Monday, June 29, 2009

Bob Dylan 16: Planet Waves

For his Asylum Records debut—on a roster that boasted (at the time) the likes of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, the Eagles and Tom Waits—Dylan devised a winning combination: all new songs with the full-fledged accompaniment of The Band, followed by a full-fledged tour. (This wrinkle would surely have been as much of a boon for The Band, as despite success on the concert circuit, their best work was behind them and they’d reached something of a creative standstill.) The resultant album, Planet Waves, was recorded rather quickly and released in time for the tour.

“On A Night Like This” continues the homey sentiments of Nashville Skyline and New Morning, with something of a duel between harmonica and accordion. “Going, Going, Gone” offers a little more mystery, wound up nicely with a stirring bridge and Robbie Robertson’s trademark pinched tone. “Tough Mama” and “Hazel” sing of other unspecified women, both sporting clever rhymes and catchy melodies, while “Something There Is About You” is a little more straightforward.

Two versions of “Forever Young” are included, back to back; allegedly the slow burner that ends side one was considered too “mushy”, but it’s also much more effective than the fast hoedown that starts side two. (The song still runs rings around Rod Stewart’s overblown paraphrase that still gets airplay on “lite” stations.)

“Dirge” is one of the album’s highlights, consisting of just piano, Bob’s voice, Robbie’s acoustic guitar interruptions and an undercurrent of something downright sinister. After five minutes of self-loathing, “You Angel You” sounds a little funny coming next, but “Never Say Goodbye” brings some of the mystery back, complete with a teasing reference near the end of a “Baby Blue”. And as he’d done before, a solo acoustic performance closes the album. “Wedding Song” would be heard as autobiographical, and its inherent conflicts take us out on an odd note.

Was this the sound people had been hoping to hear since the motorcycle crash? Planet Waves certainly gave critics yet another chance to trumpet the “return” of their bard, and the album has endured as a cozy listen. It’s not one of his greatest works, but it’s a worthy chapter in the ongoing saga. (When Columbia retained the rights to the album in 1982, the cover art was modified to remove the original handwritten liner notes; these were restored on the 2003 SACD reissue.)

Bob Dylan Planet Waves (1974)—3

Friday, June 26, 2009

John Lennon 12: Live In New York City

Back before he completely lost his mind, Geraldo Rivera was a TV journalist who initially made his name exposing bad behavior a la 60 Minutes. Following an exposé on the living conditions at a home for the mentally ill, he convinced John and Yoko to stage a benefit concert in the summer of 1972, which they did. In the end, two shows were staged.

Nearly fourteen years later, an album of the event finally got an official release. It had been a TV special a decade earlier, and would occasionally show up on the radio; plus being John’s only full length solo concert performance outside of Toronto, what became Live In New York City had certainly gained stature. Yoko was nice enough to take out all of her songs for the LP version (yet left some in for the concurrent VHS release); purists still cried foul over the remixing, sequencing and choice of performances.

“Welcome to the rehearsal,” John says at one point, and rightfully so. The overall performance is rushed and sloppy; despite what anyone thought, Elephant’s Memory (fresh off the recording of Some Time In New York City) was simply not that good a band. Tex Gabriel was okay on the guitar, and saxophones are a matter of personal taste, but when Jim Keltner is onstage as the second drummer that should tell you something. Still, they took care of John’s needs at the time, and he didn’t have the patience to audition people like Paul did. (He also didn’t pretend to be democratic.) The fact that he showed up and rose above the other guys on stage makes up for the lackluster details. The most entertaining segments are the between-song comments—especially “Someone shouted ‘Ringo!’ That was last year” and “Here’s another song I wrote after I left the Rolling Stones”. “Imagine” and “Instant Karma” at the piano make for cool listening, and “Hound Dog” is thrown in to show off his roots. The last track is a minute’s worth of “Give Peace A Chance”, different from the one on Shaved Fish but just as much of an afterthought.

Live In New York City doesn’t have the raw energy of Live Peace In Toronto or the giddiness of his appearance with Elton John in 1974, but as a historical document it’s still essential — assuming you can find it, as it’s out of print now — and that’s where it gets its points. It was a pleasant surprise to be getting more authorized visits into the archives, and we no idea where it would go from here.

John Lennon Live In New York City (1986)—
Current CD availability: none

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

David Bowie 12: Changesonebowie

By the mid-‘70s, it had become common for a major artist with several hit singles and albums under his or her belt to release a “greatest hits” album. Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and the Carpenters were just some examples of performers who were doing just fine on their own but saw their royalties skyrocket when their hits albums shot to the top of the charts and stayed there.

For all his projected perversion, David Bowie was hardly the exception to the marketing norm. His label had been carefully backing his singles with various album tracks, to the point where someone who only bought 45s would have collected all the lesser-known tracks worth having as B-sides. All of which makes Changesonebowie all the more impressive for providing a cohesive (and chronological) review of David Bowie since his emergence as a major artist.

Beginning with “Space Oddity”, the album presents the Bowie familiar to top 40 radio listeners. To add a level of consistency it used similar packaging to Station To Station (namely, run-on titles and a stark photo) to present the key album tracks and most of the hits in order. It gets points for including “John I’m Only Dancing”, a great track that died on the charts, but demerits for also including all six minutes of “Diamond Dogs”. The flow on side two, from the decadence of that track and “Rebel Rebel” through the funk of “Young Americans” and “Fame” to the funk (again) of “Golden Years”, makes the trajectory seem so much more natural than if you’d bought the albums one at a time upon release. It’s a testament to Bowie that these songs all hang together so well.

If you were going to delve into the original albums based on this sampler, you’d be in for a surprise. It might even be a pleasant one. However, unless you bought this album used on vinyl, you might not know it existed. When Rykodisc picked up the Bowie catalog in 1990, they put out an expanded CD called simply Changesbowie—a nice idea that included some post-1976 tracks, but also replaced one key hit with a modern remix called “Fame ‘90”. And since then, various single-disc hits collections have sought to retell the story. This one is still the king, and was made available again as is for its 40th anniversary.David Bowie Changesonebowie (1976)—

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pete Townshend 8: Another Scoop

Atco Records must have been happy with Pete’s sales, because soon enough fans’ cups ran over with Another Scoop, an equally satisfying sequel to his first collection of demos. While it still reached back to his earliest experiments, this one leaned more on the mid-‘80s synth experiments and orchestral sessions from the ‘70s, along with the familiar Who sketches. None of the instrumental tracks really stand out; we’re here for Pete’s vulnerable voice, which rings like a bell on every track where he sings.

Many of the “new” songs stand out. “Girl In A Suitcase” is a sarcastic turn from 1975. Two orchestral experiments provide quite the juxtaposition: “Brooklyn Kids” is heartbreaking and “Football Fugue” is pompous but fun. Many of the themes from the aborted Siege project show that the Who as well as the fans were better off without that final album. There are some nice acoustic numbers, as well as the gorgeous “Never Ask Me”, a big ballad that would have made listeners retch had it appeared on Who Are You as intended. The transition from “Begin The Beguine”—recorded for a Meher Baba tribute album—into “Vicious Interlude”—wherein the artist at work has to scold a naughty child—makes the whole album. The set ends with “The Shout”, one of Pete’s most personal numbers and one that, despite its importance to its author, would never find a home.

While not as consistent as the first, Another Scoop is still essential listening. Considering that Pete must have hundreds of hours of similar tapes in his vault, it gave us diehards hope that more would follow. Moreover, at this point in his career, it seemed as if we were getting spoiled with all the riches. But as time would tell, we weren’t even close.

Pete Townshend Another Scoop (1987)—

Friday, June 19, 2009

Neil Young 31: Year Of The Horse

By the mid-‘90s grunge had subsided, but Neil was still relevant. He promptly took the Horse on the H.O.R.D.E. tour, playing mostly for kids who’d come to see Phish or Blues Traveler. He also let Jim Jarmusch follow them around with Super 8 cameras, resulting in a film called Year Of The Horse. The accompanying live album was not a “soundtrack”, since much of the music in the film was fragmented and even juxtaposed with older footage. Much like its predecessors, the songs on the CDs are long, loud, slow and sloppy, and that’s fine. There’s enough variety here to differentiate the album from (and improve on) Live Rust and Weld, but just touches the surface of the sheer breadth of songs they played that summer.

Disc one kicks off with a priceless exchange twixt Neil and the audience. A heckler shouts, “They all sound the same!” and our hero retorts, “It’s all one song!” And they all are—no problem. They crash right into “When You Dance I Can Really Love”, in just as good a rendition as on Live Rust. Zuma gets revisited here, with a negligible version of “Barstool Blues” and a strong, drawn-out “Danger Bird” that brings chills. An effective “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” includes Poncho on the Stringman, followed by the acoustic blues rejig of “Mr. Soul”. “Pocahontas” goes electric psychedelic, and the first disc ends with a delicate “Human Highway”. The second disc features a few tunes from Broken Arrow, plus a nice and sloppy “Prisoners Of Rock ‘N Roll”. Interestingly, the club recordings sound sharper than some of the arena recordings.

Year Of The Horse is Neil’s best live collection of previously released songs, packaged (and some might say mixed) like a bootleg. At 85 minutes he wisely put these out on two discs for the price of one; after all, what could be left off a single-disc edit? However lost Neil may have been in the ‘80s, a decade later he was making up for lost time. And we were happy to have him.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Year Of The Horse (1997)—4

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bob Dylan 15: Dylan

Now this was just cruel. This compilation of outtakes is generally accepted to be something of an intentional insult by Columbia Records, in response to Dylan’s recent defection to Asylum Records. It was compounded by incredibly lazy cover art and a title—the simple yet direct Dylan—that seemed to suggest that these odd covers were the epitome of the man’s creativity, and just as much of a self-portrait as Self Portrait was. But to make matters worse, most of the tracks came from the New Morning sessions, and were actually in contention for release, giving us a frightening vision of just how awful that album could have been had he not written some actual tunes for it.

“Lily Of The West” is just plain excruciating. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (yes, the Elvis Presley hit) would have been better had he slept off his cold before stepping up to the mic. “Sarah Jane” is laughable, and “The Ballad Of Ira Hayes” is a protest song without much of a cause. And that’s side one.

Side two includes some baffling renditions that people may have heard before. “Mr. Bojangles”, written by Jerry Jeff Walker and popularized by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, has some truly awful backing vocals, which return on the traditional “Mary Ann”. “Big Yellow Taxi” doesn’t do Joni Mitchell’s bank account any favors, and the last two songs send it all back to Self Portrait—“A Fool Such As I” shows he’s got nothing on Elvis, and the overblown “Spanish Is The Loving Tongue” makes the absence of the more subdued B-side (itself no great shakes) more of a shame.

Forty some years of hindsight can put much of the blame on the mix and arrangements. It would have been very easy to present these songs simply, with just Bob singing and playing guitar, and without the backing vocals and other elements slathered everywhere. In fact, given the 21st-century retool of material from this era, we’d almost welcome unadorned takes of “Lily Of The West”, “Mary Ann”, even “Sarah Jane”, if only to discern why he recorded the songs in the first place. (The key word here is “almost”.) Instead, it was decided to have those mewling vocals pinned to the red—not for the last time in his career—and things like the harpsichord in “Sarah Jane” given as much space in the mix as Bob’s simple guitar. Nowadays we can almost get his appreciation of the Great American Songbook; back then such a thing didn’t fly when talking of the spokesman for a generation (their words, not his).

If you hated Self Portrait, you’ll really hate this. Pointedly, it didn’t appear on CD in the US until it was part of a “complete albums” box set, though you could get it on iTunes as part of a $200 download (with 764 other songs, including several repeats).

Bob Dylan Dylan (1973)—2

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bob Dylan 14: Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

In the midst of his writing drought, Bob was asked to contribute music to the film Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson in that order. Before too long, Bob got himself a part onscreen, as a character named Alias whose most memorable scene involves reading the various labels off cans on the shelf of a store.

The soundtrack album itself didn’t come much easier. He was never really known for his instrumentals, and he didn’t feel up to writing ten new songs for the movie; instead we got three versions with vocals of “Billy” (none of them very good), two instrumental versions used for the “Main Title Theme” and “Final Theme” (the latter of which is pretty good), some equally iffy instrumentals and the epic (and hit single) “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, for which one has to be in the mood.

That’s an admittedly rough assessment, but Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid simply isn’t a major album. There are some moments to be had, however. “Main Title Theme” would be okay if we didn’t have so many repetitions on the same three chords. “Bunkhouse Theme” hearkens back to “To Ramona” in a Tex-Mex way. The bluegrass “Turkey Chase” sounds as unlike Dylan as “Nashville Skyline Rag” or any of the instrumentals on Self Portrait. “Final Theme” manages to inspire a feeling of majesty whenever it hits a welcome minor chord. And Dylan himself would continue to tinker with the verses of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” onstage, well after people learned the song from the likes of Eric Clapton and Axl Rose.

Still, it’s not bad for an album that mostly arose out of one set of lyrics and several hours of jamming in the studio with a few ringers to keep him interested. It’s far from the worst 35 minutes of Dylan captured on vinyl, but we were still hoping for something, shall we say, substantial.

That didn’t stop people from digging for gold once some of the hours of jamming made it out to bootleg collecting circles. One intrepid prep school kid added more lyrics to a throwaway called “Rock Me Mama” and ended up with an international hit called “Wagon Wheel” that got even more legs when Darius Rucker (aka Hootie) covered it. The original recording was finally released officially, kinda, on 50th Anniversary Collection 1973, along with other such sketches as “Billy Surrenders”, “And He Killed Me Too”, and “Goodbye Holly”, and multiple rehearsals for “Billy”, “Final Theme”, and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. Like his other copyright dump releases, this one had extremely limited availability.

Bob Dylan Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973)—
Bob Dylan
50th Anniversary Collection 1973 (2023)—2

Friday, June 12, 2009

Julian Lennon: Valotte

Scott Muni, the legendary DJ and Rock ‘n Roll Professor, always started his show with a Beatles or John Lennon song, and would usually get to another before the end of his shift. It was during one of those that he unveiled the elusive “Leave My Kitten Alone”, a good twelve years before its official release on Anthology 2, and Everybody’s Dummy was hoping to hear it again one day when Scottso announced the new single by Julian Lennon. It was hard to catch the title in the phonetics (it sounded like “The Lot”) but it was the title track to his debut album, and from the first note it was something special.

Valotte sounds enough like his father to impress anyone, but it was a hit on its own, as nothing his father ever did sounded like “Too Late For Goodbyes”, which got all the airplay but hasn’t aged well at all. But of the rest, it’s the bluesy “On The Phone” and “Lonely”, the dreamy “Space”, the Merseybeat-meets-game-show bounce of “Say You're Wrong” and, of course, that title song that make the album much better today than it deserves to be. Some of it sounds well entrenched in the decade that spawned it, particularly in the Simmons drums and synth sounds producer Phil Ramone remembered from his work with Billy Joel. But even 25 years on, it evokes the freshness that was such a nice surprise when “Valotte” appeared on the radio.

Julian himself said that every new artist puts all of his best stuff into his first album, but only has a few weeks—a fraction of a lifetime—to create the second. The less-than-stellar followup (1986’s The Secret Value Of Daydreaming) and the drastically different third album (1989’s Mr. Jordan) were bought by fewer and fewer people each time. 1991’s Help Yourself got airplay in England with a rewrite of “Strawberry Fields” called “Saltwater”; the few that invested would have gone repeatedly back to “Other Side Of Town”, a gorgeous duet with Paul Buchanan of the Blue Nile. Since then Julian has laid low, releasing the occasional album and striving to thrive in not only his father’s shadow, but that of his half-brother. It is a burden he will never be able to shake off.

Julian Lennon Valotte (1984)—

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pete Townshend 7: Deep End Live!

During the promotion for White City, Pete put together a fairly stellar band dubbed the Deep End for a pair of charity shows at London’s Brixton Academy. A full-length video that’s pretty entertaining was released in early 1986, while a promotional EP was extended into a sparsely packaged official album by year’s end. It’s an odd grabbag of songs and covers, such as “Barefootin’”, “I Put A Spell On You”, and The English Beat’s “Save It For Later”. The crowd goes nuts for the Who songs, but his own version of “After The Fire” (a hit that year for Roger Daltrey) made it essential.

Nearly two decades later Pete released an official bootleg of the complete second show on CD as part of an ongoing series via his website, and it’s worth the bucks if you can still find it. For starters, the album’s original ten tracks work much better in this context. There are a few more trad jazz and R&B covers—including “Harlem Shuffle”, before the Stones got their mitts on it—and Pete even turns the microphone over for two songs to special guest David Gilmour, who sings his own “Blue Light” and “Love On The Air”, which Pete co-wrote. (Granted, he also lets Rabbit Bundrick do a song of his own, but you can always skip that one.) Gilmour’s on fire for duration of the show, making this essential for Floydheads too.

The Deep End performed on just one more occasion—the MIDEM music conference in the south of France a few months after the Brixton shows, and originally broadcast on the German Rockpalast TV show. The Eagle Rock label put out Face The Face, a combination CD and DVD set of the performance some three decades later, with a shorter setlist including three songs not performed at Brixton. Unfortunately, “Hiding Out” is driven by a primitive computer, “Rough Boys” is missing the electric fire of the studio version, and he forgets several words in “Slit Skirts”. The band doesn’t seem as tight, and Pete even seems like he’d less than thrilled to be on the stage. But when it gels, it gels well, and more so with the video counterpart.

Way back then, however, the ten songs on the mini-album were something of a tease, and some of us were saving our pennies in hope that Pete would do a larger-scale tour. At this rate, it seemed, he had a lot more music in him. But looking back, the shows can be seen as something of a peak, since his career was about to plateau, as we shall soon see.

Pete Townshend’s Deep End Live! (1986)—3
2006 remaster: same as 1986, plus 2 extra tracks
Pete Townshend Live > Brixton Academy ‘85 (2004)—4
Pete Townshend’s Deep End Face The Face (2016)—3

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bob Dylan 13: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II

Unbeknownst to the fans—though they might have guessed—Bob Dylan hadn’t been writing much lately. So the record company decided to put out another Greatest Hits album, this one a two-record set. And again, most of the songs weren’t exactly hits.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II also doesn’t pick up where the last hits album left off, either. Nine of the songs came from albums that predated the first hits album, and some had been huge hits for other people, such as “My Back Pages” for the Byrds and “All Along The Watchtower” for Jimi Hendrix. “Lay Lady Lay” was a hit for the man—his biggest, actually—but chances are most fans had that album already.

But even with the spotty equation, the album succeeds due to the quality of the music. It also broke new ground in the process, by including songs that not only hadn’t been on an album yet, but hadn’t even been released. “Watching The River Flow” had been a summer single, where he admitted to having nothing to say. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” was from the same sessions, and is preferable to the Band’s version released earlier in the year. The touching “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” is included from the unreleased Bob Dylan In Concert album of eight years earlier, and is miles better than any of the studio versions he smartly buried. And to tease the fans even more, three new recordings of Basement Tapes songs close the set. (“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” has different lyrics, though another Basement Tapes track, “The Mighty Quinn” appears in its Self Portrait incarnation.)

It was a nice gesture, but there was still a handful of tracks yet to be included on any albums. For example, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was recorded live with the Band in 1966 and released that year as a B-side, but the version that appears here is the standard album version instead of the exciting electric confrontation. And while we’re nitpicking, the concurrent single “George Jackson” (available in acoustic and “big band” takes) wasn’t included either.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II is still a good collection, and a great place to start before you collect the individual albums. (The cover photo, which neatly mirrors its predecessor, was captured at that summer’s Concert For Bangla Desh, the album of which included a full side of Dylan performances accompanied by George, Ringo and Leon Russell.)

Bob Dylan Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II (1971)—4

Friday, June 5, 2009

David Bowie 11: Station To Station

For his next album, Bowie shrugged off the camp. His hair was still orange, but now he was dressed in a stark black suit and presenting a new character, who made his “return” debut on the new album.

Station To Station neatly bridges his previous style with his next style, though the next one wasn’t easy to predict. With only three songs per side and an equally minimalist cover, there was no hint of what was within.

The train of the title track rumbles from speaker to speaker before the band comes in, then after what seems like an eternity the “chorus” proclaims the arrival of the Thin White Duke. After a long verse based on the intro, the chorus returns before the blatant shift into the next act, which he swears is “not the side effects of the cocaine”. Roy Bittan, borrowed from the E Street Band, tinkles the piano over and out on the long fade, and dominates the rest of the album ably. (Mike Garson would not be heard from again for twenty years, though the solid rhythm section of George Murray and Dennis Davis, plus the ever-reliable Carlos Alomar, would serve through the rest of the decade. While we’re at it, Earl Slick is better suited to these tracks than he was to Philly soul.) “Golden Years” is something of a cousin to “Young Americans”, with its nostalgia for youth. It was a hit, even with the Zappa-like swagger in the voice. Fake strings introduce “Word On A Wing”, one of the most tender songs from an otherwise harsh era. Something of a prayer, you can tell he means it all the way through the song, and the wordless vocals on the fade only heighten the mystery and yearning.

“TVC 15” starts another perfect album side, a jaunty if obscure tale of a girl swallowed by her television. The “transmission” bridges and catchy choruses always make for fun listening. The disco sound is filtered through a nightmare on “Stay”, pinned around that stabbing ninth chord and a growling lead. It’s another one of those songs that must still be playing somewhere beyond the fade. A Johnny Mathis song covered by Nina Simone, “Wild Is The Wind” closes the album (complete with the Ws of the previous side). It’s one of Bowie’s best, and still a striking performance.

Station To Station has remained a strong album over the years, and one that most fans seem to deem a classic. There’s still a mystique about its creation; indeed, for many years, Bowie would aver that he was so out of it in that period that he couldn’t remember recording the album in the first place. Perhaps those six songs were all he had, and they more than delivered. Outside of the full-color cover, the only bonuses on the Ryko reissue were live versions of “Word On A Wing” and “Stay”. Then, when the album got the expanded treatment in 2010, it was made available as a Special Edition that added the entire concert from which the Ryko bonuses had been taken. A pricey Deluxe Edition also added the 1985 RCA CD mix, a disc with five single edits, and a DVD containing various mixes in higher quality and surround sound options, vinyl versions of the album and the concert material, and loads of memorabilia.

The two concert CDs were eventually released separately as Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 following their inclusion in the Who Can I Be Now? box set. Bowie’s in a good mood for this show, fronting a band including Alomar, Murray, and Davis, with the previously unknown Stacey Heydon ripping it up on lead guitar and Tony Kaye, once of Yes, on keyboards. The set revolves around the new album, with surprises like a mildly funky “I’m Waiting For The Man” followed by “Queen Bitch” and an abbreviated “Life On Mars?” “Panic In Detroit” stops halfway through for a drum solo, which is even more mammoth in its unedited form, available briefly as a download, that runs another eight minutes. (“Changes” is capped by a bass solo, but nowhere near as long.)

David Bowie Station To Station (1976)—5
1991 Rykodisc: same as 1976, plus 2 extra tracks
2010 Special Edition: same as 1991, plus 13 extra tracks (Deluxe Edition adds another 7 tracks)
David Bowie Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 (2017)—

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Paul McCartney 15: Give My Regards To Broad Street

He’d been talking about making a movie, a fantasy about a rock star, for years. (There were other films he’d planned since Wings started but they don’t matter here.) Once Paul finally finished one it got slammed, and rightfully so. While Magical Mystery Tour was considered an expensive home video, it did have decent tunes, and has aged well enough to influence the first MTV generation. However, Give My Regards To Broad Street was behind the times and hasn’t proven to be influential at all.

The music wasn’t much better—there are only a few new songs, and he chose to do brand new versions of Beatles classics and some solo songs, none of which would replace the originals. There’s a handful of Revolver-era remakes with a brass ensemble, a truly hideous version of “Silly Love Songs” surpassed in its idiocy only by its film counterpart, an extended ending to “Eleanor Rigby” and a pointless retread of “The Long And Winding Road” with a sax solo right out of Vegas. (If he was so upset with what Phil Spector did with the original, why does he keep on recording similarly embellished variations?)

As for the new material, “No More Lonely Nights (ballad)” was the first single, and a good choice for a change. Avoid the dance remix “playout version” if at all possible. “No Values” and “Not Such A Bad Boy” are Rock again, similar to late-70s Wings songs like “I’ve Had Enough”. The CD and film also included the same band members playing “So Bad” (included on the cassette, and the CD also had that plus a music-hall instrumental, “Goodnight Princess”).

If we take the three decent new songs here, a couple from the Pipes Of Peace debacle, a B-side or two and maybe some of the proposed Cold Cuts he’d been tinkering with, we’d have 45 minutes of music that would be far better than anything he used to hold up an undercooked concept. Give My Regards To Broad Street is one of those albums that you listen to every now and then just because you spent money on it. Whatever respect he’d regained since the end of Wings was shot out from under him, and he’d nobody to blame but himself. It seemed the well was running dry—which for anyone else wouldn’t be surprising after fifteen years of nonstop output—and he’d start to take more time between albums from here on out. (That wouldn’t always help, but…)

Paul McCartney Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984)—

Monday, June 1, 2009

Neil Young 30: Broken Arrow

Neil had become a pretty busy guy of late. First, there was Dead Man, a Jim Jarmusch film no one liked. Neil’s extemporaneous score has its moments, just improvised guitar under some dialogue. But it was just a blip on the radar that didn’t distract us from the real issue soon at hand.

Right on schedule, a year since his last album, came Broken Arrow. Why he called it that is a mystery; there are lots of authentic Native American pictures all over the packaging and underneath the impossible-to-read lyrics, none of which seem to reference the Buffalo Springfield song of the same name. Many of the songs are on the long side, with a really murky Crazy Horse sound. The result is hypnotic.

“Big Time” is supposedly about David Briggs, his longtime producer who died shortly before the album was recorded. “I’m still living the dream we had” indeed, with another nice long outro. “Loose Change” gets its groove going straight on, with harmonica and a good singalong melody. Then he hits one chord and the band holds it for seven minutes (we counted) while he solos slowly over it. (Zappa made a killing doing just that.) “Slip Away” is said to reference Courtney Love again, but it’s still one of the best here. Like most of the rest of the album, the vocals are mixed right at band level for an almost ghostly feel. It’s great stuff, and that’s half the album already.

“Changing Highways” has a nice chunky Rawhide feel, and the riff/solo in place of the chorus is a perfect touch; this had been kicking around since the Zuma era. “Scattered (Let’s Think About Livin’)” is of a piece with the first half of the album in its spaciness. It reminds one of Tom Joad’s speech at the end of The Grapes Of Wrath, only Neil’s going to be in the music like a comet in the sky, and he hears someone’s name wherever he goes. “This Town” is a short idea with another chunky rhythm and a guitar line that’s half “Blue Moon” and half Roxy Music’s “Over You”. “Music Arcade” is impossibly quiet and acoustic, sung almost like it’s the middle of the night and he doesn’t want to wake anyone. It ends beautifully and simply. (He’d explore this style for his next album.) Then it’s back to the bar in Santa Cruz where he and the Horse played warm-up shows. “Baby What You Want Me To Do” is a faithful reading of the Jimmy Reed classic, recorded and mixed at bootleg level with lots of crowd ambience.

This was three loud, sloppy albums in a row, and all good. For all the complaining he’d done about Crazy Horse over the years, when given the right tunes—the sound and content of which can best be described as fuzzy and murky—he has the most fun stomping away with them. Broken Arrow didn’t get raves upon release, but it’s still a good one for an evening with the windows open.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse Broken Arrow (1996)—4