Monday, August 4, 2008

Neil Young 8: Tonight’s The Night

Tonight’s The Night was recorded after the Time Fades Away tour but not released until after On The Beach (as well as a major CSNY reunion tour). It also surfaced at the expense of Homegrown, another album-length project that remained in the can for even longer. With two dark albums to choose from, Neil decided the time was right for Tonight’s The Night and put it on the market, complete with surreal liner notes and an interview untranslated from a Dutch newspaper.

The album was something of an Irish wake for two close friends: Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and CSNY roadie Bruce Berry, both of whom succumbed to heroin overdoses. The songs neither celebrate nor condemn the drug culture, but merely illustrate it. By the time the album was released, the song order was shuffled for a better flow, but it is still bookended with two similar versions of the title track, which in itself doesn’t live up to the promise of the first few seconds of the first version. But it’s an important song to Neil, who’d play it as many as three times a night at those original shows. The piano-driven “Speakin’ Out” has a barroom charm with fitting solo bursts from Nils Lofgren. It’s improved on by “World On A String”, a much more effective stomper. Just when we’re settling in, “Borrowed Tune” follows, stark and straightforward. He doesn’t even name the song he’s stealing; just admitting it is enough. (By the way, it’s “Lady Jane”, which was indeed by the Rolling Stones.) This recording was from an earlier session but fits so well here, as does the live recording of “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” with Danny Whitten singing and playing lead. (Completists might have already had this song in their collections if they bought the first Crazy Horse album.) “Mellow My Mind” takes out the side, and for all its raggedness it’s great when he strains to hit the high notes on both bridges and fails miserably. Wonderfully ragged, it’s even more amazing that it was covered 20 years later by Simply Red, of all people.

As silly as “Roll Another Number” is, you realize how dark it is in the first verse of the somber “Albuquerque”, which shows the other side of rolling a number. “New Mama” starts out spooky despite its hopeful idea of rebirth, passes through an equally spooky piano section and ends on a major chord. Just as you’re trying figure out what just happened, “Lookout Joe” crashes in. Also recorded earlier, its sloppiness is perfect for this project. “Tired Eyes” is very much an acquired taste, but given a chance you will learn to enjoy the desperate vocals and the storytelling. The cracked voice is a strong part of the picture. The second version of the title song slams the proceedings shut like a piano (or coffin) lid.

This album is basically 45 minutes of rambling, but it’s compelling rambling—a troubled beauty under cracked, dusty glass. Neil has said not to listen to it at 10:30 in the morning, but it can be done. His profile was pretty high again, though he’d solidified his reputation as an eccentric. (For the first fifteen years of the digital age, the in-print chronology ignored Time Fades Away and On The Beach, going straight from Harvest to Tonight’s The Night. Allegedly Neil insisted that they couldn’t put Harvest on CD unless they did the same with Tonight’s The Night; that’s just the kind of guy he is.)

Neil Young Tonight’s The Night (1975)—4

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