important work in yellow
1969: Neil Young * Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. 1970: After the Gold Rush. 1972: Harvest * Journey Through the Past. 1973: Time Fades Away. 1974: On the Beach. 1975: Tonight's the Night * Zuma. 1976: Long May You Run (Stills-Young Band.) 1977: American Stars and Bars. 1978: Decade * Comes a Time. 1979: Rust Never Sleeps * Live Rust. 1980: Hawks & Doves 1981: Re-ac-tor. 1982: Trans. 1983: Everybody's Rockin'. 1985: Old Ways. 1986: Landing on Water. 1987: Life * This Note's For You. 1989: Freedom. 1990: Ragged Glory. 1991: Weld * Arc. 1992: Harvest Moon. 1993: Lucky Thirteen * Unplugged. 1994: Sleeps with Angels * Mirror Ball. 1996: Broken Arrow. 1997: Year of the Horse.
Released in 1989, The Bridge: A Tribute to Neil Young, was a startlingly unsatisfactory album. Though many of the musicians involved had proven themselves rewarding on their own terms - Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Flaming Lips, Nick Cave, and Bongwater, among others - Neil Young's songs seemed unadaptable, intransigent. The problem points to Young's material: although his music has often been credited with being cutting-edge, original and marginally experimental, its enduring quality actually revolves around the rather conservative stylistic tendencies found in his large number of love ballads and his loud, ragged rockers. Young's songs are so unabashedly traditional that they don't fare well in the hands of iconoclasts like Nick Cave or Black Francis whose reconstructionist musical tendencies find little to latch onto in Neil's rather simple formulas. The post-punk sensibilities of Jim Mascus and Nikki Sudden, turn Neil's heartfelt sentiments into outright parody.
Neil's case is often overstated. In Neil Young: The Ultimate Compendium of Interviews, Articles, Facts and Opinions (Rolling Stones Press, 1994), Holly George-Warren repeats the familiar tag that says Neil Young "defies categorization; he has zig-zagged all over the musical map." Yet Young's loud/ soft dichotomy, though respectable in its purity, is little different from that of the Who's or Led Zeppelin's, without being as stylistically original. Young's style is largely a result of volume, and shouldn't be mistaken for the more profound stylistic boundlessness of bands like Yes, the Grateful Dead, or David Bowie. Paul Nelson argued that Young's "raw and passionate electric-guitar playing boasts a tactility and uniqueness unmatched by any guitarist since Jimi Hendrix." Actually his style is much closer to the technical lack of scope displayed by emotive, yet linear, players like Lindsey Buckingham or Todd Rundgren, than it is to musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Steve Howe and Carlos Santana who combine hard-won and complex techniques with heavier passion.
Attitude has been more important for Neil Young than style. From the beginning Neil exhibited an impulsive, spontaneous, ricocheting artistic persona: he was, admittedly, largely responsible for the untimely demise and career problems of the Buffalo Springfield, jumping in, then out, then in, then out of the band, hoping for success as a solo artist, but trying not to miss the fortune that seemed within the Springfield's grasp. When Young's solo career was still uncertain, he joined Crosby, Stills and Nash. Following a brief outing with Crazy Horse (Everybody Knows This is Nowhere), it was After the Gold Rush and Harvest, albums full of plaintive, and relatively commercial, love ballads, that consolidated his solo success. In an incredibly wise career decision, Young then subverted expectations by boldly making two ugly, downbeat, albums, followed by the ugly, downbeat, but masterful depiction of burnout on the drug-addled Tonight's the Night.
A pattern of random self-control emerged in the 70's: an aborted movie project, a dull Stills-Young reunion album, the pastiche of American Stars and Bars and Zuma - many songs obviously out-takes from other projects. (Zuma is the most consistent and unified.) After shoring up his finances with a slicker work, Comes a Time, Young got tough on Rust Never Sleeps and Re-ac-tor; he flirted with new wave synthesizers on Trans; he tried out rockabilly and country on Everybody's Rockin' and Old Ways; he skidded on the slickness of Landing on Water, Life and This Note's for You. Neil Young has recorded a patchy batch of albums. Almost every one of them has truly great moments, but some of his most famous recordings - Rust Never Sleeps, Freedom, and After the Gold Rush - are quieter, simpler, and more erratic works than their reputations may suggest. The surprising , and welcome, durability of Young's persona into the nineties isn't any more impressive than the continued resilience of less touted sixties' artists like Lou Reed, John Cale, Richard Thompson, Van Morrison, NRBQ, Santana, and many others who haven't basked in the hip cultural clout of post-punk/alternative marketing.
Young's reactionary randomness is his strength and his weakness. Off-the-cuff ideas, unformulated complaints, vague mysticism, obscure imagery, and pedestrian song structures weaken his albums. His lyrics are often irritatingly digressive and his music is much too comfortable with simplicity. His most commercial music - Harvest Moon , Comes a Time - is among his most emotionally satisfying. This would be ironic only if we didn't appreciate Neil's sloppy brilliance elsewhere. His socio-political musings have recently shown signs of growing deeper, but haven't always been incisive: "Revolution Blues," "Like an Inca," "People on the Street," "Hard Luck Stories," "Life in the City," "American Dream," "War of Man," "Safeway Cart," "Western Hero," and "Throw Your Hatred Down" aren't all that different from Graham Nash's ideas, though they are less ideologically contrived, more momentously righteous (" Rockin'in the Free World," "Ohio," for example.)
Young's major theme may be the need he senses for
the recognition of moral consequences in a world that is coldly
indifferent. A seminal version of this idea can be found on his
Buffalo Springfield track "I Am A Child:" on this tune,
childhood dependency suggests the possibilities of salvation and
destruction, betrayal and security. The theme weaves its way
through "Down By The River" (guilt), "Birds"
(whose departing lover is profoundly sympathetic and concerned),
"Tired Eyes" (with its undisguised advice,)
"Ohio" and "Rockin' in the Free World"
(undisguised outrage,) "Alabama," "Walk On,"
"Tonight's the Night," "Stupid Girl,"
"Cortez the Killer" (historical finger-pointing),
"Fountainebleau," "Saddle Up the Palamino"
(adultry), "Comes a Time," "Southern
Pacific," "Computer Age," "Hippie
Dream," "This Note's For You" (commercial
sell-out), "American Dream," "War of Man,"
"Driveby," and many more. It is this consciousness of
consequences that makes for the consistent poignancy and gravity
of his love songs and sets them apart from commercial love
ballads. Melody, wordplay and narrative imagination seldom fail
Young, and his voice is one of the best. "My Heart,"
"Change Your Mind," "Unknown Legend,"
"Sample and Hold," "Look Out For My Love,"
"Lotta Love," "Peace of Mind," "The Old
Country Waltz," "Like a Hurricane," "Don't
Cry No Tears," "Dangerbird," "Pardon My
Heart," Lookin' for a Love, "Barstool Blues,"
"New Mama," "Mellow My Mind," "A Man
Needs a Maid," "I Believe in You," "Cinnamon
Girl," "Cowgirl in the Sand," "Running
Dry:" this is an impressive batch of love songs. When Young
is positive, he's a pure, transcendent romantic: when ironic, he
is a superb ironist: when he is cynical, he's worthy of the
Rolling Stones: and when he's guileless, he's one dimensional -
he is a child.
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