Friday 1 July 2011

Crosby, Stills and Nash "Live It Up!" (1989) (Revised Review 2014)

Available to buy in ebook format 'Change Partners - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young' by clicking here!

Crosby, Stills and Nash “Live It Up!” (1990)

Live It Up/Anyone Who Had A Heart/Tomboy/Haven’t We Lost Enough?/Yours and Mine//(Got To Keep) Open/House Of Borken Dreams/Straight Line/Arrows/After The Dolphin

'Why hello Catalunia The Third, whyever have you got your outer-dimensional-fluxus capacitor trained at that insignificant spec in the sky?'

*Giggle* 'Why Habridan the Seventh, you will creep up on one so quietly, even when I have my third pair of ears on. I've told you before - that's an awfully rude thing to say about planet Earth! Yes they have some odd ways and look hilarious without all those extra limbs they so clearly need but they're mostly a good sort with some excellent musical tastes! I really love that website they do, Alan's Album Archives which has taught me a lot - nothing useful I can apply in everyday life, of course, because it's all just theories that will never be proved and full anorakky stuff of no practical purpose whatsoever that very few people actually need to know, but it's still a good read sometimes when the writer isn't being too pompous.'

'Gosh, no, Catlaunia is that planet still going then? I thought they'd have blown themselves up by now, they were so clearly amongst the inferior life forms in this galaxy! No, I was talking about that other rocky planet that orbits their planet - the 'mo on' they call it according to my interstellar hologram 30D copy of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy'

'Why I hadn't noticed that satellite before, how strange that my capacitor should have been trained at it for all this time! Only, now I remember - I leant it to Walahazoo The Second because he heard that the Earth children thought all the other planets of their solar system were made of chocolate. I tried a bar from Mars once but it just tasted like molten rock to me!'

'I do like looking at what primitive earthlings are up to! Gosh look at that Catalunia - there's an antiquated rocket that's just landed on the surface! I presume it's been sent by those Earth people - I told you they must get bored staying to just the one planet all the time, although that trip of 384,400 kilobelorabratometreshardly seems worth making to me!'  

'Ooh let me see, Habridan dear! Gosh yes, how strange - I'm surprised that bag of bolts and dust made it even tiny distance! I wonder what those strange markings on the side mean. I'll just consult my babel fish interepteor...'ello Fred! Hmm the letters spell 'N.A.S.A' apparently and it's not a proper word. What do you suppose it means?'

'Well, they've not gone very far so it's got to be a local business, delivering groceries I suspect. Do you think they're anything to do with that wonderful Alan's Album Archives we came across on the universe wide web? They've both got lots of 'A's in their names!'

'I've just had a wicked idea! You know that album cover you had made for my birthday? The one where The Moody Blues album cover 'The Present' had a picture of us on the front?'

'You mean the one that got us into really big trouble for making interstellar contact unofficially and lead to uncle Vevishula being sent to explain, only to accidentally end up going backwards through a wormhole where he was interrogated at a place called Roswell for a hundred Earth years and changed the way Earthlings thought about outer space for ever more, instigating a planetary mission that took them across the stars to be the scourge of the universe within about five centuries time? Yes, I remember it vaguely.'

'Well *giggle* how about we do it again to celebrate your cloneday? You only get 12 of them a lifetime you know so you ought to do something with them!'

'But we were banned from ever stepping cloven hoof on that planet again, Catalunia!'
'They said nothing about visiting that lifeless rock next door though did they Habridan darling? And just to make sure this time we'll go and do something useful so it makes us look good, like help that NASA chap out with his deliveries! What say you bring some of those Balahdrobies-on-a-stick-with-you. And don't forget my zigabox camera!'

'What fun, why we'll make these the biggest Balahbodries they've ever seen! I saw something similar to them when I was on their planet last time, 'saucy ages' I think they called them. And when we're done we'll find a nice unsuspecting Earth album to put the picture with - that one I quite liked by Crispy Stalls and Nosh will do! Oh what larks!'

'But won't the Earthlings suspect anything, Habridan, angelears?'

'Nah, I’ve come to the conclusion that their album covers make no sense whatsoever – the stupid Earthlings on that planet will just think it’s another weird and wacky CSN cover and won’t realise it's anything to do with us at all! Now what we say we settle down and read the review while we travel to the planet - dial up that Alan's Album Archives review from 25 Earth years in the future and see what they make of it all...'

 ‘How frightfully clever darling! But do remember those Balahadroby sticks do go off with the power of three suns gazing down at them and do remember to take the really tall canes with you where we've been growing them in the garden...’

I'm not quite sure how the CSN album with the weirdest cover ended up being the most ordinary in terms of music, but that seems to be what's happened here. Most reviewers would of course just write about that really odd front cover with the gigantic cocktail sausage sticks which is obviously meant to be some imperialist take on capitalism and consumerism but truly doesn't work at all. No doubt there are some very strange reviews out there that come up with some weird and wacky and no doubt pretentious explanation for it. But we're not that kind of a site so let's dispense with the cover and move on to the music.

How fitting though that the running theme for this album, which runs through almost the whole of Live It Up’s lyrics, is that you can’t always judge something or somebody from appearances. That goes with the cover of course: weird, surreal and downright bonkers are three of the kinder descriptions of it from down the years and yet the music bears no real resemblance: far from 'Wooden Ships' style science-fiction this record tries almost too hard to be just another CSN album with the same themes of broken relationships, ecology and peace. It's fitting too because this album, released just two years after it’s CSNY predecessor ‘American Dream’, really wasn’t meant to be a CSN album at all. Crosby’s recent run-in with the law and rehabilitation meant he had oodles of songs for once and Nash was dying to work with his old partner properly for the first time since 1977, so the two of them were eager to go into the studio and record. Alas, things never go smoothly in the CSN camp – well, not since 1969 at least – and this time it was Stills who was reportedly less than par, struggling with the same drug problems Crosby had just kicked. A highly revealing documentary from 1987 (NBC's 'Profiles' series on the trio) reveals Nash struggling to comprehend how Stills can go to all the bad places Crosby has just escaped from and fearing a Croz relapse. As a result the three weren't keen to work together again and ‘Live It Up’ was planned from the first as the first Crosby-Nash record in 13 years and what should have been the start of a whole new era for the duo. But the practically 20 years out of the limelight had robbed the duo of their old star power and record company Atlantic didn't like it on first submission. Instead they were adamant: just as in 1982 (when Crosby was ill) it was all three members of the band or nothing.

The alternate universe Crosby-Nash record would have been an interesting album, potentially much more so than this record although probably not any better. We know for a fact that Crosby and Nash had 'Samauri' planned for this album and possibly 'On The Other Side Of Town' and 'King Of The Mountain' as well (the first two of these will be re-recorded for 'Crosby*Nash' in 2004, while the latter - a song about Stills from 1974 - will be left until Crosby's box set 'Voyage' in 2006). I've only seen it mentioned once in conection to these sessions but it's possible the 1970 CSNY outtake 'Little Blind Fish' would have had another airing too (Crosby will revive it with his spin-off band CPR in 1998). The good news is that none of these songs would have transformed this album. The other good news is that Stils - when he did rejoin the band - was in better shape than he had been the past couple of years and contributes three songs to the project, two of which are better than anything on this list. The bad news is that all of it would have been preferable to the dodgy set of cover songs CSN use to fill out the album and the amnount of leftover material makes their use here ever more questionable. The other really good news is that, unlike 'Daylight Again' (where you can tell Crosby is barely there) the 'original' material and the 'new' songs recorded are joined together seamlessly, with plenty of Stills solos and 'counter-vocals' added in the place of some Crosby-Nash work so that few people would realise this wasn't a full three-way effort (indeed it's Crosby who takes a back seat here with just three co-writes and two lead vocals across the album, odd given the healthy amount of material he still had at the time after releasing only 'Delta' in the eleven years between 1977 and 1988). The not-really-news is that despite being recorded in fits and bursts and interfered with by the record company 'Live It Up' still manages to be not only a better but a more focussed album than 'American Dream'. All three members get stand out songs ('Arrows' 'Haven't We Lost Enough?' and 'After The Dolphin' respectively) and the end result at least has the appearance of a team effort with lots of full-trio harmonies this time around.

In case you hadn't guessed I have a soft spot for this album. No it's clearly not perfect, the then-modern production grates (the band themselves called it their 'food mixer' album in interviews not long aftwerwards, with Crosby joking in Record Collector Magazine - back in the days when Peter Doggett was editor and it was awesome - that they ought to release it as a 'Where's Wally' style game, 'Find Your Favourite Band Hidden In This Album!') Also the fall downwards from 'Daylight Again' is uncomfortable, with a good four songs (the cover songs, plus Stills' dodgy 'Tomboy') that I would quite happily go the rest of my life without ever playing again (although even these aren't bad, not 'This Ole House' or 'Man Alive' or 'Innocent Eyes' bad anyway, just a little misguided). However the rest is one hell of a lot better than most albums released around 1990 and CSN sound much happier in this slightly less intense, more liberal place than they'd ever felt in the 'hateful eighties'. There's a depth and scope to a good half of this record which was fully absent on the lightweight 'American Dream', with CSN going back to what they've always done best: shining a cold hard light on the world's problems, urging us to up their game and then admit in heartbreaking song that they're just as fallible as the rest of us. Check out Stills' heartbreaking 'Haven't We Lost Enough?' where things have gone wrong again, 'Arrows' where Crosby urges us to turn things around because they have gone wrong again, 'House Of Broken Dreams' where Nash is haunted by things that went wrong a long time ago or 'After The Dolphin' where Nash makes us take a solemn vow that we must never ever do the collective wrong thing again ever or there won't be a planet left to get things wrong on. 'Live It Up' might soud artificial, leading off with three of the dumbest CSN recordings in existence and with the whole thing buried under more twinkling synths than The Human League use, but this is really their saddest record. The ultimate part of this album's 'don't take any notice of appearances' motto? The fact than an album this brutal and depressing can be called 'Live It Up!' (What are CSN doing naming an album after a song by their session musician drummer Joe Vitale anyway? What's wrong with naming it 'Arrows'?!)

Surprisingly though, most fans hate this album, calling it the nadir of the trio’s collective works so far and critics of the time were even more unkind. True, this album is a pale shadow of what went before it (barring the lacklustre ‘American Dream’), there’s way too many cover songs that aren’t in the same writing universe as even the worst group originals (this is more or less the only time covers are used to bulk out a non-solo CSN project) and Graham Nash is unquestionably the man in charge here (he is, you see, the only member of CSN still on top form, what with Crosby on the way up from rock bottom and Stills heading back down). having any of the three in charge is always a shame - CSN at their best are the greatest example of a democracy that ever lived, supporting each other and taking turns equally - but at least Nash is on good form, bouncing back after a torried five years (his songs on his own 'Innocent Eyes' and CSNY's 'American Dream' are aong the worst of his career).And the album cover of cocktail sausages on the moon  – recently discussed in our top 10 ‘what the hell is going on in this picture?!’ article – is horrendously tacky, among the worst AAA covers of all, whatever the hidden meaning is meant to be (Graham Nash reveals in Jimmy McDonagh’s book ‘Shaky’ that the 4th cocktail stick, in the process of being cut off from it’s roots, is meant to refer to Neil Young and his comments post-'Dream' that he'd never work them again  - a bit rich given that Neil's songs are the worst of a bad bunch on that record. Knowing how their minds work, it's quite possibly CSN's revenge for Neil portraying them as vultures in his 1980 song ‘The Old Homestead’). 
But I still really really like this album. No, check that, I love this album and it’s a very special one for me . It was among the first CSN records I ever heard and shares with it’s predecessors a magnetism and originality that few other bands have ever matched. There is some pretty dire stuff here, but even the worst songs have some entertaining lyrics and when this album reaches it’s peak (‘Arrows’ ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough?’ and ‘After The Dolphin’ and CSN respectively) this album beats pretty much anything else made in the 1980s or 1990s. When I first learnt that this album, which I loved to pieces, was the weakest CSN release so far – well, that just put into context how much better this group’s albums were than anything else I’d heard up to that point (and remember, I’d been a Beatles fan for eight years already). And still have – no music has moved me more than CSN’s and none have made me feel so much a ‘part’ of a band’s ouevre, what with their autobiographical masterpieces, heavy hitting social protest, their harmonies straight from heaven and their rock credentials straight from hell. This wasn’t a band that merely spoke from the sidelines about something they thought would sell – this is heartfelt stuff, about break-ups, emotional turbulence and coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it too.

There’s just one element of this album I can’t stomach – and that’s the horrid production. Joe Vitale, usually the band’s drummer in this period, is a fine musician but his idea of making the band sound contemporary sounds laughable now that the late 80s period is generally agreed to be the worst sounding time-locked period in musical history. All bands fell into this trap to some extent – have you heard Paul McCartney’s ‘Pipes of Peace’ album? The Who’s ‘It’s Hard?’ Brian Wilson’s self-titled solo album? Or anything the Rolling Stones did from 1980 to 1989? Production horrors all – but CSN’s fall into trying to sound ‘young’ and ‘trendy’ sounds particularly wrong, especially on possibly theirmost ‘grown-up’ and middle-aged-crisis style album. Someone should have said something. After all, how many young and trendy kids were going to buy music by aging rock superstars 30 years their senior (well, apart from me?!) But nobody did. No wonder Nash joked a year after the record that ‘Live It Up’ represented an aural equivalent of a ‘Where’s Wally?’ picture book (‘try to find your favourite singers under the layers of effects!’) – CSN made  a mistake. This is the point where the critical and social acceptance tide, which generally had always been fond of CSN/Y even during punk, really turned against them – and it didn’t help that former member Neil Young had risen phoenix-like out of the ashes of the 1980s to record ‘Freedom’ and ‘Ragged Glory’ at the same point. But ‘Live It Up’ is the equal of these albums – well, the latter anyway, parts of ‘Freedom’ are in another league entirely, although parts of it aren’t – and sound better now than they did, even if you have to dig a bit to look for the gems.

Most fascinating of all on this album are the lyrics. Sure there are some good tunes on here, especially on Stills’ numbers, but the lyric booklet reads like poetry sometimes, in stark contrast to most other CSN albums where it’s the riffs, the vocals, the variety and the naked emotion on offer that make you gasp. Stills’ ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough?’ contains possibly his best lyric outside ‘Word Game’, a rambling mass of hurt, pride, anger and acceptance about yet another relationship falling apart just when you thought, in Stills’ own words two years earlier, that you ‘got it made’. ‘Arrows’ is a David Crosby redemption piece every bit as good as it’s more famous cousin ‘Compass’, a song encouraging the listener to lift themselves up over what’s keeping them pegged down – because if a drug addict as far gone as Crosby can recover, then so can you. ‘After The Dolphin’, too, is a first – the only anti-war song that I know of that really tries to get I’s facts right and paint a picture about what really happens with a sudden, unexpected death (non-fans assume this song is going to be an ecology piece – ‘The Dolphin’ in this context is actually the name of the London pub that became the first public property damaged by a falling bomb, right at the beginning of the Second World War). Each of these three songs are so so different: Stills is brooding, Crosby is upbeat and Nash is brooding yet upbeat – and it’s to CSN’s credit that each of these songs, originally intended for three very different projects, sound so right next to each other. Alas the other seven songs – four originals, three covers – ca’t compete in terms of quality, but no matter. Three near perfect songs from aging rockers approaching 50 is better odds than most other albums from the period (Neil Young’s included I have to say).

As we said, there is one clear theme running through this record, which is the idea of things being different to what they seem. The entire theme of this record is a line from ‘Arrows’ – ‘My target is a heart no one fools’. ‘Tomboy’ might be the single worst track Stills had released to date, but it sums this dichotomy up perfectly – she acts like a bloke and has blokey interests, but underneath it all she just wants to be loved. The title track, too, is about how the trappings of fame get in the way of the message and why people like CSN got famous in the first place. ‘If Anybody Had A Heart’ continues the message, with the idea that if we all act to some extent, pretending to be people that we’re not so that we don’t get hurt – and yet, if we realised how vulnerable we all are, we’d never hurt another person deliberately again. ‘Got To Keep’ is a Stills song about all the things you’ve got to do to keep that ‘rot’ from setting in: to not pre-judge people or become selfish (even if he acknowledges that it’s easier said than done). ‘Straight Line’, another cover song, is that same theme again, with the narrator trying to keep himself from being distracted by material and emotional interests.

  ‘Yours and Mine’ is that theme writ large across the world, with Crosby imagining teenage soldiers on other sides of the world picking up guns because of something they think they believe, little realising that those on the receiving end think exactly the same. Meanwhile ‘House of Broken Dreams’ is about when you’ve ignored the above advice and you’re haunted by guilt about what you’ve done. ‘Arrows’ is the upside – what you can do about life to ‘turn it around’. And finally, ‘After The Dolphin’ is a stark warning about what will happen if we humans, en masse, mess up again, with more destruction and needless death, with innocent civilians killed under orders by soldiers who can’t even see the faces of the people they’re killing anymore. CSN might have started this album as a duo, but it’s amazing how well the themes of this record go together. In the end all you really have to complain about are a couple of poor cover songs, a horrid production and a totally confusing cover. We've battled worse than that, dear reader, here at the AAA: while no classic 'Live It Up' is far from the disaster it's so often claimed to be.

The Songs:

The album starts with the title track [315] 'Live It Up!' and, in common with the other cover songs on this album, it sports fine penetrating lyrics but a melody that’s built largely on one note and sounds blooming monotonous by the song’s end. The production values are also at their worst on this one – co-writer Joe Vitale is not only the drummer anmd synth player but the producer on this record and so has carte blanche to fill up every available space with chanting choirs, booming synthesised drums and warbling noises. It’s by far his worst moment on a CSN record (unlike some fans, I think his later work is a good fit for the band, but he got a bit carried away here). The sentiments of the song are actually a good fit for CSN, with some intriguing lines about the distractions of fame getting in the way of the message – a charge often laid against the trio who, so their detractors will tell you, acted like rock royalty without having earnt it (a fan attacking CSN in 1970 for wearing posh clothes while singing songs about poverty was physically attacked by a drunken Stills, before the guitarist calmed down and admitted he’d touched a nerve. Still CSN aren’t the worst by far – look at Sting and U2 these days! One of the most famous lines from a bootleg is Nash’s desperate plea ‘Stop that Stephen – if you push him in the pool I’ll never forgive you!’) The only trouble is, this doesn’t sound like a CSN harmony song – it sounds like a Nash solo song from his mis-guided 1986 album ‘Innocent Eyes’, with Crosby absent until the middle eight and Stills only present via one vocal line and a particularly strong guitar solo, the highlight of the song. Now, it may be that this song was started during this period – it was recorded in 1986 according to the sleevenotes, which is spot on the right time, although Nash has never officially commented.  Now, unlike most of the albums on this site I was actually around in 1990 and I can tell you that although ‘Live It Up’ sounds contemporary (ie it sounds like other dated stuff from the late 80s), it’s actually more awash with synths and booming drums than anything else around in that period (1986 fits better but this track is even over-the-top for that year, which shows you how OTT it must be!) Even my trendiest friends would never dream of having something that sounds so of it’s time in their collection –so why did a bunch of aging 50-odd rockers assume it was right for them? A real curio that gets some things so spot-on (those words, that solo) and misses other ideas by miles.  

Shockingly [316] ‘If Anybody Had A Heart’ is a second cover song in a row – this from a band who will only ever do one cover (‘Sannibel’) as a trio/quartet ever again. It’s also one of two instances that answer that age-old CSN fan game about what other com binations of the Byrds might have given us in their own trio (how about Gene Clark of the Byrds, Allan Clarke of the Hollies and Richie Furay of the Buffalo Springfield – how great would that line-up of Clark, Clarke and Furay be?!) You see, this track features the only guest appearance of Roger McGuinn on a Crosby-related project post-The Byrds and his jingly-jangly guitar is about the highlight on offer here (McGuinn plays the rhythm not the solo by the way – that’s Stills, with a very characertistic on-the-edge solo based on the work of his old mate Hendrix added to a Crosby-Nash backing track at the last minute and, again, it’s the best thing here). The other instance, by the way, is Asylum’s attempt at making their ‘own’ CSN with Byrd Chris Hillman, Springfielder Richie Furay (again!) and singer-songwriter JD Souther – who, coincidentally, co-wrote and plays on this track. It’s a cut above his work with the Souther Hillman Furay band (who did two okay-ish albums), but not up to CSN levels, with an annoyingly nursery rhymey chorus that just seems to give up at the end (‘If anybody had a heart…..’ goes the melody, coming to a full stop and leaving Nash to add ‘Like. Mine’ as a coda). But, once again, it’s the melody and production work that dissappoint, not the playing (with Stills again o top form) or the lyrics (with two strong poetic verses that match the Monkees’ career highlight ‘Shades Of Gray’ in their discussion of life not being as easily interpretated as you used to think). There’s an interesting repeat of the themes of the last track (‘some people treat you like the clothes you wear’) and yet another CSN philosophy about love (‘I don’t know how but people seem to know when they want somebody bad enough’) that are both excellent lines. It’s just a shame that there aren’t enough of them to make up for that godawful chorus which is repeated endlessly throughout the song and the feeling that, yet again, this another performer taking over a CSN album who can’t compete with even the trio’s worst material on this album.     

Alas [317] ‘Tomboy’ is far from being CSN’s best material. Only slightly less offensive than Brian Wilson’s ‘Hey Little Tomboy’, this is an uncharacteristcally sexist song from Stills who may not have won any awards from the feminist movement in the 70s but never again went anywhere near this theme. The song is about Stills’ frustration that the strong, rebellious, determined females he knows are always sept off their feet by brawn or beauty not brains that don’t really care for her or her spirit. Whilst it’s always dodgy suggesting how other people should behave in song, especially in matters of romance, it does at least find Stills sympathetic to as well as exasperated by his charge and his heart is in the right place, even if his synthesisers aren’t. Interestingly, like CSNY, all four wives in this period (Jan Crosby, Annie Stills, Susan Nash and Pegi Young) couldn’t be more different in personality from each other and yet the one factor they all have in common is strength. No one says no to any member of CSNY, no politician, no manager, no bandmember, not even each other – the only people who can argue fully are their wives. ‘Tomboy’ is Stills’ rather misguided tribute to that fact. What’s worse is that this on-the-limits-of-taste song is sung to a calypso-reggae-ish backing with Stills trying to do his best impression of the style, so to some this song is racist as well as sexist. To be fair, I don’t believe this song is either but, well, there’s not enough musical or literary reasons for ‘Tomboy’ to be here, so I’m not going to put up too much of a defence of it. The one good thing about this song is that Crosby is back playing electric guitar on a record for the first time since his drug sentence and, what with Crosby-Nash harmonies loud in the mix, this is one of the few songs on this album that sound like the band were in the same room from beginning to end.

Just as you’re beginning to think that the critics are right and that Stills, especiaslly, is a spent force, he comes out with [318] ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough?’, perhaps his best song of the past 25 years. Having seen another relationship crumble into dust, this is Stills feeling sorry for himself, wondering where all the joy of the pair’s early years went to and what’s going to happen to him now. It was finished when Stills paid a callon neighbour Kevin Cronin, of REO Speedwagon, and found out that he had just gone through exactly the same thing. The joy for CSN fans is that this is Stills back on the acoutsic guitar for the first time in years for a new song and his late 80s-onwards deeper, maturer voice is far better suited to this song than the poppier material he’d been writing of late. The lyrics here are among Stills’ best, telling his missing partner all the things he should have said to her when she was around, but that ‘wisodm came only after you were gone’. Elsewhere there are some superb images of the isolation Stills feels, seeing his partner in his dreams and having her image haunt him for the reast of the day (contrast this with Stills’ narrator breaking off the relationship in ‘So Begins The Task’ from the ‘Manassas’ album, where the narrator’s dreams become ‘bars that cage you within yourself’). The chorus of ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough?’, which spills out of the icy blackness with CSN harmonies and a warmth missing from the rest of the song is perfection itself, while Stills chorus line of ‘I still love you, like a child’ is a telling contrast to how Stills’ relationship with Veronique Sanson began in 1975, in an allegedly maturer fashion (with the song ‘As I Come From Age’ from ‘Stills’, AAA review no 65). The result is a stark, spooky recording in great contrast to everything else on this album, with just the right degree of pathos and emotion. Nash’s sensitive harmony vocal from the second verse on is perfectly cast too, with the two singers in isolation, Nash’s dry and muted vocal in great contrast to Stills echoey, noisy lead. One of the best CSN songs outside the 1970s, with a haunting poignancy that’s really moving.

Alas Crosby’s [319] ‘Yours and Mine’ is one of his worst songs of all time. The song was inspired when Crosby saw the cover of a Life magazine (the same magazine that inspired Neil Young to write ‘Ohio’), with a teenager from the middle east proudly clutching a gun. Hearing his own neighbourhood kids playing noisly outside, Crosby was struck by how quickly the boy seemed to have grown older a\bocve his years and set about writing this song, adding a second verse about the troubles over Irish independence that were dominating the news again in 1989-90. That sounds like a good basis for a song, but alas the idea and images get mangled in the recording somewhat. You see, for such a simple song, it doesn’t half have a concoluted history: Crosby wrote a first set of words and gave them to close pal Craig Doerge to set to music (the pair collaborated on the classic ‘Shadow Captain’ in 1977, so the omens should have been good). Alas, the results weren’t all they should have been so the pair brought Graham Nash on board to re-write the melody. Having finished that the trio decided that the words were now failing the song and had to be re-written again. The result is a curious half-beast that’s clearly the result of perspiration not inspiration, with the original anger and drive behind the song getting lost somewhere in the re-writes, however much of an improvement they are, with Crosby’s usual quirkyness placed on hold for a rather bland song that doesn’t really add much to the CSN canon we haven’t heard before. Things aren’t helped by yet more horrible synths, with a sing-songy percussion riff that makes the sentiments of the song sound horribly twee and more keyboard work that dates the album terribly. To be fair though, there’s an unexpected saxophone solo from Branford Marsals, unique to CSN’s canon barring the forthcoming ‘Arrows’, which works nicely, giving the song a moody, sinister feel that does it credit (generally I hate saxophone solos in songs and if you’ve read enough of these reviews by now you’ll know what a compliment that last line was!) Lok out for songwriter Tony Beard’s name in the performing credits though – the band recorded his song ‘Straight Line’ just two days before and he’s still interested enough in events to hang around! The only part of this song that really takes off is the middle eight, when an angry Crosby turns bluesman on us, telling us over and over about how each mother raised her children for ‘something better than a bullet’, although even this ends on the rather lame declamation ‘his life’s hanging from a trigger, I won’t pull it’. Overall, not one of Crosby’s or CSN’s best, social protest that tells us nothing new without any real autobiography or honesty to back it up.

Side two begins with one of the most unfairly neglected songs on the album. Whilst [320] ‘(Got To Keep) Open’ pales in comparison to Stills’ ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough?’, it’s still a pretty good poppy love song with a catchy rhythm that’s the closest Stepehen has ever come to following up his hit ‘Love The One You’re With’. Interestingly, this simple song was another one that was ‘a struggle to get the way we wanted it too’ (according to a Nash interview for Record Collector) – it took a re-drafting of the lyrics from Nash and a full re-recording before it ended up sounding like it does here – and you sense that even afterwards the band weren’t very happy with it. I like it a lot though, with Stills’ latest philosophy about love (‘Got to keep an open heart, got to keep an open mind, got to keep working hard or you get left behind, got to keep working, got to keep giving, got to let nothing get in the way of living’) one of his best. There’s even a slight nod to CSN’s past songs about sailing (‘Shadow Captain’, ‘Southern Cross’, ‘In My Dreams’, etc) with Stills’ line about being ‘the captain of my soul and the master of my fate’, with the usual CSN metaphor of an out-of-control vessel navigating cruel waters replaced by a Stills firmly in control of his destiny. The highlight of the song, though, is the song’s middle eight, when the CSN harmonies finally kick in and add a touxch of heart and honesty to proceedings, painting the narrator as ‘losing my mind’ as he struggles to look for true love. Happily, he finds it and – just as Stills did in 1969 with ‘Suite-Judy Blue Eyes’ – he composes a lovde letter for his new love and sends it ‘through the record business instead of the mail’ (joke © Stephen Stills 1970), telling us that this song ‘was mine – and now it’s yours’. The only thing that lets this fine song down is the rather lacklustre recording, with a carribean flavour that might have worked played on real instruments but sounds false and shallow on synths. Stills also sounds at odds with this song, as if we’ve caught him on a down day struggling to add cheer to a song that should be light and fluffy. No out-and-out classic, then, but a sweet little song that deserves a better reputation among CSN-followers.

Song seven is the Tony Beard song we mentioned, [321] ‘Straight Line’, a ballad so close in style to Nash’s own that most fans assumed it was one of his when this record came out! Nash clearly identified with the song’s message of trying to stay on the thin-and-narrow path, what with an ailing Stills and a recovering Crosby in the band and adds one of his better vocals on the album to boot. Strangely, it seems that CSN first met Tony Beard at a Hendrix tribute night – Hendrix himself would probably have dismissed this song as pure sentimental rubbish (I still haven’t got over his ignorant tiorade against the Beach Boys as ‘a stupid psychedelic barbershop quartet’ yet) and unless you have quite a sweet tooth, most fans will probably pass on this song too. The problem, yet again for this album, lies not so much in the song as in the sterile production, with again only a fiery solo from Stills on an electric guitar (the only ‘real’ instrument here amongst synthesised drums and keyboards) standing out. And, again, it’s just odd to hear CSN bringing in an outside writer when their own material is clearer superior for the most part. Still, the CSN harmonies on the chorus are nice and there’s another middle eight that adds a kind of diluted bit of magic when Nash urges us to ‘reach for your dreams’ and sounds like he means it too.   

[322] ‘House Of Broken Dreams’ really is a Nash song and is one of the better tracks on the album, with a haunting melody and some fine acoustic guitar work from Nash in amongst some synths that actually sound fitting for once, adding some ghostly washes of colour to the song. The song has an AAA connection too: when Nash came to write this song he was in the middle of yet another charity event and rang up Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour to try to get him onboard. Gilmour was having a bad day and in the process of breaking up from his first wife Ginger and answered the phone tersely with the message ‘Hello – this is the house of broken dreams here…’ Nash, perhaps remembering his relationships with Rose Eccles in the 60s (who he left bgehind to join  CSN) and Joni Mitchell in the 70s, was inspired to write this haunting song, where memories of love and fun times past hangs around the warring couple like a ghost. The song is filed with lots of rehtorical questions, with the thoughts left unspoken on both people’s minds left hanging in the air throughout the song until the ghosdtly ‘love lies’ chorus line finally gives them both release. Crosby’s harmonies are loud in the mix here, for perhaps the first time on the album, and add a delightful light touch to Nash’s bitter experience, with this song one of the more successful recordings on the album. In true Nash fashion, there’s an attempt at a happy ending, with the assertion that all it takes is sympathyand empathy with another person’s feelings and ‘love can turn it all around’ – but here, amongst the stone-cold synths, even he doesn’t sound as sure about it as he usually does.

The greatness continues with [323] ‘Arrows’, one of Crosby’s most under-rated songs and the only CSN song co-written with band friend, the much missed Michael Hedges (See ‘Crosby*Nash’ for the latter’s tribute song ‘Michael (Hedges Here)’. Like many of Crosby’s early post-rehabilitation songs it’s about, well, rehabilitation and the narrator’s wonderful sense that the difficulties he expected to kill him can actually be ‘turned around’ into something good. It’s hard not to marvel at how quickly Crosby became back up to speed in this period, following a slight blip on ‘American Dream’, after several decades of gradual decline and loss of inspiration and strength to hard drugs. His voice is magnificent here, even in amongst this album’s usual glossy scenery and his urge to his audience to follow him in making their life better is far more heartfelt than in most songs on a similar theme because we know how far through the dark side Crosby had to go to write this song. The opening verse to this song is especially good, with Crosby comparing the pain he was in to the way bright beautiful things are made from ugly black coal, ‘pressure turning carbon to jewels’, with the ‘arrows’ slung by his enemies a good learning device for the narrator. There’s also a curious, haiku-like medieval second verse with enemies ‘aiming at my iron mark’, with unseen villains trying to take the narrator down – instead of yelping in pain or fighting back, he’s busy simply expressing amazement at how wonderful they look. The highlight though might well be the third verse when a more confident Crosby is telling us that it was during his biggest obstacles and his most tested period that he learnt the most about himself and felt the proudest of his actions, overcoming everything life had to throw at him. The key line of the song though is the closing line ‘my heart is a target no one fools’ – the idea that, however much obstacles appear to break the narrator, they’ll never change his outlook on life and that long held note is an excellent conclusion before the song sleepily fades to a halt. The melody of ‘Arrows’, mainly written by Hedges, is a perfect and sympathetic fit to the lyrics, regal and elegant yet causing the narrator to tell us his story in great gasping breaths that really do sound like a metaphor for the battle scars he suffered whilst learning this particular life lesson. A second sax solo on the album, by Branford Marsalis once again, is amazingly the second decent sax solo on the album – trust me, there’s maybe only five other listenable sax solos in the whole of the AAA canon so that’s quite something! Another excellent song from Crosby, this song rivals the better known ‘Compass’ in the way the singer comes to terms with his wayward past and is one of the true highlights of this forgotten album.

Against all odds, the album ends on a third excellent song in a row with [324] ‘After The Dolphin’, a song co-written by Nash with Crosby’s usual writing partner Craig Doerge. As we’ve said, most casual CSN fans assume this song must be one of Nash’s occasional ecology pleas, similar to ‘Wind On The Water’, but instead it’s another Nash anti-war song, clearly inspired by the random violence and killing-from-a-distance tactics of the Gulf War, a battle raging heavily when this album came out (see also Neil Young’s ‘Weld’ – AAA review no 95 - and Roger Waters’ ‘Amused To Death’ – AAA review no 96 – for more on this theme). The Dolphin of the title was a pub in the East End of London which, in 1940, became the first place in Britain to be bombed and the first place ever around the world where civilians became casulaties of war. Up till then only soldiers had died in conflict and, although many were conscripted, Nash’s idea of the song is that before then only those who wanted to fight and belived in it risked their lives. After this event in 1940, all human beings of all ages and sexes suffered.

The song starts with a quite idyll with pub regulars enjoying a drink, before calamity hits and the world seems to go up in smoke. As Nash stresses, these are everyday innocent people killed at random by a lucky german shot and unlike their country’s soldiers the people in that pub weren’t expecting to die that night and were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the idea that ‘other there  there were lives on the line, but not at the dolphin’. Like Roger Waters on his great song ‘The Bravery of Being Out Of Range’, Nash condemns modern warfare because the people fithing it no longer view each other as human beings fighting face to face – they are instead just dots on a radar screen or statistics to grin over in the next day’s papers and he claims that it all spirals out of this first incident, mourning all the civlians killed in Vietnam, Korea and the Gulf War as well as those who lost their lives in 1940. Nash moves away from his dispassionate story-telling in the song’s last verse, adding a key change to up the emotional power of the song and adding a final verse in the first person, asking rhetorical questions about whether anybody really knows what’s going on in warfare and whether anybody can ever stop it. There’s some unusually harsh imagery used by Nash to get his point across too: ‘men without faces’ bringing ‘fire from the sky’ (faces here meaning they’re too far away to be seen) and the plane not just overheard but actually ‘after the dolphin’ (a neat pun there, with mankind clearly heading towards this point in time somewhere during WW2). Other than a clunky couplet rhyming ‘carrying on’ with ‘in the blink of an eye they were gone’, this song might well constitute Nash’s best lyrics ever for the band and they work just as well as a poem than as a song.

But that’s not to dismiss this song’s production powerhouse. CSN’s joint harmonies, usually so bold and powerful together across their records, sound deliberately puny here, unable to stop the barrage of sound effects in the song, on a melody line that plunges and rises many times across the length of the recording. In fact, this song is one of the last great CSN epics, with another OTT production that this time fits perfectly, with sirens, radio chatter, instruments and voices all competing for our attention and doing a fair job of re-creating the uncertainties of war. Full marks too to guest guitarist Mike Landau, who does a fair job of aping Stills and Crosby-Nash regular guitarist Danny Kortchmar’s work with his fiery solo, chaneling all of the helplessness of the song. The most talked about aspect of ‘After The Dolphin’, though, is the fade-out, with real speeches from Simon Jones in London and President Truman in the States re-acting to the event, declaring that they would retaliate on German towns in a similar manner and claiming that they have ‘God On our side’. Nash clearly doesn’t believe that for a minute and, rather than see the German bombers as the villains of the piece, is clearly making a statement that our own troops are just as bad and just as arrogant in our claims, with all people the losers in war whoever the victor turns out to be. The siren that underpins this song is crucial, coming too late to save those in 1940 but still relevant to our times as a warning for what man might become – a warning that, alas, we don’t seem to be heeding even now in 2011. A staggering achievement by any means, this is one of the few tracks to have made it from a 1989 Crosby-Nash record to a 1990 CSN one without any changes (alas there’s no Stills on this track!), but they were quite right to leave it alone. After all, you can’t really improve on perfection can you?!
So that’s that. CSN don’t exactly ‘live it up’ like in the days of yore, but at times across this record they easily compete with their older, better known work. It’s just a shame that this song is so tied in to the time of it’s recording – CSN were hardly likely to win new youngsters onto their side with a for-the-times quite unfashionable record about the horros of war, loneliness and not judging by appearances (erm, forgetting an eight year old me for the moment anyway!) And yet few older fans – or younger people getting into this album now – will like this album any better for it’s booming percussion, noisy effects and synthesised coldness. But as we’ve seen, we shouldn’t judge by appearances –that’s what makes it OK to shoot civillians in wars if we tell ourselves they are our ‘enemies’ enough times, that’s what causes relationships to crumble when our images of each other can’t match up to the reality and that’s what makes us think we should only like ourselves when we are doing well at something, not the mitigated failure heard in ‘Arrows’. ‘Live It Up’ is a real fan album, one deigned to put off everybody who doesn’t see the greatness between the lines, but when you work out what the message of this album truly is then you’re in for a treat. They shouldn’t have put cocktail sausages on the cover – they should have had a whole banquet, a real feast full of brilliance showing what humans can be, but enjoyed only at a distance, from the perspective of the isolated loneliness of the lunar surface as seen from Earth, through a tiny telescope. How fitting a cover would that have been?!

‘Hmm, interesting Habridan. Of course, the poor writer got lots of things wrong – the technology we have reveals that only some of those thoughts were correct and that while all three members of Crosby, Stills and Nash thought those things at one stage, not one of them agreed with what the other two were thinking, ever.'

‘Well, Catalunia darling, that’s what comes of inferior life-forms thinking they have all the answers.’

‘...Which is why I adore Crosby, Stills and Nash so much - as off-world music goes I mean. They never really pretend to have all the answers but they're usually jolly spot-on about what other people have got wrong. All that childish wanting to blow up the planet and the desire for guns - I mean every civilisation's like that when they're young but they ought to have grown out of it all by now. That bit about arrows was really touching though - who'd have guessed my favouritest most gorgeous bit of jewellery that the earth people call coal can be pressured to form a diamond! I shall look them up when I get home you know, Habridan - ooh I hope they're prettier still, black as night when the three suns have gone in and twice as crumbly! So much better than all that cheap glittering jewellery...'

 ‘Yes Catalunia, dearest, that’s very true. I liked that bit about a house of broken dreams - Earth seems a planet of broken dreams to me, speaking purely as an outsider of course. But I don’t think he got it that wrong, for an Earthling I mean.’

‘Well, few other Earthlings even seemed to register the album before our generation came along and made it a classic piece of Habridan music, dearest heart, enjoyed the galaxy over. How wrong those Earthlings were. Har-Har-Har!’




A Now Complete List Of CSN/Y and Solo Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'Crosby, Stills and Nash' (1969)

'Deja Vu' (CSNY) (1970)

‘Stephen Stills’ (1970)

'If Only I Could Remember My Name' (Crosby) (1971)

'Songs For Beginners' (Nash) (1971)

'Stephen Stills II' (1971)
‘Graham Nash, David Crosby’ (1972)

'Stephen Stills-Manassas'  (1972)

'Wild Tales' (Nash) (1973)
'Down The Road' (Stephen Stills/Manassas) (1973)

'Stills' (1975)

'Wind On The Water' (Crosby-Nash) (1975)
'Illegal Stills' (Stills) (1976)
'Whistling Down The Wire' (Crosby-Nash) (1976)

'Long May You Run' (Stills-Young) (1976)

'CSN' (1977)
'Thoroughfare Gap' (Stills) (1978)
'Earth and Sky' (Nash) (1980)

'Daylight Again' (CSN) (1982)
'Right By You' (Stills) (1984)
'Innocent Eyes' (Nash) (1986)
'American Dream' (CSNY) (1988)

'Oh Yes I Can!' (Crosby) (1989)

'Live It Up!' (CSN)  (1989)

'Stephen Stills Alone' (1991)

'CPR' (Crosby Band) (1998)

‘So Like Gravity (CPR, 2001)

‘Songs For Survivors’ (2002)

'Deja Vu Live' (CD) (2008)

'Deja Vu Live' (DVD) (2008)

'Reflections' (Graham Nash Box Set) (2009)

'Demos' (CSN) (2009)

'Manassas: Pieces' (2010)

‘Carry On’ (Stephen Stills Box Set) (2013)

'Croz' (Crosby) (2014)
'CSNY 74' (Recorded 1974 Released 2014)

'This Path Tonight' (Nash) (2016)

‘Here If You Listen’ (Crosby)

The Best Unreleased CSNY Recordings
Surviving TV Appearances (1969-2009)
Non-Album Recordings (1962-2009)
Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums Part One (1964-1980)
Live/Compilations/Rarities Albums Part Two (1982-2012)
Essay: The Superest Of Super Groups?
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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