Gram Parsons-lite, Old Country Waltz and Hold Back the Tears are still effective but they were the kind of songs you imagine Young could have recorded in his sleep.

    Bite the Bullet is a fairly straight rock song but the central refrain sounds inane by Young's standards and it is the weakest song on the album. Star of Bethlehem on the other hand is vintage Young and although I've listened to it many times it still retains it's power. It's a simple yet astoundingly effective number.

    Perhaps the oddest song on the album is Will to Love, which is a 7 minute metaphor for love, of fish swimming up-stream. As odd as it sounds the melody is pleasant and it somehow works. The most famous song on Stars 'n Bars is the majestic Like A Hurricane which is perhaps the finest combination of sheer hard rock, soaring melody and lyrical accomplishment that Young had managed thus far. Homegrown is a take it or leave it effort which is built around the repetition of the phrase 'Homegrown is alright with me'. It's neither here nor there.

    03/10/2011

    Comes a Time was a return to the so-called ‘Harvest’ sound and although that is a correct assertion, this is also a less spectacular album. That isn’t intended as a criticism though, there are no over-the-top orchestral arrangements (A Man Needs A Maid) or overt ‘political’ statements (Alabama) or indeed any major hits (Heart of Gold). It is also a lot more mature in a lyrical sense than Harvest. Neil is now singing about what he has and the fear of losing what he now holds dear. Previously the emphasis was on what he perhaps didn't have or what her might be missing out on. It's ultimately a more poignant experience because of this and is a sign of his own growth as an artist, and perhaps even as a man. Songs like Already One seem to incorporate these sentiments effortlessly.

    I personally think that the opening trio of songs are the strongest. Goin’ Back is Young at his wistful best, while the title track is a great country rock number and Look Out For My Love perhaps beats the lot. It begins as a tender folk-ballad but builds slowly and the overdubbed electric guitar riff makes the song.

    My thoughts of Comes A Time in the past were that it is a patchy album with a great opening trio, then a dip, then a good start to ‘side 2’ then a dip then a great version of Four Strong Winds. It turns out I was wrong because I do think this is one of Young’s most fully formed albums which flows way better than Harvest, which is in fact a bit up and down. Hell even Motorcycle Mama makes sense to me now.

    03/10/2011

    Rust Never Sleeps was split into two parts; one acoustic and one electric and bookended by two equally compelling versions of Hey Hey, My My. The opening, acoustic, rendition of said track finds Young in perhaps his finest voice to date and that riff is just as majestic in an acoustic setting as it is electric.

    Thrasher is Young at his autobiographical best and in many ways it reminds me of Ambulance Blues, although he sang about just about everything else in that song Thrasher is just as evocative for being more succinct in it's subject matter. The other favourite of mine from the acoustic set is Pocahontas. Like Thrasher, the themes of travel are prevalent and also in a hopeful yet still, somehow filled with pathos.

    The electric set begins with perhaps my favourite Neil Young song of all time. Powderfinger is one of those songs that continues to amaze me. It is a perfect continuation of the more folk-inflected songs of the early part of the album. The lyrics are folk storytelling at its best. Add to that the great instrumentation, that superb riff and possibly the most fearsome guitar playing Young and Crazy Horse had managed to this point (perhaps Ragged Glory would have a say later in his career). The story Young tells is painted beautifully and is accentuated by the instrumental parts. Welfare Mothers is en enjoyable romp but nowhere near as monumental, as is Sedan Deilvery before the album concludes with one of Young's most famous songs, and to my mind still one of his best.

    Rust Never Sleeps marked the end of Young's great zenith, which lasted for a pretty much ten years, with the odd exception. This era has stood the test of time and even on its own merits alone is the kind of canon that Ryan Adams, despite his own considerable talent, wishes he could possess. Young had already shown great range both musically and lyrically but the next ten years would be a much bumpier ride in which he would stretch his own boundaries with varying levels of success.
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