Friday 4 July 2008

Review 97) Nils Lofgren "Damaged Goods" (1995)

On which Nils uses his ‘living room voice’ to record a 1990s version of the harrowing Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album…

Track Listing: Damaged Goods/ Only Five Minutes/ Alone/ Trip To Mars/ Here For You/ Black Books/ Setting Sun/ Life/ Heavy Hats/ In The Room/ Nothin’s Fallin’/ Don’t Be Late For Yesterday (UK and US tracklisting)



For The Record:

Ones to watch out for: Damaged Goods, Alone, Trip To Mars, Black Books, Nothin’s Fallin’

Ones to skip: Here For You threatens to lighten the mood a smidgeon, but by this point in these harrowing sessions Nils is too far gone to do this pretty song justice.

The cover: A wasted-looking Nils, who seems to be halfway between scowling and trying not to laugh, lies on the floor surrounded by his guitars. The back cover is great too – Nils as a youngster holding a cheap plastic guitar, standing in front of a table with the family gun on it, just as if the young boy has turned to music to replace the violence in his life (or maybe I’ve just been reading too many Nils Lofgren newsletters recently…)

Key lyrics: “What you get is what you see…” “Put down the past, the shoulds and coulds, learn to love these damaged goods” “Talkin’ bout heaven, talkin’ bout hell, talkin’ bout judgement day, its only 5 minutes away, and I say heaven is only 5 minutes from hell” “I was tossed like a salad and consumed with hatred” “Too tired to cover, expects my silence, but all I feel inside is violence” “Got to get some dreams into my life – got to get some life into my dreams” “There’s a fatal gray light on me today, something’s dying out – love I can’t live without, and as you turn to leave I forget to breathe, love fades like a setting sun” “Life’s the only mother I know, gypsy death and fortune are its motto, the only point of life’s I think to grow” “I’d like to grow up but the child won’t relax – how does one do happy wearing heavy hats?” “The hardest truths don’t have a ‘why’”

Original UK chart position: Like practically all of Nils’ albums In Britain, its another DNC.

Singles: None as far as I know.

Official out-takes: None as far as I know, but a few honorary mentions just for the hell of it. You can hear a moody stripped down church-organy live take of Black Books on the album Acoustic Live (1997). OK, OK, I know live recordings don’t officially count as out-takes and I’ve avoided them like the plague elsewhere on this list, but this song is so completely re-arranged that it sounds like an entirely new track anyway, plus the audience is so enraptured you can hardly hear them during the performance which sounds like a studio take rather than a live one. Tracks played live in this period (and featured on that same live record) but not (as yet) released in their studio incarnations include the moving Little On Up whose tale of a widower raising his children sounds like a happier re-working of many of Damaged Good’s themes; the adolescent angst-classic Man In the Moon whose linking of the planets and earth-bound drama could have come straight off this album; the communications problem that is Tears On Ice and finally the oddball To Your Heart which is what Edward Lear would have sounded like if he could play the acoustic guitar and had lived through the psychedelic era. Any of these songs could have been intended for the album project (which was, after all, less than 18 months old when these songs were first performed) but there has been so little discussion about this album that we don’t really know anything for definite.

Availability: Err, good luck with finding this one, you’ll need it! (The trouble with Nils’ catalogue is that its split between about a dozen record companies as – aside from a lucrative deal with Asylum in the early 70s – Nils rarely signs to a company for more than one record at a time. Hence the lack of enthusiasm about either a) promoting these records past their initial release or b) delivering a truly comprehensive re-issue series along the line of the Byrds, the Beach Boys or the Kinks, even though their archives too are split between three or record companies). 

This album came between: Silver Lining (1991) is the kind-of predecessor, which is terrible almost all the way through except for Sticks and Stones: one of Nils’ most powerful, thrilling songs. I’m still waiting to get hold of the true technical predecessor Everybreath (1997), which is the soundtrack of a film I haven’t seen either. Let me know if anyone out there has – I’ve been trying to track it down for years!; As for the follow-up album, Nils tends to pack most of his new songs on live albums these days, but the next studio album is the hit-and-miss Breakaway Angel (2002), which is up to the intense drama of this album but only in parts. Highlights: the dark pop of I Found You and the sheer loveliness of Nils’ Everly Brothers’ cover All I have To Do Is Dream.

Line-up: Nils Lofgren with Roger Greenawalt and Andy Newmark (produced by Roger Greenawalt)

Putting The Album In Context:

VIRTUALLY the first line of this record tells us ‘what you see is what you get’. Like a 25th anniversary return to the Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album (see review no 43), this is Nils Lofgren’s gritty, angry masterpiece, full of hard hitting imagery about life in the modern age and lyrics full of scathing annoyances at his characters’ many faults, mistakes and dependencies. Nils even uses his ‘living room voice’ throughout the album for the first and only real time in his career so far (normally his records feature his higher, more commercial tones which is impressive in itself, but here Nils’ unnerving attempts to sound like sometime writing partner Lou Reed suit the what-the-hell is-going-on? vibe of the album supremely well). Nils’ albums have always been schizophrenically divided between the poppy singalong and the almost violently real and heartfelt (memorably 1+1, his second ever record with Grin – the other Lofgren album you need to own along with 1983’s farewell-to-trampolines favourite Flip! – was the first concept album to be divided into two separate halves, one ‘rocky’ one ‘dreamy’, presumably where close friend Neil Young got the idea for a good dozen of his acoustic-electric hybrids down the years after this). Damaged Goods is the first time Nils puts all his eggs into one basket, so to speak, and they don’t come out damaged so much as scrambled, completely dissecting and re-inventing everything we thought we knew about this fascinating if nowadays rather forgotten performer.


After waxing lyrical like this for a whole paragraph, perhaps I’d better explain who Nils Lofgren is. Chances are if you’re reading this review you’ll know already, but Nils is perhaps the most obscure artist on this list, one of those small handful of stars who had everything on their side in their early days (a small but loyal and extremely vocal fan-base, support and collaborations with many big named stars who not only wrote/ hired him but praised him like crazy in the press, plus a small but loud bunch of music journos that pretty much unanimously adored his first few records) but still never quite broke into the big time. Success is unfair on who it picks on and who it chooses to avoid. We’ve studied this factor many many times already on this list – chiefly why  artists like the Hollies, the Searchers and Lulu are written off by the world at large as anachronistic musical jokes when those same people think even the Spice Girls are cool and clever. But never has an artist on this list had a crueller hand when it came to fame and glory. So, for those of you who are reading this list in order and want to know everything about all the albums here (OK, that’s probably none of you out there, but when has a lack of audience ever stopped me?!) a bit of biography is in order.

A lover of all things classical as a child, Nils discovered R and B as a teenager and soon became one of the hardest-hitting rockers on the planet, albeit with a tendency for using sweet-sounding orchestral arrangements throughout his work. After his first classy band fell apart (the trio Grin who would have been classified as Crazy Horse clones if they hadn’t actually come first – a fact most music writers seem to forget) Nils nearly joined the Stones instead of Ronnie Wood (which would have been a much better option all round and might have given us at least a few tracks per album to worship over the past 30 years, even if an American in this most British of bands does seem a bit wrong somehow), coaxed Danny Whitten into writing his last classic song I Don’t Want To Talk About It – you’ll probably know it from, gulp, Rod Stewart’s version but trust me the original is better - and adding two of his songs to fill out the first (and for many the only ‘proper’) Crazy Horse record as a favour to him, Nils played on three of Neil Young’s better albums (After The Goldrush, Tonight’s The Night and Trans – its no coincidence that two of these albums are on this list and a third is one of the ‘important albums you must own’ coming up later) and became a key player in both Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and Ringo’s first two tours with his All-stars. Yet despite all this high-profile malarkey, Nils is a hidden star that very few people know about – apart from the one song Shine Silently (which the Hollies covered nicely on an 80s single by the way), hardly anyone will know Nils’ records and for the main part of his career his albums came out on minor labels which often went bankrupt before Nils ever got a chance to record a follow-up. Most of Nils’ stuff is worth seeking out – his guitar work rivals any of his great heroes and collaborators and this comes from someone with four Neil Young reviews on his 101 albums list - while his blend of commercial pop and rock with heartfelt lyrics about overcoming difficulties plus a soulful voice and a concert habit of playing solos whilst bouncing 10 feet up in the air on a trampoline makes Nils one hell of a performer. But the one record that stands out above all the others is this one – his least characteristic and heaviest going record. So if you fall in love with this album, the bad news is – there isn’t really any others out there you’ll love half as much as this one. But the good news is, with a catalogue this varied and impressive, hopefully you’ll find something else to fall in love with while you’re looking (the 1979 concert Live At The Rockaplast, now out on CD if you search long and hard for it, is the next best place to start although annoyingly there never was a soundtrack CD—otherwise this stunning 90-minute show would be on this list as well).

I must admit I hated Damaged Goods when I first heard it: its full of squealing rockers, demented off-key vocals and songs of downbeat desperation that must be the bleakest to arrive on this list since The Wall. But the more times I play it, the more I’ve come to love this record for its soul-bearing honesty, tired world-weary vocals, believable characters and ragged playing (surely the name ‘Ragged Glory’ suits this album far more than a certain lacklustre Neil Young record from 1990, even if its damaged narrators who want to be loved for who they are rather than what they’re frequently preventing from becoming suits it nicely too). Damaged Goods is a remarkable record, a mid-life-crisis album that takes no prisoners with its angry portrait of modern society and packs more emotional power into its 60 minutes than even the most hard-hitting of albums on this list. Nils’ guitar is spot-on perfect all the way through, while long term sideman and frequent visitor to this list Andy Newmark holds the band together with some of his best drumming on record and one-off producer, engineer and bassist Roger Greenawalt works overtime giving the album its modern-sounding terrifying beauty. The key note to this record is survival: all the characters are struggling, trying to come to terms with a nasty twist in life’s path that’s made them question everything they used to hold sacrosanct in life and the record even ends with a daring, violent edit mid-song, as if the answer hasn’t been reached yet and the narrators are forever being cut off in their search for answers and happiness. However, there’s still some gems of optimistic fight-back-again philosophy in the lyrics, almost as if the naturally bouncy (literally so in his trampoline days) Nils Lofgren can’t bring himself to write a truly heart-breaking song. Even so, Damaged Goods is not pretty, its not perfect and its damaged in more ways than its title, but its still a terrific achievement that deserves more recognition than it currently gets and a worthy addition to this list.


The Music:

Nils begins the album by showing off his new husky ‘living-room’ voice at its deepest on the title track. Anyone who knows this singer from his most famous tracks (Shine Silently, No Mercy, Cry Tough, Moon Tears or – at a pinch – his only real UK success Secrets In The Street) will get a shock straight away. Yes, we’ve sometimes heard Nils singing low for effect before (his frantic, angry covers of the Yardbirds’ For Your Love and new wave classic Baltimore will do for starters), but never on his best known songs and especially not on his traditionally tone-setting opening tracks. However, Nils has been moving nearer to a live-in growl the older he gets (he started off so young that he’s still 10 years younger than most artists on this list incidentally, despite being around since the late 60s) and he’s never sounded as old as he does here on this bluesy song about looking back over your past and realising that you’ve just been repeating the same mistakes. The track is a late-period classic for Nils, cleverly mixing just about every aspect of his career to date inside one song: acoustic guitars drive the rhythm along while overhead electric guitars squeal, a jazzy piano plunks away and the percussion turns into a 4/4 metre clap-a-thon. In another context this song’s likable, jolly riff could have made it a fine pop song, at least till Nils starts howling over the fade-out, but not in this context. The lyrics are classic Nils, with an accessible rhyming scheme and memorable words competing with what is actually quite an intimate and revealing set of lyrics, where the narrator pleads to himself as well as anyone that will listen to give him one last chance despite his many faults. Nils movingly looks back over a troubled relationship, acknowledging his mistakes but asking for forgiveness and to be loved for who he is, not who he tries to be. Nils’on-the-edge guitar solo perfectly bridges his old sound and the new, while his screams during the song’s dying embers offer a strong premonition of how scary this album is going to get in places.

Only Five Minutes is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde track, switching from some peaceful upbeat verses about contented family life to a horrifying hellish chorus, filed with death, destruction and a couple of howls for good measure. The lyrics refer to a lapsed former alcoholic and ex-prisoner whose bright future with a loving family is destroyed in the time it takes him to down a free sample of drink from his local boozer. Like many a Lofgren lyric, it’s the small observations that maker the song and make it sound more fleshed out than, in truth, it is when you study it closely. From the opening line with the reformed convict ‘living like I should’ – not ‘like I am now…’ as most of these songs would usually put it – to the lines about being ‘hypnotised’ by the ‘neon sign’ above the off-licence, this song is pretty good at building up a character in the space of just five minutes (and those five minutes include a minute-long guitar solo to boot). Our sympathies are with all the characters in this song in

turn – the family who’ve stuck by their wayward relation and the remorseful narrator who hints to us throughout the song that the ‘neon light’ of indulgence shines brighter than the boring black-and-white world of family life and duty, though he’s too ashamed to come right out and say it. The relentless chorus passing judgement on the narrator’s last-minute relapse on his five-minute walk to the shop is made all the worse because he’s going for the right reasons – inviting his in-laws for dinner, the narrator really is trying to return to family life when queuing in the off-licence, even if he’s not as committed to it as he thought it was in the last verse, where his ‘dark side’ truly breaks through. This song is about how quickly lives can be changed and how we have to be on our guard because five minutes is all it takes to change our lives, but if anyone’s on trial on this song it seems to be the ‘consumer culture’ who are foolish enough to make it a policy to hand out free samples of alcohol to people without knowing their full history. The arrangement on this song is made interesting by some squealing saxophone at key parts in the song – not the noisy parts as expected either – giving the song a real late-night blues feel that suits Nils’ new deeper voice well. Nils also performs his double vocal-duty of victim and executioner well and even duets with himself on a closing guitar battle, while an ominous violin riff is the glue that offers continuity through the song’s two disparate parts.

Alone is a similar but slightly more memorable song, with its growling but relatively peaceful verses musing about how much the narrator wants his partner to come back and an absolute wail of a chorus when he finally lets his guard down, screaming ‘hey baby I never want to be alone’ over and over in contrast to the intellectual musings of the beginning of the song. This classic Lofgren composition finally sees him use his strong commercial instincts for the first time on this record (the poppy chorus and classic chord structure somehow don’t detract from the seriousness of the song but only add to it instead), whilst getting even more real in terms of growling vocal parts and howling guitar solos. Nils’ vocal is at it’s deepest of all on the main part of this song, but it’s his moan over the fade that makes this track so special, being truly bloodcurdling and ‘real’ in contrast to the staginess of parts of the song. Alone is in fact -singalong everybody - the epitome of a song being catchy but deep (bet you knew that was coming!)

Trip To Mars (** see note) continues the freefall into chaos with an out-of-control tempo and a relentlessly pushy acoustic riff. This time it’s the child choir-sung chorus that acts as the peaceful sojourn (featuring Nils’ three nippers among the crowd by the way), acting as a lovely childish and naïve contrast to the very adult woes of the narrator who can’t quite remember when his life got this confused. Nils’ latest wail is ‘there must be more to living than this’, pondering where the general anger and violence of the narrator’s adulthood has come from because these feelings aren’t there in his utopian memories of being a child. The next generation’s childhood seems to be in contrast to Nils’ memories of his own past, creeping up behind Lofgren before he’s even noticed he doesn’t belong to that generation anymore, fighting against all his 60/70s comrades stood for and  ‘singing songs about putting me in an early grave’ (** however see note 2 for more). The song ends with an eerie string arrangement and a scary guitar passage, joined by some tricky xylophone licks and Nils singing some of the most moving (and out-of-tune) la la las you will ever hear, while behind him all hell seems to be breaking loose in the children’s chorus. Memorable stuff.

Here For You doesn’t go for the throat quite as much as the other songs on the album and Nils seems to have re-discovered his more usual choir-boy voice, but this mood-lightening song would still be pretty hard-hitting on almost any other album. This is yet another of Damaged Goods’ Jekyll-and-Hyde songs, transforming in the blink of an eye and a chord change from a gentle, supportive promise to an even-though-I-know-we’ll-only-end-up-fighting-again curse. This song would be moving on its own, but in the context of the album - with characters forever poised on the brink of greatness, only to end up self-destructive again despite their better judgement – it’s very emotional indeed. Suffering from the negative end of a love-hate relationship, Nile sings of being ‘here for you’ but only to ‘save my life’ ‘break my heart’ and ‘kill the distance between us’, knowing that his only chance of salvation will also be his downfall. Listen out for some quick accordion playing on the fade – Nils’ first instrument which often crops up on his albums and dates back to long before he picked up the guitar (you can stop messing with that lute now Sting and listen to how these traditional instruments really should be played).

Black Books is a slow, ponderous ballad that like its narrator seems stuck in a rut and at times seems to be hardly moving at all. A reflective song about a broken relationship, for once the album’s arrangement doesn’t really suit this classic composition, which is twice as tear-jerking in its unplugged back-to-basics form on Nils’ Acoustic Live album from the year 1997. Nils always cites this song as a favourite nowadays, possibly because its quite a breakthrough song for him. Most Lofgren songs suit Nils and Nils only, but this track is pretty much a modern standard-in-waiting, in its easily copyable sighing vocal, laidback backing and its slight gospelly tinges (the live versions of this track often use a full blown church-organ which draws out the religious aspect of the song even more). Nils’ tune is one of his best, sounding like a dark nursery rhyme played at half-speed, featuring a simple chord structure that nevertheless seems to be laughing at itself every time it has to pause for breath. The lyrics aren’t bad either, lurching from observations of how things went wrong (‘too many different needs to satisfy’) and how things could have been put right (‘tender times long past, sad that they weren’t meant to last’) to one of Nils’ best lines of his whole career (‘the hardest truths don’t have a ‘why’’, virtually an album archive theme lyric that). As mentioned, though, it’s the arrangement that lets this song down: warbling choirs are all very well on Whitney Houston songs where their ability to drown out the singer is frankly welcome, but did anyone seriously think this very stark and monochromistic song would benefit from a moaning faux-soulful gospel choir? Perhaps I’m being unfair though – on nearly any other song this arrangement wouldn’t be too bad, its just so frustrating when you hear a song that’s 99.9% of the way to being a classic ruined by something that’s entirely avoidable.

Setting Sun gets back to no-holds-barred rock, with its squealing guitar and demented snarling vocals, centring on another (or possibly the same) dying relationship that ‘feels like a setting sun’. The song is as out-there as the normally melodic Nils has ever got, truly displaying in music the narrator’s breakdown as his life falls apart, all while another string arrangement sweeps in sounding like a cross between All You Need Is Love and I Am The Walrus. Nils hadn’t done heavy-adrenalin rock for a while (his late 80s and early 90s albums tend to go more for the poppy side of things, with a bit of acoustic blues thrown in too), but the second half of Damaged Goods is full of it. In many ways this track is the opposite of the last one – a dodgy song rescued by a fine performance, with Nils’ shrieky impenetrable vocal on the song’s last verse adding to the drama even though (or perhaps because) it will hurt your eardrums. The lyrics however are Nils’ weakest on the album, being generic images of love ‘burning’ and then going wrong (Nils’ usual bassist Wornell Jones virtually wrote this song’s prototype with his song Fire Burning, which Nils’ band did in concerts regularly in the mid-70s) so perhaps its just as well that all that screaming means we can’t actually hear the words too well.

The album sensibly backs off a bit once more with the next track Life, a leftover from Nils’ 1979 collaboration with Lou Reed, with both men sounding old before their time given that Nils at least was still in his late 20s when this was written. (Their collaboration can be heard at its best on the 1979 version of the album Nils Lofgren – don’t ask me why but Nils has named three albums after himself over the past 35 years, all on different labels!) A sweet bit of saxophone and some gentle acoustic playing perfectly complement Nils’ vocals at their second-growliest on this tale of the changing scale of life’s problems throughout history and the fact that, however comfortable he is, there will always be something to make the narrator fearful, even if it’s the eerie fear that things are too quiet and something bad is bound to happy when things are looking up. There is an optimistic finish for once on this song, however, reflecting that problems can be a good ‘teacher’, allowing one to grow stronger in the long-term. This song is perfectly placed at the ‘heart’ of the album, in a similar role to Working Class Hero on the first Lennon set, letting us know why things have gone wrong and how they can be put right rather than simply describing the fall-out from life’s problems. The lyrics to this song in particular are the strongest the Reed-Lofgren pairing ever came up with and its amazing to think that neither man recycled this fine song in the previous 16 years of recording albums – although, to be fair, Lofgren’s deeper lived-in voice gives this song an air of vulnerability that the younger Lofgren might not have managed so convincingly. 

Heavy Hats takes the tempo up again, complete with the sound of a shotgun going off in every chorus to emphasise the violent, out-of-control nature of the song which again comes in contrast to the laidback mellowness of the last one. Nils’ latest narrator couldn’t be more different to his predecessor either, a youngster that circumstances turn into an adult before he’s ready. We’ve already mentioned Lofgren’s song Walkin’ Nerve in the notes for this album review (extra brownie points if you’re still reading those by the way), a track made famous by being Lofgren’s choice of song in his second all-star tour with Ringo (Shine Silently is the song heard on their first tour together). Heavy Hats is a near carbon-copy, full of confusion as the narrator almost collapses under the pressure of expectation on his shoulders and even though he might seem calm to the outside world, he’s a sea of troubles inside. The ‘hats’ in this song stand for his responsibility to different people, the baby his young girlfriend is expecting and his old teenager mates. The world at large seems impressed at the way the narrator is handling the affair – even though the narrator knows the truth is that he’s too scared to run from his troubles and incur the wrath of his family, but doesn’t think he’s man enough to challenge the trials of parenthood either. This creepy, repetitive song finds the narrator lyrically and musically going over the same ground trying to find a way out, highlighted by Nils’ multi-tracked ‘nagging’ vocals and gloriously oppressive guitar licks, which all add to the heavy atmosphere.

In The Room finds Nils in the guise of another character, this time unable to let go of his partner now she has gone (its hinted that she has died rather than just walked out on him as on the earlier songs, although reading through the lyrics in front of me again I can’t for the life of me point to a line that says that as such. Ah well). The narrator still talks out loud to his missus even though he knows she isn’t there anymore, a cue for Nils to begin another clever lesson in contrasts by keeping his emotions under wraps for the verses, pretending to friends that all is well and then letting his real emotions fly on the choruses which he reveals only to us. Nils tries hard to explain to his friends why he cannot move on from the past, despite imagining his ex-wife with her new ‘partner’ (in heaven, possibly, before you ask) and his own uncontrolled anger at the scenario, before realising that they’ll never realise why until the same thing happens to them. Unusually for this album, the song ends on a positive note with the narrator seemingly coming out of his grief by saying that he ‘plans to escape to sanity’, before poking fun at his own predicament and calling himself a ‘sad cartoon’.

Nothing’s Fallin’ is another slow-moving hardly-there song with Nils at his most wasted, regretting the mistakes he made in the past because ‘I got too good at bad’, using pain to guide him through life’s next pitfalls. With the narrator’s father dying and his partner getting further and further apart from him, Nils puts together one of the best songs on the album, movingly asking the heavens to ‘right this terrible wrong’ because he’s too helpless and worn out to do it himself. He realises, belatedly, that his whole life had ‘fallen’ neatly into place without him ever quite noticing – now the only thing ‘falling’ is him, unable to cope with the hurdles that all seem to be happening at once in the narrator’s life. Trapped and bewildered, like so many of the album’s characters, the narrator does at least find a form of escapism in a lovely, gradually unravelling melody that reaches wordlessly upwards to the sky for as long as it can before finally falling back to earth again and letting the heavy oppressive guitar chords come in again, like the clouds blocking off the sun. The rest of this song’s tune can’t quite match this lovely section, being deliberately slow and plodlike, although even this is very effective thanks to a sparse arrangement that puts the emphasis on short bursts of growling guitar and a multi-tracked counterpoint Lofgren choir. Another very moving track, Nothing’s Fallin’ makes for a nice contrast with the rockier tracks on the album without diluting any of the heavy and claustrophobic atmosphere therein.

The song ends with another full-adrenalin piece, Don’t Be Late For Yesterday, which is perhaps the most traditionally Lofgren track on the whole album, at least the beginning ‘scary pop’ chorus and snarling quicksilver guitar solo. The song gets nosier as it goes along, however, eventually turning into an angry, gritty rocker like most tracks on this album. The lyrics feature another of this album’s nasty portraits of a society, but this time they’re not just metaphorically stuck in the middle ages—they are in the middle ages, with jesters creating ‘tears’ instead of laughter, knights committing violence and wicked kings who do not listen to or look out for their people. Hmm, I think I see the modern day parallels there. Nils’ character has found new strength though, whatever this latest oppressive head-wringing riff makes us think, explaining to us again that living through hard times ‘can be just as kind’ for our souls as good times, teaching us things about ourselves that we would never learn otherwise. The title also returns to the theme ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone’, urging us to appreciate what we’ve got now in case we lose it in the future when it will be too late. The lyrics are matched by the melody lines, which reach upwards several times before being crumpled underfoot by the crunching guitar chords – lyrically, exactly the same thing is happening, with Nils’ hard steely vocals often drowned out by the ghostly nagging choir.  Just as Nils comes to some form of acceptance, however, the album turns vicious again for one last final killer blow, turning the song into an extended near-instrumental coda of ghostly voices, Lofgren’s most moving off-key howl yet and a small trio of musicians going truly bezerk. Sounding like Keith Moon and Animal from the muppets playing a drum duet while being drunk, drugged and being chased round the studio by wasps, this section has to be heard to be believed and is all the more impressive for coming literally out of nowhere, just as we thought the album was going to end with everything back in  its correct place and with all of its demons back in the box. The song’s riff and gorgeous block harmonies are straight off Revolver, but the chaos of the track sounds more like heavy metal, with a sudden silencing swipe at the end of the song cutting Nils off mid-sentence in one of the most daring moves of any record in this list (it’s a shame, however, that if they were going to do this the creators of this record cut the track here – its either 30 seconds too soon or too late depending, as the track is just getting going again after falling into something of a hole around the 5 minute mark).

A tough, turbulent end to one of those albums designed to make you sit up and take stock of your life, I really don’t know how Nils ever got back to writing his poppier material on the albums that came out after this. Yet good as they are, I’d rather have Nils recording another set of his blood-curdling songs any-day. Ignored for far too long, this is one of the world’s most under-rated records, as performed by one of its most under-rated players, doing what he does best, out-playing guitarists half his age but writing ‘looking-back’ type lyrics with all of the insight of a man double his amount of  birthdays. Whatever you do, remember this message and put Nils back on the map: put down the past, the shoulds and coulds, go out and buy a copy of damaged goods.


**Note: I wouldn’t bother with Mars if I were you though – there’s too many aliens there trying to hide from George Bush’s nuclear weapons for company. You’re better off trying the planet Zigorous Three instead, as I hear its nice this time of year… OK, OK, I admit it, this note is just here to see if people actually read these things and to see how many weird e-mails I get if you do. Go on, send us one now. You know you want to. Before I get really strange.

** Note 2: This idea is a bit one-sided, to say the least (see the sympathetic teenage-angst song Walkin’ Nerve from Lofgren’s album Silver Lining for why Nils usually knows much better than on this track). Nobody else seems to be saying this in our day and age so it’s only fair that we should. The modern idea of youngsters as violent hoodlums is plainly bogus – or at least it was until the press started reporting it as undisputed fact, when – what do you know – a small handful starts copying these outlandish ideas because its what they’re told they ‘should’ be doing and they want to keep up with their peers. The idea of youngsters as being something to avoid, an idea that virtually comes with a ™ Daily Mail symbol included with it, was by and large a) started by the gutter press to give them a new ‘scare factor’ to moan about during quiet news days and b) re-inforced by the government of the time who knew they’d be out of office by the time these same kids came of age to vote and could make lots of ‘aren’t we doing your area proud?’ licensing and curfew laws to get the mums and dads to vote for them again. If you look at the statistics, its only in the last couple of years that the numbers of young criminals have reached record levels - and that’s partly because they’re now an easy target for police to catch and be seen to be doing something. Believe it or not, as recently as five years ago the UK was as safe as its ever been, its just that crimes – especially those caused by young people – are reported more than ever nowadays and the press now feel they have carte blanche to report these events, instead of being worried about accusations about exploiting youngsters in a way that their readers would never believe as in decades past. If anyone has caused the most recent spike in young crime levels, it’s the elders blaming the youngsters unfairly 10 years before and the trend continuing for all this time – after all, if you’re going to get pigeon-holed as a young hooligan no matter how much of an upstanding citizen you are, you might as well take the benefits of being a young hooligan while you’re about it and enjoy the results of the crimes that everybody be;leives you’re committing anyway. The talk (and in some cases enforcement) of banning hoodies from shopping centres is a perfect example of kicking societal scapegoats rather than treating the root causes and genuine problems in society. After all, a long-term measure of giving youngsters some self-worth and respect would take much longer to see a proper result than a political party is likely to stay in power—by contrast kicking out hoodies from supermarkets is a hopelessly stupid short-term measure but one that can at least be done quickly and the relevant parties and MPs can be seen to have done ‘something’ about a situation they actually helped fuel and exploit, comforting elder members of the public to boot. Let’s face it—if a hoody really wants to cause trouble, all he has to do is change his clothes every time he spots a policeman, do the Government really think the average youngster is that stupid? Even the ones who bought Spice Girls records a few years ago aren’t this daft!


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