At the beginning of “Year Of The Horse,” the live Neil Young and Crazy Horses album from 1996, a fan yells “It all sounds the same!” to which Neil Young responds “It’s all one song.” No truer words have been uttered by the artist himself to describe his latest offering, the somewhat turgid “Psychedelic Pill.” Neil has been on a roll this year , releasing a live concert DVD, his biography “Waging Heavy Peace,” and two new records with his trusty band Crazy Horse. The release of “Americana,” which came out several months ago, found a fully rejuvenated Crazy Horse crunching through reimagined and reworked versions of American folk songs. While the idea of the record sounded bad on paper, it worked to great effect as many of Young’s concept albums do. Neil and the Horse knocked out “Psychedelic Pill” in the same sessions as “Americana,” yet the Horse of this record sounds tired and old. Case in point is the album’s opener “Drifting Back.” A 27-minute track should take you places, yet this one is dead on arrival with some of Young’s most ridiculous stream-of-consciousness lyrics. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, not everything that crosses your lips is golden, Neil. Some judicious editing is in order here. Now don’t get me wrong here, I love Neil Young and have followed every twist and turn his career has taken me though for 40 years. I admire his desire to please himself artistically first, which in turn has made him one of the most interesting musicians of all time. And there are a few good songs here including the gentle “For The Love Of Man” and “Ramada Inn,” an epic length rumination of long-term marriage. There is also one bona-fide classic amongst the ruin in the blistering “Walk Like A Giant,” which at times recalls “Hey, Hey My, My” and actually has some melody amongst its 16-minute heft. But the rest of this over long double disc is chock full of the been there, done that, really tired of this that Neil can do in his sleep…and it does sound like what we have here are the warm-ups and “let’s get reacquainted” jamming that bands do to get into shape before recording the real record, rather than the real record itself.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
This “extraterrestrial folk song” from Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s 1978 tour and resultant 1979 “Rust Never Sleeps” album really hits my sweet spot. The song was recorded live at The Cow Palace in San Francisco, like most of the tracks from the “Rust” collection. It has a haunting chord progression with a prickly guitar arrangement that comes enveloped in cavernous room ambience, giving this tiny acoustic gem a huge feeling. Add to that, an unreal set of stream-of-consciousness lyrics – “I met a man from Mars, he picked up all my guitars and played me traveling songs. And when we got on ship he brought out something for the trip and said, “It’s old but it’s good.” Like any other primitive would.” – and you end up with a wondrous listening experience in just a little over two minutes. I could never really put my finger on what makes this song so great, but it truly is.
Man, the balls on this guy. For years he’s been following his muse by foisting every type of music onto his unsuspecting public with the expectation that his audience is going to eagerly lap it up. We’ve had the faux rockabilly of The Shocking Pinks, the somewhat Republican country of “Old Ways,” half-baked concepts like “Greendale,” the inspired electro-pop of “Trans,” the “Metal Machine Music of “Arc,” the ham-bone “T-Bone” of “Re-Ac-tor,” the smooth soul of “Are You Passionate?,” the juxtaposition of excruciating kiddie choruses with left wing political views on “Living With War,” not to mention his numerous films…some good and some really dreadful. Which brings us to “Americana” and it’s concept of taking old public domain folk and children’s songs and electrifying them. As an audience we’ve been with him for every turn…and the reason for this is that even when his concepts are really misguided, they are still worth a listen and more importantly, his records are always INTERESTING! “Americana” is no different…the concept sounds really awful on paper, and the initial spins bared mixed results. But with repeated listening, Neil’s latest is one of his better records…one I keep coming back to and probably will as time goes on.
This ain’t your daddy’s doo wop…nor is it your sister’s “American Recordings” by Johnny Cash. What we have here are four crusty guys digging up some crusty old tunes and playing them the only crusty way they know how to. Nothin’ fancy…one take and done. You can practically feel the camaraderie and familiarity these guys have with each other in every note. This Neil Young sounds awful on paper. When I first heard about the premise of him doing old Americana songs recast for Crazy Horse, I though it was gonna be awful…and on some of the tunes here, I was completely right. But the record does have its charms, and it certainly has lots of crunch. On this track, Neil and the Horse ride back into Neil & The Shocking Pinks territory with a cover of The Silhouettes’ doo-wop classic, only this version is rickety, a bit clumsy and totally charming. Some of the tracks work really well…”Clementine,” “Gallows Pole,” “High Flyin’ Bird,” “Travel On” and “Jesus’ Chariot”…while others are completely dreadful…”Oh Susannah,” “Tom Dula,” “This Land Is Your Land,” “Wayfarin’ Stranger” and “God Save The Queen.” Note to Neil: Everything you do isn’t pure genius. Just because the tape is rollin’, doesn’t mean you have to release it. This record would have made a great EP. So, does it pass my Neil test, meaning will I play this album a few months from now? Probably not…there’s only one Young record released in the last decade that I go back to and that’s “Prairie Wind.” Neil needs an editor…but in the meantime, keep on rockin’ and releasin’ the tunes. It gives me something to write about.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse
with opening act Los Lobos
United Center, Chicago
October 11, 2012
On this episode of The Award Winning 3D RadioActivity, we are playing songs about Work, various professions and other employees on the jog in honor of the United States Holiday celebrating “Labor Day”.
We hope you had a pleasant day away from your toils, and have gratitude for all of the people who are on the clock.