Monday, May 19, 2008

Neil Young 1: Neil Young

Having developed a taste for the studio, Neil threw himself into his first real solo album (as opposed to simply writing and producing his own songs for Buffalo Springfield albums). Neil Young has a lot of elements that would reappear down the road, but mostly shows he hadn’t figured out his own sound yet. The album opens with “The Emperor Of Wyoming”, a country instrumental with lush strings. “The Loner” has scarier strings, and introduces the distorto-compressed guitar sound that permeates the rest of the album. “If I Could Have Her Tonight” starts nicely, and is almost immediately blown out the door by the urgency of “I’ve Been Waiting For You”. To this day “The Old Laughing Lady” is hard to hear and slow as molasses, features female vocals and strings that make one want to sleep with the lights or the TV on.
Side two kicks off with another instrumental (“String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill”) that Neil didn’t even write. It somehow flows nicely into “Here We Are In The Years”, an early meditation on ecology undermined by his unsure vocal. “What Did You Do To My Life?” sounds a lot like the other songs on this album, and is followed by the superior “I’ve Loved Her So Long”. After all these short tunes, “The Last Trip To Tulsa” still gets points for being what it is: a solo acoustic performance with lyrics too weird to be considered surreal. At nine minutes it takes up a good chunk of time and the imagery doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s still kinda funny, and the extreme strumming keeps you from tuning out. And then it just ends.
Neil Young is not his worst album, but it would be far from his best. (He must have agreed, since he remixed it after its initial release.) Yet for all its tentativity, it has endured, and is still worth a listen.

Neil Young Neil Young (1968)—3

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