Thursday, October 11, 2012

A few Neil Young notes

Just a few Neil Young tips for anyone who might care: Chapters is now selling the hardcover version of Young's autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, at $20 (the new price elsewhere in Canada is something like $31.50; can't beat that!). Also, there are now studio versions of songs off the upcoming album with Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill, on Youtube: "Walk Like a Giant" has not grown on me yet. "Ramada Inn" has.

Believe it or not, I was a bit disappointed to hear that Neil had a SECOND Crazy Horse album coming out in 2012 (Psychedelic Pill is slated for release at the end of October). I was all geared up to hear Americana - which I love - and some of his greatest hits and dark-horse contenders in November, and now suddenly there's a whole other album of new songs to come to terms with? ...songs which are going to be heavily featured in the November concert? But... what if it's another Greendale?  I think some of Neil's recent studio albums have been less than awe-inspiring, actually; both Living With War and Fork in the Road show a man with a very, uhh, relaxed, nothin'-to-prove approach to songwriting - someone who isn't exactly TRYING to craft masterpieces anymore, who doesn't seem that concerned about discriminating between wheat and chaff in what he lets get out there. And Greendale - man, I've tried to dig it, really, but I just can't get there. Last Neil Young album I really LOVED, prior to Americana was 1996's Broken Arrow - and that's from 16 years ago, now! (Le Noise was definitely a good, strong entry in the catalogue, as was Prairie Wind, but I didn't LOVE them, you know?).

Anyhow, like I say, "Ramada Inn" is great... I'm still a little concerned about this Psychedelic Pill...

Edited to add: do y'all know Mark Prindle's album review site? Now mothballed, but generally a very entertaining place to read rock review records, if you don't mind that Prindle is highly digressive, a little loopy, and tends to the profane and occasionally disrespectful (but always with great verve). Check out his reviews of Greendale, Living With War, and Fork in the Road (which I hereby quote: "Neil Young is back at his laziest, lazying out some lazy one-take lazy-bones guitar rock like Living With War without the choir or Greendale without the movie. And why the hell not? He's 63 years old, there's no MTV to play his videos, there are no radio stations to play his new songs, so why should he put forth anything like the time, money and effort he did in the 1970s or 1990s? What would be the point?"). We'll miss you, Prindle; now the world will never know what you thought of Americana or Psychedelic Pill...!

Skimmed Neil's autobio tonight trying to find bev.davies. I didn't but I did find Charlie Manson (around page 103).

15 comments:

Mike Balcaen said...

Hey Allan, I agree with you about Greendale for sure, and Americana as well. His live version of Jesus' Chariot is amazing and I'm disappointed he is not playing it. About Neil not trying to craft masterpieces anymore, though, I don't get the sense that Neil was ever really cared; he just did what he felt at the moment and lived with it. Look at Tonight's the Night in 73: it is just raw, and the focus is not craft. I think that is when he shines, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. He did try to craft Greendale and look what happened there. Yawn. The soundtrack to Deadman....brilliant and done in one take while watching the film.
I'll take the hits and misses, the wheat and the chaff. I don't mind sifting. The show looks great in any case. He pulled out Birds in Chicago and encored Tonight's the Night. I like Walk Like A Giant myself, and Twisted Road too, but not sure how the final four minutes of Walk Like a Giant will come off live....We'll see you there hopfully.

Mike Balcaen said...

Hey Allan, I agree with you about Greendale for sure, and Americana as well. His live version of Jesus' Chariot is amazing and I'm disappointed he is not playing it. About Neil not trying to craft masterpieces anymore, though, I don't get the sense that Neil was ever really cared; he just did what he felt at the moment and lived with it. Look at Tonight's the Night in 73: it is just raw, and the focus is not craft. I think that is when he shines, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. He did try to craft Greendale and look what happened there. Yawn. The soundtrack to Deadman....brilliant and done in one take while watching the film.
I'll take the hits and misses, the wheat and the chaff. I don't mind sifting. The show looks great in any case. He pulled out Birds in Chicago and encored Tonight's the Night. I like Walk Like A Giant myself, and Twisted Road too, but not sure how the final four minutes of Walk Like a Giant will come off live....We'll see you there hopfully.

Allan MacInnis said...

It's true - sometimes when Mr. Young DOES consciously try to plot masterworks, what ensues is often weird, opaque, a conundrum at best (Trans being another example; lotta thought went into that, too... though it's sort of a less-than-fully realized project, and its failure is not all his fault; he writes about it at some length in the book). And no doubt "he just did what he felt at the moment and lived with it" for many great albums. I worded things poorly in suggesting his best songs came about because he was trying really hard to make something great - clearly, you're right. Generally speaking, I get scared of "ambitious Neil Young projects." Living With Water was ambitious. In their own way, so were the Shocking Pinks. Greendale, absolutely, too. You've got a point.

But if I could modify myself a bit here, at the same time, there's a definite category of recent Neil Young songs that seem to suggest, LYRICALLY at least, that he just wrote the first thing that crossed his mind, without really caring how it looked or read, didn't really EVALUATE it, just chucked it out there like someone throwing potatoes to pigs. Living With War, Fork in the Road - these are albums filled with prosaic, banal lyrics, with little thought to wordcraft or songcraft or emotional impact, and certainly nothing that shows true inspiration ("Let's write an album against Bush," or "let's do an album about my electric car" aren't what I mean by true inspiration). In contrast to songs like "Powderfinger," where obvious time and craft went into structuring an evocative narrative, or "Mr. Soul," where he's packed things very very tightly, or songs like "Cortez the Killer" or "Rockin' in the Free World" - which seem like divinely (or marijuana-) inspired gifts of his genius, there's this category of recent Neil Young song that just seems so damn lazy, devoid of EITHER inspiration or perspiration, and released without him even asking - "is this truly worthy?"

And that's not so horrible, I suppose - every writer has less than stellar moments - it's just that unless you have the luxury of great fame and adoring fans and a fair amount of money, not EVERYTHING YOU DO needs to see the light! Young can AFFORD TO WAIT for inspiration to hit - for enough songs that really shine to be completed; he doesn't HAVE to rush things, and release an album that isn't cooked yet, or just isn't that great. What if, after he'd written Fork in the Road, he looked at it, thought, "Hey, you know - this is just kind of mediocre; why even release it?" Would anyone be the worse off? Couldn't he have just left that as a personal project for future archivists to pore over, rather than asking his fans to spend their money on it? Does he genuinely not realize that some of his fans (like me) would APPRECIATE that consideration?

Allan MacInnis said...

...None of this would even concern me, however - I could just be very careful which Neil Young albums I buy - except that Americana was a really, really inspired album. I mean, I fucking love it. I like it MORE than Broken Arrow. I think it's probably my favourite Neil Young project since Zuma; certainly since Rust Never Sleeps. The band had a great idea and ran with it and sound like they're actually EXCITED about this material - it just GLOWS - and I was SO HAPPY that this was the tour I was going to see them on (how sad to learn that "Jesus Chariot" isn't on the set list! The best song on the best album he's done since the 1970's ISN'T GOING TO BE PLAYED? WHAT???). I couldn't care less that the songs are covers - I'd RATHER here inspired Crazy Horse reinterpretations of other people's songs than yet more "just average" originals. I THOUGHT I was signing on, when I laid out $100 per ticket, to see Americana played live; I thought this was the Americana tour. I was REALLY EXCITED about that, you know? I would have happily taken Americana in its entirely and a handful of pretty much anything ("Cortez the Killer" would be nice - I'd like to hear that played live once). Now there's a new, possibly only so-so album that I've got to buy as soon as it comes out and listen to a dozen times and hope it's not a disappointment, and then MAYBE have to hear played live, whether I like it or not. ALREADY that's a disappointment, compared to what I thought I was payin' to see! Waaah!

Anyhow, I guess this is all just petty bitching and I should get over it (I'm tired and not crafting this so carefully myself). I'm still really excited about the show - just not as excited as I HAD been. Who knows, though, maybe I'll buy Psychedelic Pill and love it? It's not impossible..."Ramada Inn" is certainly great enough...

Allan MacInnis said...

Apparently you can keep track of Neil's setlists here:

http://www.setlist.fm/setlists/neil-young-6bd6b662.html

The list doesn't seem to vary THAT much between shows, so I guess this is close to what we'll get in Vancouver. Apparently, just like at the Fuji Rock Festival, the only other time I've gotten to see Neil Young, I will once again not get to hear "Cortez the Killer." Nor will there be ANYTHING off Americana, apparently - not one song from it, the album he had just released when I bought the concert ticket, appears on ANY of these lists.

Guess I gotta learn to suck it up.

Allan MacInnis said...

Heh. I see that I have mistakenly reached for the title of Landing on Water and got Living With Water, above. Heh. Like I say, I'm tired....

Mike Balcaen said...

i totally agree that Neil could have just thrown a few albums on the shelf. However, I have heard him say that he has loved a few of his albums that didn't sell well. Maybe he saw them, and their lyrics, differently.

As well, I'm sure you are right and he has spent a lot of time crafting some of his songs, but Mr Soul took a few minutes in a cafe with no editing afterwords, if we can believe Neil anyway. He often talks about being a conduit for the muse. It brings to mind Milton...hehe...maybe not. Just makes you wonder about 'crafting', but I hear what you are saying.

Stu and I heard Cortez during his last show here. Beautiful. I'm hoping to hear Tonight's the Night this time....

In any case, It is going to be refreshing I'm sure for a lot of people to see four guys pull off a killer show in a stadium with no fucking lasers, coffins and such spinning the music into oblivion. I know you and I agree on that one!

Mike Balcaen said...

one more thing....According to Frank Sampedro, he spoke to Neil about the bands heart not being 'in' playing Americana songs on the tour. I think Neil wanted too....

Mike Balcaen said...

you may get to see Cortez. I'm pretty sure he has played it once or twice so far on the tour.

Allan MacInnis said...

Absolutely. I just gotta get the bitching out of my system! I spent all of my one Crazy Horse concert - live at Fuji Rock Festival - trying to get into it, and being distracted by the songs I HOPED he'd play (and by my annoyance at the songs I didn't want to hear). I'm normally not LIKE this when it comes to concerts, but the whole idea of SEEING Neil Young was so overwhelming that I just couldn't find the right mind to listen to what he was doing! Most of that concert is online on Dailymotion, by the way, including an astonishing "Like a Hurricane" -

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x357bf_neil-young-live-like-a-hurricane-ja_news

It's funny, though, because I also love some of his albums that haven't sold well. I'm very fond of SOME of Re*Ac*Tor (esp. "Southern Pacific," "Shots," "Surfer Joe Meets Moe the Sleaze"), and I love all of On the Beach. Even have fondness for the yet-to-be-reissued-in-any-form Time Fades Away (which apparently he hates, tho' I did see "The Bridge" on one recent setlist). Meantime, there are all sorts of fan favourites of his that don't do much for me - including, you might be surprised, Ragged Glory (we won't even mention the Harvest Moon stuff!). Why "Mansion on the Hill" was a hit still eludes me...

You ever hear Sonic Youth's cover of "Computer Age?" This is pretty amazing - from the days when Neil was touring with SY and Nirvana. I COULDA GONE TO THAT SHOW and skipped it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2ovGHzvuWw

Mike Balcaen said...

I don't even want to think about that show you skipped....You await some sort of punishment in the afterlife surely. The show in 2008 was a 'classics' show with Ben Keith on hand. That was a religious experience for me, but this time I''m in for the new and unexpected. Looking at his last three setlists, I may be in for it too.
If you like Southern Pacific, one of my favorites too, give The International Harvesters A Treasure a spin. It is a lot of country for some, but damn it does it for me. It also has Grey Riders and Bound for Glory on it.

Allan MacInnis said...

Yeah, there was a film of the Ben Keith stuff that I saw (I think) - it was pretty great! Ralph Molina on drums, right? I should've gone.

Will check out the International Harvesters one, it's one I missed (ditto Old Ways, Harvest Moon, Silver and Gold, Are You Passionate, and Chrome Dreams II). Haven't listened to Life or Landing on Water in a long time, either. Remember thinking Life was really, really lousy when I checked it out at the time, but I wonder if it bears re-investigation...?

Mike Balcaen said...

Haven't delved into his eighties stuff yet, other than Trans - which has really grown on me. The nice thing about being a Neil Young fan is there is always stuff to discover. 'Interstate' is one of my favorites, and I don't even know if it on an album...just came across it on the net. Check it out if you haven't. And that crackling fire in the background of 'Will To Love' is on an album. Can't figure him out, but I like it.

Allan MacInnis said...

Hm. "Interstate," I read, was an outtake from Ragged Glory which only appeared on the LP version of Broken Arrow and the CD single for "Big Time." Listening to it now - it's quite beautiful, in a very melancholy, almost shoegaze-y way. Wish that Broken Arrow wasn't so hard to come by on vinyl, actually - if there's an artist I'd much rather hear on vinyl than CD, it's Neil Young, but his recent vinyl releases seem to be double-plus-uncheap, and don't seem to last very long. Psychedelic Pill is getting a listing for pre-order as a 3LP vinyl set for $80...

...But yeah, he's definitely a prolific, multifaceted guy. Lots to explore. I'm excited to read in the autobio that he almost has a finished version of Human Highway, his movie with Devo and Dennis Hopper and such, ready for re-release; what I've seen of that film is bizarre indeed (it's another one of those "ambitious" projects) but it fills me with curiosity... I've yet to take on Bernard Shakey as a filmmaker, haven't seen a single one of the film's he's directed.

Neil Young said...

The band had a great idea and ran with it and sound like they're actually EXCITED about this material - it just GLOWS - and I was SO HAPPY that this was the tour I was going to see them on (how sad to learn that "Jesus Chariot" isn't on the set list!Great stuff!