Friday, April 24, 2009

Neil Young 27: Sleeps With Angels

After meeting them at Bobfest, Neil toured with Booker T & The MGs while the Unplugged set sold somewhat like hotcakes but more like eggs. The grunge movement rose and fell, and took Kurt Cobain with it. Neil’s only public response was the Sleeps With Angels album. He did not tour, did no interviews, and certainly didn’t answer when people asked how it felt to have your lyrics quoted in a suicide note. The music would just have to speak for itself.
The hour-long journey through the dark begins with the frailty of “My Heart”, the tack piano plinking along while the wind outside blows open the doors of the saloon. “Prime Of Life” nearly derails the mood with the flute (real, not synthesized) but the effects and some of the voices help keep it afloat. “Driveby” is incredibly slow and sad. It’s great. The title track is all distortion and doom, supposedly written directly about the Cobains and not even trying to make sense of it all. “Western Hero” recalls Harvest Moon, and it’s classic Neil. It’s not clear who or what the hero represents, or when he walked the earth. “Change Your Mind” takes its direction from “Cowgirl In The Sand” and “Like A Hurricane”, but while the ten-minute Ragged Glory songs and “Touch The Night” failed, this gets the recipe exactly right. For 14½ minutes he warns us not to let another day go by without the magic power of love.
“Blue Eden” starts the second half of the album with a spooky back alley rattle that sounds like part of Arc. It reflects and repeats some of the lyrics in “Change Your Mind” without redundancy. “Safeway Cart” occupies the same desolate space with the despair of “Driveby” thrown in. You can see and hear the shopping cart rolling across the dirty lot. “Train Of Love” is the same tune (and possibly the same backing track) as “Western Hero”. The way he sings “I’ll always be a part of you” is just heartbreaking. “Piece Of Crap” exists just to blow the dust off the tombstones before we can leave. Having forced Crazy Horse to follow him as virtual pallbearers for the previous fifty minutes, he gives them free rein to bash away, yelling “Piece of crap!” with and at him. Hysterical. “A Dream That Can Last” neatly bookends the set with similar instrumentation to that of “My Heart”. The slow dance in this song sounds like a perfect bed to the closing credits to a movie or a Rankin-Bass holiday cartoon, and the harmonica at the end is perfect. And then it’s over.
In years to come Sleeps With Angels may well emerge as one of his absolute best works. There is a bad mood set, but it’s not tedious. He probably wouldn’t want us to listen to this at 10:30 in the morning either.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Sleeps With Angels (1994)—4

No comments:

Post a Comment