Friday, January 30, 2009

Neil Young 20: Life

Coming off the Crazy Horse tour supporting Landing On Water, Life had a lot more going for it, even if the public ignored it. Its luster has lessened since then, plus the keyboards suffer from that old enemy, “contemporary sheen”. (Mostly recorded live, a ton of post-production work added to fit the boominess.)
“Mideast Vacation” was unique for 1987, as it seemingly indicted U.S. foreign policy at a time when the entire Reagan administration was being canonized. “Long Walk Home” kept with the same theme, and sounded just enough like “After The Gold Rush” to get airplay. Cool gun effects too. “Around The World” goes through a lot of changes, not all connected, but still not bad. (The “Hey! Yer lookin’ beautiful!” section is still a scream.) “Inca Queen” takes us back to the Native American country of Pocahontas and Cortez in a D modal tuning with fake horn keyboards, and is gorgeous.
At first listen, side two is all barroom songs—an idea ten years past its time. “Too Lonely” and “Cryin’ Eyes” (also ten years old) are two versions of the same song, but “Prisoners Of Rock ‘N Roll” is perhaps his only “statement of purpose” that deserves to be in the official oeuvre. “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” slows things down in a big way and is emotionally effective, with an expressive solo that hints at his next direction. “We Never Danced” ends it all unsettlingly. Made all the more poignant by its key role in the film Made In Heaven, the album ends on a quiet, unresolved chord.
Time has taken away some of the excitement, but considering the rest of the crap he’d put out of late, Life was his first decent album in eight years, and it had Crazy Horse. Things were definitely looking up. (As for the title and cover, you can just barely see the jailhouse symbol for five scratched on the cell wall. This was his fifth album for his current label.)

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Life (1987)—3


  1. The best Young release since "Live Rust", without question, I didn't really notice, at first, that the songs had been recorded on the 1986 tour, so that they sounded quite familiar to me. I don't agree on they sound of the keyboards. Maybe they sound a but dated now. However, after several tries, Neil finally figured out how to incorporate synths into his music. (Of course, now that he had, he would then pretty much abandon them). I love the "Reactor"-type rockers, too. I suppose that I like "Too Lonely" more than I should because I misunderstood the lyrics in the first verse. "Prisoners of Rock 'n' Roll" is a very funny kiss-off to Geffen Records, as is the album cover.

    I think that Young fans don't hold this album in high enough regard. I especially don't get why people think "Freedom" is so much better. I think the opposite. "Freedom" has some good stuff, but it has a lot of draggy spots and it's too long. This one is a much tighter listen at 40 minutes. And it's got some fun along with the seriousness. It's one of my favorites.

    Third time for me to see a Neil Young tour. This was the most surprising one of all. First, a solo acoustic set, with expected and unexpected oldies ("For the Turnstiles"!) and some yet unheard newies ("Someday", "This Note's For You", "Last of His Kind" -- which has yet to resurface, I think). Then, the curtain pulls back, revealing Crazy Horse and the very unexpected appearance of the Bluenotes horn section. Three more unheard tracks (including, once again, "This Note's For You"). Then, just Crazy Horse. Neil finally got around to promoting the album he was touring, with three "Life" songs. We also heard "Name of Love", which explains why he would toss it off to CSNY. Finally, electric classics ("Powderfinger" for the third time! I had no idea it was a standard in a set with CH).

    I should note that the whole show was bookended by the acoustic and electric versions of "My, My Hey, Hey". "Rock and roll will never die". Nobody thought at the time that Neil would be wrong. But it was great while it lasted.

    1. Agreed -- I have a soft spot for this album, as it was the first "new" Neil album that came out after I became immersed in his catalog.