Friday, April 21, 2006

Neil Young: Decade 4

So from 1995-2005 Neil Young released quite a few albums. I was very ambivalent about them, as, well, it's Neil Young. I'm pretty much caught up, now, though, so here are capsule reviews.

1995 Mirror Ball (with Pearl Jam)
Probably good for his heart, but Pearl Jam just aren't the best backup for him. There are two great songs here, but other than solo-Young organ excusions, everything else drags on too long. Crazy Horse can drag a song out for 6 minutes by serving as rolling thunder for Neil's guitar to flash across. Pearl Jam just keep thumping, and it becomes a chore to listen to.

Essentials: "Song X", "I'm the Ocean"

1996 Broken Arrow (with Crazy Horse)
This is one of the more underrated records in his catalog (but then I listen to Arc and Metal Machine Music without any sort of chemical inducement, so, yeah). The sheets of noise, the diverse and enjoyable lyrics, and the feeling of rightness all combine to make this a great sunday-afternoon listen. I really need to hear "Interstate"...

Essentials: "Slip Away", "Music Arcade" -- but this one should be listened to as a whole.

Year of the Horse (live album with Crazy Horse)
"It all sounds the same!" "It's all one song!"
It's sloppy and doesn't really bear terribly close listening, but it's very comfortable, and some of the rarities ("Dangerbird", "When Your Lonely Heart Breaks") are worth the very low asking price.

Essentials: You know what? Not really. Some of the Broken Arrow songs are better here, but they're very similar.

2000 Silver & Gold
God, what a snoozer. Having quite liked Prairie Wind, I was hopeful for this one and picked it up. It's mostly dire. "Buffalo Springfield Again", a song I was looking forward to hearing, is an embarrassment almost on the order of "Let's Roll", without even the good-natured wryness of "He Was the King." The second "side" of the album is a bit better, but cliche is the reigning lyrical technique. All the songs are on the same topics: love, comfortability, family, days that used to be. All the songs sound the same. "Razor Love", a song written around the Times Square period, is almost ruined by sounding exactly the same as everything else, but it eventually pulls out and becomes quite a good song.

Essentials: The real gem of this album is the closer, "Without Rings," a sorta sequel to "Transformer Man". It's much more intimate and soulful than the rest of the album.

2002 Are You Passionate? (with members of Booker T. & the M.G.'s and, on one track, Crazy Horse)
I have a full review up somewhere... This album sounds good, but the lyrics, man... ugh. Cut out "Let's Roll", "When I Hold You In My Arms", "Be With You", and "Two Old Friends", reshuffle what's left, and the album improves immensely. "You're My Girl" is touching. The title cut comes close to being essential, but horrible lyrics ruin it; "She's a Healer" is fun and cornball. Everything else is fun to listen to, but you kinda have to ignore the lyrics. What can I say, at least it's better than the last one.

Essentials: "Goin' Home" is Crazy Horse at its droniest, if not its best. I hear it as a violent sequel to "Slip Away."

2003 Greendale (with Crazy Horse)
Sounds like: Zuma
Overall effect: It sounds like Zuma, it's worth hearing. It's actually pretty damned good until the plot actually starts moving. The political commentary is unenlightening, and the final song is too catchy to have such goddamn stupid lyrics. Possibly the most effective use of a megaphone in rock.

Essentials: "Falling from Above", "Devil's Sidewalk", "Leave the Driving", "Carmichael", "Bandit"

2005 Prairie Wind
OK, OK, the lyrics aren't great (Chris Rock? WTF?) and the faux-populist politics are tiresome. The self-plagiarism isn't so uplifting either (No Wonder shamelessly cribs from Captain Kennedy, etc.). But the songs sound different, there are some really touching moments, and despite the length of the songs I find them pretty listenable. "Here For You", "This Old Guitar", and "He was the King" form the weak sequence on the album, but they're not as appallingly dull as most of Silver and Gold. He closes with an affecting original hymn that, while theologically naive, is heartfelt and, well, essential. I'd like to see it performed in churches.

Essentials: "Falling Off the Face of the Earth", "Prairie Wind" (well, if it weren't so awfully long), "When God Made Me"

P.S. Neil Young told Jimmy McDonough that he still believed in burning out. Paraphrase: "When I go out, you'll know it. I'll be like a fuckin' meteorite." Living With War sounds like a fucking meteorite. I expect it to be, well, appalling, but it sure will sound different!