Monday, 2 May 2016
Graham Nash "This Path Tonight" (2016)
Graham Nash "This Path Tonight" (2016)
This Path Tonight/Myself At Last/Cracks In The City/Beneath The Waves/Fire Down Below/Another Broken Heart/Target/Golden Days/Back Home/Encore
"Yesterday's hero who never dared to dream. Where are we going?!..."
There are certain members of the AAA for whom you come to expect the unexpected: Neil Young has made a career out of it, while after his recent Disney albums and duets with Zooey De Schanel I can safely tell you that I haven't got a clue what Brian Wilson's going to do next and if Keith Moon was still alive (and turning seventy this year) he would surely be the worst behaved and most unpredictable OAP ever. Others though are more stable: apart from a dalliance with synthesisers in the 1980s we've spent most of the past fifty years knowing who Graham Nash 'was': the sensible one in a band of crazy people, the hippie philosopher with a commercial instinct and a hopeless romantic who took longer than most to settle down but then seemed the most content family man a musician can be. After thirty-eight years with wife Susan and forty-eight as the member of CSN/Y least likely to cause trouble and most likely to want to return, we thought we knew Graham Nash. In the past few years it turns out that we actually haven't known Graham as much as we thought we did. Though Nash's autobiography 'Wild Tales' in 2012, promised to be outspoken before its release, was always going to ruffle a few feathers CSN had coped with plenty worse in their years together and the one thing that came over loudest and clearest from the book was how lucky Nash felt to have fallen in with a special band and with a special wife after spending half the book searching for both. Imagine our shock in the CSN community then when last year Nash announced his split from Susan after thirty-eight years (by far the longest marriage in the CSN camp), that he'd taken up with another girlfriend in photographer Amy Grantham and that as far as Nash was concerned he'd never ever tolerate another CSN reunion because of a vicious dispute with David Crosby. 'I used to be in a band made up of my friends...'sighs Nash on 'Golden Days', which is the latest in a long line of 'CSN' split songs, but one that sounds permanent this time.
'He's been awful to me for two years now...I've been there and saved his ass for 45 years and now he treats me like shit. In my world there will never ever be another CSN show or another CSN record'. Nash hasn't revealed what Crosby has said, but has revealed his hurt at it, several times in the papers as he's seethed and fumed over his partner's re-actions to his recent changes. It's worth saying in reply - we're neutral here, as much as possible - that Crosby challenges many of the comments made in Nash's book, that his partner didn't give him a chance for right of reply (although his own autobiography 'Long Time Gone' is far worse about himself than Nash ever was), that Nash was rather Holliesier (sorry holier)-than-thou in his book (there's a Hollies group who have taken to calling him 'Teflon Nash' as nothing ever sticks to him!) and that we don't actually know what Crosby said (chances are he was upset at Graham walking out on Susan, with whom he and Jan were particularly close too - especially in the light of comments Croz made about Neil and Daryl Hannah). Nash and Young have spoken out against Crosby. Crosby has in turn lashed out at both of them. At the moment only Stills is talking to the other three, in an unexpected reverse of what traditionally happens during CSN breakups! Disputes we've had before in the CSNY community of course (practically every week in the 1970s) but they usually got solved by the next record/the next girl/the next brilliant idea/Neil doing one of his disappearing acts; the Crosby-Nash axis always felt the strongest: the feeling amongst us all at the moment is one of shock and the fear that it really is over this time. Disputes we've had before in the CSNY community of course (practically every week in the 1970s) but they usually got solved by the next record/the next girl/the next brilliant idea/Neil doing one of his disappearing acts; the Crosby-Nash axis always felt the strongest within the foursome and the feeling amongst us all at the moment is one of shock and the fear that it really is all over this time, nearly fifty years of some of the best music the world has ever known coming to an uncertain, chaotic end. Despite all the problems down the years, all the dramas and all the rows which made the likes of Vietnam look like a mild disagreement and the cold war civil, most of us would have put money on a happy ending for CSNY and for the music and friendship overcoming any differences - you can't listen to the music and ignore the promise that if we hang in long enough love is coming to us all.
'This Path Tonight', then, has a lot resting on it for fans: it signals the biggest change in the band's long-term fortunes since Crosby ended up in prison and it's clearly a key album in understanding where Graham's head is at. The good news is that it's a record worthy of such pressure on its shoulders, a record that doesn't shout 'me me me' the way me and many of my CSNY friends (hello Cecilia!) feared so much as 'help! help! help!' as Graham tries to make sense of this turbulent period in his life. Nash has never sounded more lost on a spooky scared sounding record where Graham, usually the one constant point on albums made up of Crosby eccentricity, Stills complexity and Young adventurousness, goes on a little journey of his own. There's no defensive attempt to explain why Graham thinks the grass is greener with someone years younger, no bitter diatribes a la 'Frozen Smiles' against Crosby or any other critics, no politics this time around and most surprisingly no real love songs for once. Instead we have a man afraid he's going to die soon with so much life unlived (it's worth remembering how many figures in Nash's life have died young), trying to screw up enough courage to leave the certainty of the present for a less sure and less well travelled path, asking for forgiveness and asking only that, if we love Graham, we'll let him go on his way. This is a record that recalls both Wild Tales' ambient spooky vibe and the feeling of shock and horror with Graham caught like a rabbit in the headlights, Neil's similar long apology letter to his wife of 36 years Pegi 'Storytone' and that similar moment in Graham's life in 1969 when he also left band, wife and home behind (Nash no longer lives in Hawaii and is planning to move to Manhattan after he's finished touring Europe with this album). Last time things worked out and how, despite the fallout felt by The Hollies (finally repaired it seems - well mostly) and Graham's first wife Rose - we can only hope, given the emotional investment CSNY and fans have had in each other for almost fifty years now that this change in lifestyle works out as well for everyone concerned.
Unlike some solo CSNY albums that had so many guest stars and CSNY members taking part they may as well have been band records, 'This Path Tonight' really does feature Nash almost completely alone in terms of performance, with this album having a sparse low-key feel. There are just four other musicians, with guitarist Shane Fontayne (Nils Lofgren's occasional replacement in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band) a regular collaborator, none of whom have ever worked with Graham again. Graham's talked in interviews about how he hears 'echoes' of each one, which is true but it's the sadness of each album that comes through the most: the guilty self-mocking 'I Used To Be A King' from 'Songs For Beginners', the lethargic struggle of 'Another Sleep Song' from 'Wild Tales', the 1980 'new decade' hope/fear for the future of 'Earth and Sky' and the troubled song 'Lonesome Man', an outtake from the 'Innocent Eyes' album. Most of all, though, it recalls the nightmarish half of his last record ('Songs For Survivors', released as long ago as 2002 now) - everything is slightly surreal, rather scary and there's a sense of burning seething anger and deep-held passion being held in check by a Nash too shocked and wounded to quite get his words out. Nash's usual lynchpins - love, faith, hope, support, optimism - are conspicuous by their absence on a record where nothing is certain, most songs are in minor not major keys and the only certainty is that, sooner or later, 'people hurt' ('What happened to 'all you need is love?' he actually sighs on 'Golden Days'). This album should perhaps have been called 'Songs For Casualties', sharing the same sense of shock and grief as its two predecessors. Anyone after another 'Marrakesh Express' 'Our House' or 'Teach Your Children' will, I'm afraid, be rather disappointed.
But for those of us who've always been fascinated by the darker Nash that lurks behind the 'Man in the Mirror' (here 'the man in the mask' on the title track) and peeks through every so often in song, 'This Path Tonight' is a revelation. Nash walks into the unknown on the title track, a scary surreal world of 'crumbling cracks' and 'stones on fire' where even Graham's courage fails him and he struggles to know whether to fight or flee, to a chorus of 'where are we going?' that sounds just like the one treated to vocoders on The Who's 'Quadrophenia'. 'Myself At Last' is again about enjoying the new - but it's a sad, apologetic affair where anyone who ever meant anything to Graham 'feels like some kind of test' as he sets off into the unknown not to find himself but to 'lose myself at last'. 'Cracks In The City' is the most outward looking song on the city, with Graham's own crumbling cracked path merging briefly with the world's cracked, crumbling path post-credit crunch. Usually Nash is there to keep up upbeat and hopeful, but here there's not a silver lining in a cloud but a cloud in a silver lining, with a world of people who are always there to 'trap us' however free we feel and where 'the start of oblivion always comes in the daylight', as neat a riposte of Crosby's 'Long Time Gone' as you will ever hear ('You know the darkest hour is always just before the dawn!') 'Beneath The Waves' continues the CSN/Crosby theme with the band's favourite nautical theme now twisted into a song where all these years on Nash is struck by the 'same fears' as he tries to right a mast in an oncoming storm: 'Fifty years before the mast - how can we last before sinking?' Nash sighs, as the shadow captain of a charcoal ship tries to give the light the slip, again. By contrast 'Fire Down Below' is a sequel of sorts to 'Into The Darkness', an old song of criticism of Crosby from 'Daylight Again', has Nash's narrator wrecked by flames not waves, as the bluesiest noisiest song on the album (and even then it's most definitely not a rocker) has doves turning into howling wolves and every part of the world he's ever known and believed in drenched in flames.
Over on side two (do modern albums only ever released on CDs still have second sides? Well, this one feels like it does...) we get the ear-catching, 'Another Broken Heart' as a loved one (Susan? Crosby?) whose always brought Nash sunshine slips away into the shadows. If this one isn't released as the album's first single I'll eat my copy of 'Innocent Eyes' (I don't play it much anyway...) - it's the only song here that has Nash's usual effortless catchy melody though even here the song sounds like it's mocking us and him, a song that would normally be happy turned on its head. 'Target' is the album's silliest song as Nash turns archer and aims his arrows down this path tonight, hoping he'll get a bullseye on the heart of his new beloved. It's the closest this album has to a love song - and even this one spends more time worrying about whether 'my aim is true' and whether cupid's arrows hurt when they hit his lover. 'Back Home' is the only one to feature Shane singing along and spookily he sounds much like Crosby, on a track where Nash imagines his own death and tries to prepare for it, singing up what 'may be your last song' by offering up last warnings about our treatment of the Earth and how in the end 'nothing matters'. Nash then returns for an encore, a final heartbreaker that's the only song from this album that's been around for a while, imagining what might happen when 'the applause is all over' and he is dead and buried. 'Who are you going to be?' he wonders to himself when he reaches that point, the underlying question that's been behind this album and the past few years of his life. Can he really stop searching for something else he feels is still there to find? Settle for what might be second best? How can he live with such thoughts running through his head as he reaches what might be the end, knowing he didn't do anything about it? So Nash staggers along, into the unknown, his life's purpose not yet fulfilled and his heart still not satisfied, leaving behind a set assured path for one that's barely a path at all.
The one song we've missed out, 'Golden Days', is a fascinating composition worthy of an extra paragraph on its own, similar to Young's 'When I Was A Giant' as Nash admits he's lost the influence he once had on the world. Moreoever, he's lost his band, making it clear that CSNY belong in the 'olden days' and he's never going back there. The band once sang 'songs with soul and words with so much hope for a brighter hope' with all their hearts but they don't believe in them anymore and Nash can't bring himself to sing them. Older reviewers, with more venom than I, loved to claim as early as 1974 that CSNY were a band that had the most potential in the world and they threw it all away (a claim I dispute - we just had to buy four lots of solo records to hear it across certain periods, that's all), but for the first time Nash sounds as if he doesn't believe in the hippie dream anymore and it's oh so sad. CSNY have written far more songs about how much they hate each other than love each other down the years, but even by the standards of 'Cowboy Movie' 'The Old Homestead' 'Frozen Smiles' and 'Hippie Dream' itself this one is a killer, the sound of a man who moved heaven and earth and families because of the promise of a musical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that turned out not to be there. It's the CSN equivalent of John Lennon's 'God', Paul McCartney's 'Too Many People', George Harrison's 'Wah Wah' and Ringo's 'Early 1970' all rolled into one: Nash no longer believes in CSNY, believes his colleagues are preaching too many practices, is fed up of being given a wah-wah by someone who may be such a big star and who no longers cares if the others are 'a gonna play with me'. I defy anyone whose invested any emotional weight into CSN not to feel like a part of them died inside with this song.
In all, 'This Path Tonight' is a cracking record, Nash's best in years as he tries to make sense of the sudden changes in his life and walks blindly into the unknown, whether it break into even brighter sunlight and happiness or leaves him caught in another storm or falling off the edge into an abyss. It's not the record I expected from hearing Nash's path till now (I assumed there'd be cooing love songs for new love Amy - she took the album cover by the way - lots of confident pop songs about finding happiness at last and a continuation of Crosby*Nash's cutting politics) - but that's kind of the point: this is a record that, despite the echoes, sounds nothing like anything Graham has ever done before because he's never lived out a part of his life quite like this before. Much as you can question his actions (I still wonder why Nash spent so much of his book talking about how happy and contented he was with Susan just a few years ago before turning his back on her completely, while we'll probably never get to the truth of the Crosby-Nash row unless one of them writes another book and sets the whole thing off again!), you can't really fault the music, the slightly clumsy 'Target' aside. This is the sound of a man doing anything he can to rage against the dying of the light, breaking free from the things that aren't working in his life and exploring the unknown with even more vigour than he did in his youth. The only real constant with past records is that Nash means every word he sings, delivering them with some of his strongest vocals in years (without the fragility of 2005's 'Crosby*Nash', his most recent record) whether we want to hear what these songs contain or not. Painful the subject matters may be for us, difficult as the sentiments are to take sometimes, less memorable as these hazy dreamlike songs are to the confident commercial tracks of the past, this musical path at least sounds like one Nash should have taken years ago, making good on the promise of his spookier, guiltier solo albums with only the one filler material on it. This is the Nash equivalent of the CPR albums, more heartfelt honest and emotional than usual, made with a sparse backing by a man who plainly fears this is the last album he might ever get to make and wants to make it as accurate a reflection of his life as he possibly can. Quite often throughout his music making it's been the sombre years that have been the making of Nash the musician: the fall-outs, the divorces, even the murders inspiring the best out of Graham as he tries to come to terms with his life through song. How wonderfully inspirational and creative all his recent problems have been for him - and how awfully terribly sad it is that this album had to be paid for with the cost of a marriage but CSNY. Let's hope that this path brings happiness from now one for everyone, tonight and forever, even if it's left possibly the greatest band that ever lived somewhat wasted on the way.
We start the album where we spend most of it: walking down a broken lonely unmarked path while the world seems to self-destruct behind us. Title track 'This Path Tonight' is perhaps the most Nash-like song on the album, a slow restrained sombre plod that's livened up by some 'Barrel Of Pain' organ swirls, some Stills-Young style twin guitar attacks and those peculiar sing-song rhymes that's always been a part of Nash's own writing style. It's the mood that's new: Nash, usually so controlled and so confident, is stumbling blind as he worries about where this path of 'crumbling rocks and stones on fire' may lead him. From his description it sounds like one of those paths on the old children's show 'Knightmare' that's about to send him tumbling off the cliffs to his doom, while Nash walks on blind with a helmet over his face and everyone looking on is screaming at him not to walk any further. Nash pleads that he's trying 'my best to be myself' but ponders like days of old who the true Nash is behind 'this mask' - it's like the 'Man In The Mirror' days when marriage with Joni Mitchell seemed to be everything Graham ever wanted, but still wasn't 'right' enough to work. Perhaps not wanting to scare his fan-base away too early, this song is also one of only two tracks on the album to feature harmonies and even though Crosby is definitely persona non grata on this record co-writer Shane Fontayne sounds just enough like Croz for you to catch your breath as their harmonies soar upwards to the sky in well-tested CSNY fashion. What's missing from the CSNY songbook, though, is hope - this is a path that sounds doomed before Nash even begins. Nash, usually the most controlled of singers, disintegrates as he tells us that his soul's on fire, leading to a spooky false-end when we think he's tipped over the edge into the abyss, only to right himself again and plod ever further onwards, accompanied by guitars preparing to send him tumbling over into the edge at any moment. Nash has for so long, generally unfairly, been pegged as the lightweight member of CSNY: this title track alone puts paid to that, as scary a ride as anything in Crosby's 'I'd Swear There Was Somebody There', Stills' pained songs of farewell to Rita Coolidge and Judy Collins or Neil's 'Doom Trilogy'.
'Myself At Last' is an acoustic ballad that pretty much picks up the same theme, only this time Nash isn't even walking but 'rolling' down the path to what may be his doom. 'The question haunting me - is my future just my past?' sighs Nash as he refuses to slow down into old age, multiple CSNY box sets past his last album of new songs as he tries to 'lose' himself in the path - not find a new self exactly but lose the idea that we've always had about who Graham is. Feeling betrayed, suddenly everyone he's ever loved in his life feels like 'some kind of test' as he struggles on, trying to find 'what's lost' compared to the olden days. Nash still plays the harmonica like his younger self, ragged and raw and Dylanesque, but that's the only adolescent moment on a track that's one of Graham's maturest as he reflects on 'memories gone by so fast'. The last verse finally remembers, perhaps a little belatedly, to thank Amy Grantham for recuing him from the endless rolling down the hill, but Nash sounds less than convinced by this as he continues to roll down the hill another couple of times. Even his cry of 'I found myself at last' - the upbeat twist which would normally be the whole point of a Nash song that comes 'after the storm' - doesn't quite ring true. This is a man still falling, afraid of what will hit him at the bottom and still wondering whether he was right to leave the path. Nash has always been so sure of himself in song (at least post-'Songs For Beginners') that it's a shock to hear him quite so out of control and helpless.
'Cracks In The City' works on several different levels. On one level it's the sound of a man reflecting as he's always done on the state of the world, with Crosby and Nash just about the only musicians brave enough to visit the protests on Wall Street and show their support with the people against the bankers who caused the world crisis. The big city, with all its huge monuments, is showing cracks in its foundations and it won't be long before they fall down. On the other hand though the city is CSNY, ready to trap us and trip us, an institution that's lost touch with where it started and was built on shifting sands that were always going to destroy it in the end. And on another it's Nash 'dreaming in darkness', wanting to escape from the decay and ruin he feels hemmed in by where he lives so he's turning his back on it before it traps him too. I'm intrigued by the chorus line though where the city 'takes us from below to above' which doesn't really fit with any of these scenarios: shouldn't sky scrapers be taking us from the skies to below ie hell, rather than up to heaven? Or have I missed something here? Heavier than most songs on the album, Nash's backing band turn in a nicely claustrophobic production that really does feel as if Nash is being trapped across most of the song before that chorus cuts through, one last low-key moment of magic as his voice reaches up to the sky and he believes in the 'forgotten heroes' who are trying to prove how corrupt the city really is and why it should come tumbling down, whoever it traps inside. There's some nice Jerry Garcia-ish pedal steel on here too, as if Nash is still teaching children because the children have no role models in adults anymore.
'Beneath The Waves' is once again mutiny in sailboat bay. It's another spooky song, closer to James Raymond's work for 'Crosby*Nash' than Nash's usual songs with a contemporary production vibe and as series of rhetorical questions in the lyrics. The lyrics though are surely about the death of CSNY, re-cycling imagery from 'Wooden Ships' 'Southern Cross' and 'Shadow Captain' etc as the band themselves become the vessel Nash has been trying to keep afloat for decades, a 'world full of love and laughs'. However those travelling on board seem to have 'no cares whether they live or die' and seem to relish the idea of the boat disappearing and sinking 'beneath the waves'. Nash feels alone, stuck at the mast, desperately trying to keep the boat afloat as his fellow passengers throw each other out the ship and scupper a vessel that once offered so much hope for peace and humanity. This time around the Wooden Ships sink before reaching the shore of a distant island, the Southern Cross voyage ends with no moment of self-discovery and the Shadow Captain has blocked out all light; Nash isn't prepared to keep them afloat anymore and reluctantly, dramatically, sadly decides to stop saving the boat and watch it sink after all. 'Fifty years before the mast' he bawls, 'How long could it last?', while the line 'how much pain for how many tears?' sounds at one with the comments Nash has been making about Crosby recently. Moreover, things haven't changed: Nash still approaches his job on deck with the same worries and fears he had all those years ago and it's slowly sinking in that his life might always be like this - that he's being taken for granted and running out of years to do something else. Sadder still, he's forgotten what he's keeping the boat afloat for: 'the world doesn't care if we live or die' he sighs, in reference to how forgotten (deeply unfairly) CSNY have become in recent years. While the middle eight undoes much of the song's strong stitching, twee and obvious compared to the depth of the rest of the song ('I'm holding my breath, it's causing me pain for so many years!'), the rest of the song is impressive with a touch of sea shanty and a great detached double-tracked vocal from Graham that's manages to stop the whole thing from becoming over-dramatic. Moreover, the backing band turn in what's actually a pretty good facsimile of CSNY harmonies on a sudden chromatic scale of notes in true trademark fashion - only this time they're heading downwards into the sea instead of up into the sky. A quite fascinating song.
No sooner has Nash escaped the waves than he's being attacked by 'Fire Down Below'. Musically this is a prowling tiger getting ready to strike as Nash dodges a drum part that seems determined to bang him on the head, a stinging guitar that sounds like a shooting firebolt and a ringing piano that sounds like SOS in morse code. Creepy and unusual for Nash's more straightforward character, Nash plays stealth ninja instead, dodging musical assassin's bullets and dark shadows. He wonders why he's so under siege recently from all sides when he's tried to stay true to his principles: 'a seeker, a friend and a lover'. However the world has different designs and everything he once put so much faith in is burning, destroying everything he once knew and his faith in 'the heaven above me'. Nash, desperate and fighting for his life by now, screams in the chorus that 'all I can ask, whoever you are, is that you love me!' - because no one else seems to anymore. Dramatic and full of sudden explosions of sudden noise, this track is impressively tense as Nash explores his full range from worried muted narrator to passionate emotional wreck. For all that, though, Nash just wants the future to get on with it, figuring that the fire blaze he sees coming might still have something to teach him, that it might 'overwhelm' but 'relieve' us. It's tempting to see this song as another directly written about the fall-out with Crosby, which Nash has been putting off through mute silence but knows he has to bring out into the open soon, the doves disappearing, replaced by silence and finally by a wolf howling for blood. It's the riff you remember most from this song though: three notes may not be much to base a song on, but it's unusual, angular and more like something from a horror movie than Nash's traditional work. The fact that it's based on three notes also means that you can sing 'CSN' along to the riff if you want! Another unusual, impressive song that finds Nash a million light years away from his comfort zone.
'Another Broken Heart' gets it's feeling of frustrations out the way early as the song starts with an angry spike of tension and spiteful jabs before pulling back to a kinder, more thoughtful Nash who promises to be there for someone new whose own sad story has touched him deeply (Amy?) Vowing that she's already seen too many broken hearts in her life, Nash vows to never do the same to her despite his recent track history, empathising with the person who feels 'their future is coming to an end' as this uncomfortable passage in their life 'is taking you to places that you've never been'. Nash worries that his song is 'going to cut you deep and make you cry' but he has to sing it anyway. There are of course other possibilities for whom Nash is singing to here: the opening verse sounds like a last ditch attempt to offer an olive branch to Crosby, someone whose had more than his share of broken hearts in his life and even starts with a couple of old Crosby-isms, including one Nash wrote about Crosby's drug days in the 1980s ('Day after day' I see you slipping 'into darkness...') Nash could equally be singing to ex-wife Susan as the girl in the song tries to stop him singing, claiming her heart is breaking. Or it's for Neil whose also been something of the CSNY outsider recently having split with his wife Pegi after writing his own declaration of love to her in his autobiography 'Waging Heavy Peace': this song feels in part like Nash reaching out to Young and saying that he understands now his own pain of being outcast by everyone. Even the title feels like a sequel to 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', the song Young wrote for Nash after the split with Joni Mitchell in Nash's own style; by contrast 'Another Broken Heart' 'feels' more like a Young song: it has a Crazy Horse-style stomp, sudden stings of taut electric guitar and feels as if the band recorded it in one take in comparison to Nash's usual production polish. The catchy chorus is easily the most hummable of all these songs (and as we said before, it just has to be the single: it's the only track that sounds like one), but as a composition this is perhaps not quite up to the best on the album. It's still not bad though, especially if Nash is juggling the audiences he's singing it to in his mind, making it a healing balm for everyone he still cares about so deeply, despite what he sang about them all being a 'test' on the title track.
'Target' too is a slight step backwards from this album's peaks. Not that it's bad: Nash's acoustic songs are usually special and this song keeps up this album's love of unusual quirky rhythms with another catchy track. But Nash's painfully extended metaphors about being an archer trying in vain to shoot his new love's heart with an arrow while revealing that he's become a worse harmonica player over the years rather than better isn't quite up to the album's high standard. 'The bow is taught and I'm feeling the pull' he suggests as Nash slowly gets nearer and nearer to his 'target'. The closest thing to a love song on the album, Graham hopes that his 'aim is true' this time. Unfortunately he also imagines a 'sparkling silver light' from heaven shining down on the couple and rhymes 'thing' with 'sting' and has a line about 'how the quiver feels so full' - not something worthy of a songwriting custodial sentence perhaps but clumsy compared with the rest of this album's mature and quite complex imagery. This song about archery is, sadly, a bit arch - but the melody is still a good one at least.
'Golden Days' is by contrast the album's greatest success story. Nash recalls arriving in America, that 'I used to be in a band, made up of my friends, who played across the land when music had no end' and how much hope they all had for the future. CSNY, who are never named in the song (but who clearly aren't, say, The Hollies!) 'sang with all our hearts and everything we had' and in true CSNY philosophy 'everything we gave came back to everyone', this band uniting with their audience in a hippie dream 'of a better day' at a time when the world was broken. Nash praises 'songs with soul and words with so much hope' and how it helped 'people who hurt but found a way' through life's madness, just as they once did. Now, though, it's a different story: the band all have different dreams that all need answering. 'What happened to 'all you need is love?' pleads Nash as once again talks about losing his way from past golden days, wobbling off the path himself and his fear that days are going to fast he's run out of time for CSNY to ever find that dream together. The key word here is 'beginning', sung pointedly at the start of the song - by contrast this piece feels like an end. Still, Nash isn't above feeling nostalgic for things that once were and how confident he once felt in the future so he rounds the song off with another last CSNY flourish of harmonies and long held notes, with a warm sweeping string part crying tears of joy and sadness simultaneously. Non-CSNY fans might well wonder what the fuss is about and point out this song is simplistic and naive so Nash really hasn't learnt much at all; the rest of us, though, are sobbing on the floor as the band that once brought so much light into our lives is turned off and leaves us with darkness, their ambitious mission to save the world coming up sadly short on the old problems of personality clashes and ego (though Nash doesn't name names this time) - though in truth only just. CSNY really did make the world a better place for those of us who believed the message with all their hearts that music really could change the world and Nash includes himself in this number. This updated 'Taken At All' and 'Wasted On The Way' is sadder still though and seemingly more final.*sob* excuse me, I think I've got something in my eye...
'Back Home' is another emotionally heavy, turbulent song so far removed from CSNY's usual hope and light as the 'back home' is not Hawaii, Laurel Canyon or even Manchester but where humans go when they die again (for we have all been here before). Nash introduces this song as if he's the grim reaper come to take us away, telling us to 'take our time' to compose ourselves 'before time will take you' as Mother Earth is 'calling you'. Nash then switches to the first person, passing through the speed of light at such slow speeds and telling us his final message: that 'nothing matters' because the re-set button is about to be set and there's nothing he can do about his legacy anymore. Nash prepares to sing his last song, to a falling curtain, as the band 'plays on'. Spookily Fontayne sounds the mirror image of Crosby as he then plays the part of the grim reaper: 'Take a load off...lay your burden down' (with real shades of Crosby/Byrds Dylan cover 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' back in 1965). Nash both hisses in our with a low mumbled part and soars out in front with another of his greatest vocals, heard against another slow and creepy track as a sea of guitars and some funeral-paced drums mesh together to take us away with Nash as he walks his last steps on the path of life. 'No one knows what will be waiting' Nash sighs in a ghostly voice as the lights fade and he embraces the unknown, as represented here by a blood-curdling backwards guitar effect. 'Tomorrow Never Knows' crossed with 'Eleanor Rigby', it is perhaps the greatest in a series of pretty great songs across this record, brave and emotional, proof that however close the older Nash, now seventy-four, might be to going back home he still hasn't lost his musical curiosity or his love of new sounds. This path, at least, sounds like one that he was always meant to take, turning all of his usual trademarks on their head for a song that's as powerful as any in his canon. *sob* excuse me, I have something in my other eye now, honest...
Typically, though, Nash doesn't want to end on such a downer so offers us a literal 'Encore', a song that's been going down well at his live shows back to the days when Crosby-Nash were still together and which sums up his unique mix of ego and humility perfectly. Though sad and slow once more, it's much more in keeping with Nash's tradition of writing as he tries to accept that the 'applause' is over and wonders once again who he really is. Away from the curtain-calls and with the lights fading he still has to live his life and be true to himself - and he's still struggling to work out who he is. Unable to shrug off the feeling that he isn't truly happy in his 'real' life, Nash decides to leave and turn his back on the crowds - or at least the biggest crowds - even though the audience is still calling out for more. Nash can't bring himself to just take the applause anymore for something he wrote in yesteryear and when CSN are no longer the united front they once were. 'Sure the applause is pleasing' Nash sighs, but he can't bring himself to do it anymore. He also fears that if they carry on the way they are there won't be anyone to play for anyway and that everyone will have 'stopped believing'. However many of his friends 'follow fortune', for Graham the music has 'died'. The problem is, what he can do to fill that space now that it's gone? Nash has become so hooked on applause for his ego he struggles to leave it behind and fears what he will do to fill the empty spaces - but has to do it anyway, imagining in typical Nash style one last applauding crowd on their feet as he bids goodbye to CSN and a very major part of his life. It's still a sad way to say goodbye, but somehow that last round of applause an acceptance that CSN did do some great things, once upon a time, makes this a worthy end: the Beatles' 'Abbey Road' medley, Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and Otis Redding's 'Dock Of The Bay' rolled into one. What can I say but...'encore' (please?)
'This Path Tonight' then is a bitter pill for CSNY fans to swallow. It's the end of everything we've come to believe in and the first time that any of the members have declared the band over since Neil Young's Crosby-pitying 'Hippie Dream' in 1986, no matter how many times the band have tried to say goodbye or blown off steam before. For Nash, at least, it's time to unravel the sails of the wooden ships, walk off the Marrakesh Express and finally embrace a split that was a long time coming, no longer to carry on, with no more wild tales and no more CSNY songs before he goes. In retrospect Nash's hard work of the past decade releasing box sets dedicated to all three CSN solo members and the 'CSNY Live '74' set seems like a final goodbye, Nash getting his conscience clear as he prepares to bid goodbye to a band who have been so much a part of his life but which haven't made any new music in the studio in a three or four-way partnership in seventeen years now. I'd love to think that CSNY had another great album in them and could end on a high, but 'This Path Tonight' really does feel like an epitaph from the one man who could possibly declare the end of the group after so many years of keeping it together, their biggest cheerleader (just as The Beatles only ended when Paul McCartney walked out, not the eighteen times John Lennon did). With so much resting on its shoulders 'This Path Tonight' could easily have become crushed but instead it feels like the best and most honest work Nash has made in years as he painfully, tearfully, sadly walks away from two of the biggest things in his life to walk down a lonely twisted path to see what journeys lie ahead next before he dies. You can question the way Nash has done this, leaving his wife after thirty-eight years and taking up with a new partner and only announcing to us now how much aggro David Crosby has been giving him without giving the world a chance to see what was actually said (Croz is keeping a rare dignified silence at the moment, or at least trying to). But you can't question this album's emotional honesty and power as Nash tries hard to move on to one last great adventure in his life. Even if the path leads nowhere else, though 'This Path Tonight' is musically at least an avenue well worth exploring, a moving album from a man going through difficult times. Rest in peace and love and music CSNY, we loved you with all our hearts - what a shame it seems there never was the happy ending we've all been longing for since 1970.