Monday, 18 December 2017

Belle and Sebastian Essay: Talking 'Bout My Generation Plus Updates




Available To Buy Now: 'Rollercoaster Ride' - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To Belle and Sebastian By Clicking Here







Dear reader, here as promised is part three of our 'essays' series. 
Assuming Neil doesn't suddenly release his fourth album of the year (!) we will be taking a break next week for our Christmas issue and our annual review of the year and then now that our reviews are over we will be back full time for the new year starting with our Buffalo Springfield review...

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Most of the people who have been kind enough to spend some time chatting to me since starting this writing project ten years ago have a moment when they go 'hang on, how old are you exactly?!' Being a ghostly online presence (not unlike Belle and Sebastian's early days) means that I could be anything or anybody and I'm a bit loathe to break people's ideas of what I am (the reality's boring and so am I!) To most people I surely come across as some grizzled old veteran looking on modern music (especially The Spice Girls) with distaste while banging on about the good old days and throwing things at the telly. Somebody once asked me, in all innocence, whether I was having fun writing this in my 'retirement' (to be fair my I.T. skills doesn't exactly scream hip and trendy either). Notwithstanding the fact that I am indeed fairly grizzled and have been known to throw things at the telly (especially when The Spice Girls and/or conservative politicians are on) I am, in fact, much younger than most of my music choices would suggest.

Not only am I a lot more juvenile than a majority of the bands I cover like The Rolling Stones (well, to be fair, who isn't?!) and The Beatles, I am also a little bit younger than the most modern bands in this series: Belle and Sebastian and Oasis. Strictly speaking even these bands are a few years before my time but compared to most of the groups I cover a few years is nothing so, hey, they're 'mine'. Most people are surprised at this, a few are horrified and only a handful have taken it in their stride. One or two have even seen it as the start of an argument: 'These songs weren't written for you - what right do you have to write about them?' Well, first of all I'm a firm believer in the idea that music is written for everyone it moves, regardless of age, race, space or time. Our 'conclusions' in our books even make the point that the music will never truly die as long as humans still have ears to hear them with. But secondly being an 'outsider' gives me a chance to see things that people who grew up at the time, only perhaps knowing a part of the story of what an artist will go on to make, can't see. I can see (or think I see) generational patterns, as the energy and youthfulness of the early 1960s gives away to deep thought and seriousness at wanting to change the world in the middle of the decade, despair when it doesn't happen and a split between hippies and punks who both want to save the world and destroy it. Spiritually I'll always feel part of 'this' 1960s-1970s generation (whether they want me or not is a moot point), which is why I write about it so much, but the fact remains that, physically, I'm an outsider and not part of 'this' generation at all. Plus of course music in 'my' day was largely rubbish - there's no way, even with all the peer group pressure in the world, I'm going to waste my precious ears listening to boy and girl bands when I could be listening to real grown-ups singing about real life from fifty odd years ago (in retrospect I can see exactly why people assume I'm a grizzled 60/70 something!)

I would like to think that I 'get' the music as well as anyone, that I've immersed myself in enough culture from the period to 'get' all the references (it helps that 1960s TV was a lot better than it is nowadays too) and I'll match anyone the 'right' age sob for sob for how much this music means to them. However, I will always be that tiny aspect removed because though I've felt it and thought it and learnt it and experienced the ripples of it, I haven't lived it. The last time we appeared to be likely to die in a cold war nuclear explosion I was six, while most of my heroes were in old age before I was born. When Roger Daltrey snarls his way through 'Talking 'bout my generation' I feel the thrill, I love the lyrics, I so agree with the philosophy and I'll gladly listen to it all day long (and have!), but he's not singing about me or my generation. Goodness knows I want him to be singing about my generation, I long for my era to care as much as 'his' generation do, to be that full of ambition and determination to put things 'right' and fight for a better tomorrow - but I'm cursed by the fact that, even from the first time I heard that song, I knew it wasn't 'true' - that the problems of the past didn't all f-f-f-fade away and there probably won't be another 1960s hope and love until enough people begin to think it's worth trying again. Sadly I'm not sure if that will happen in my lifetime (though if this era's music has taught me anything it's the importance of 'having hope').

However one band, maybe two, do talk about 'my generation': Belle and Sebastian and (to some extent and briefly) Oasis (before they realised, perhaps, that the energy of 'our' generation all gathered together was 'dangerous' and we coped better in small groups). The problem 'my' generation has, caught between the empty digital pop fodder of the 1980s and the largely equally empty digital dance/sampling fodder of the 21st century so far, is what to make of that brief bit of time in the 1990s when music was being made on actual real-life instruments for real-life people about real life problems, rather than glorifying and sanctifying pop stars who only think they're being 'new' and 'bold' because they don't know enough musical history to realise someone did their thing before them (usually better; more often than not a member of The Beatles). Is it a whole new era on its own, a 'Generation Y' to be laid alongside the greats of the past, the 'Generation X'? (We're in 'Generation Z' now apparently. Where do go next by the way? Generation AAA'?!?) Or was it just an inevitable echo, the way the 1980s took most of their ideas from the 1950s and the way the current music scene has a distinctly 1970s flavour? Sadly it's a little too early to tell and it won't be me writing those books about the Britpop years and beyond because we don't have the perspective yet, but my successors (poor chaps).

What I do know is that no other band captures what living through this often confusing period felt like and still feels like as well as Belle and Sebastian. Though Oasis tried to bring back the confidence and swagger, along with the wave of Britpop that followed, for the most part what 'my' generation (and a little bit before us) feel is confusion - that confidence is just a smokescreen. The 1960s dream didn't 'work': we aren't surrounded by hippies and we still lead 9-5 jobs, while wars break out every five minutes - more now, probably, given that trump is American president. But equally it's clear that the 1980s nightmare really didn't 'work': pitching people against each other in a dog-eat-dog culture and a never-ending arms race was always going to end in tears and mass divisions, even though luckily we didn't quite blow each other up and just threw ideologies and threats at each other instead. To be an 'intellectual' in the 1960s was a great thing to be: you were encouraged to think up solutions, see outside the 'box' and come to stand up to injustice several centuries old with a sense of the righteous youthful new, thanks to a combination of genuinely inspiring and creative musicians and a feeling, after childhoods spent in World War Two, that this all has to end now. To be an intellectual in the 1990s and 2000s is to be miserable: you can see the solutions (sometimes), you can shake up your tiny bit of the world (sometimes) but there's just too much sadness and greed, an even bigger sense of inequality economically socially and politically, with too many big things to overthrow that are too entrenched after several extra years in power. There's also an underlying sense of disappointment that if the 1960s kids couldn't break down the system completely then we've had it - we're outnumbered so badly by the baby boomers now in power and far more fragmented. Even a 1960s team effort only made parts of the world a better place for some - we're too disunited and cornered, split over whether to attack or help, to grab or provide, to be kind or be cowardly. So we do it all, over and over, eating our own tails.

Don't get me wrong: the spirit is there - I've seen it firsthand even at school rallies to get Thatcher out (well worth that detention I tell you!), multiple anti Iraq war protests, a surge of support for 'our' heroes every bit as passionate as that for JFK, Che Guevara and Martin Luther King  and in actual fact more people gather to protest something, anything, year upon year than ever happened in the past. The desire isn't the problem - it's the unity.  The difficulty is we're isolated pockets of protest who don't have the 'voice' of a media determined to silence us or the belief that what we're doing will 'work' one day, the way the 1960s generation did.  The 1960s changed so many things for better, but not everything and we're living in the middle of their results and seeing how some things are better (better gender and race equality, though far from perfect and a little bit more peace) and some things are worse (more drugs and a lot more dysfunctional broken families; Murdoch has the perfect line here too in [9] 'I Could Be Dreaming: 'A family's like a loaded gun; point it in the wrong direction and someone's going to get killed'. Great, we're a generation that has to walk on eggshells too as well as struggling in the wider world; it's notable, too, that the closest thing to a 'love song' or fully working relationship in the whole B and S canon is either between a human and God  - [142] 'Read The Blessed Pages' - or an arranged marriage to save deportation on [2] 'The State I Am In'. With this band even the traditional sources of love and support come a cropper). We're caught between wanting to push things through further and hitting up against brick walls quicker than our elders ever did. Plus many of this generation are our parents and hey, what's more thrilling to most teenagers - rebelling against a long established world order or your parents who tried to tear it down brick by brick? (If it riles your parents working 9-5 making money and wearing a suit that's most likely what you're going to do!) It's the next generation, the Z-ers, who give me the most hope if they take from their grandparents rather than their parents ('us!') and finish the job properly, but as there's even less of them around and a far smaller chance for them of ever getting a job post-credit-crunch I fear we might be in for a long wait.

Anyway, back to 'my' generation. The reason our music became so fractured (grunge, rock, pop, dance, rap and a surprise traditional county revival I really wasn't expecting) is because we were so fractured. Some of us carried on the hippie way of life, others buckled down to work, others embraced the 'dark side' of greed and power: all of thought we were 'right' but none of us got far enough to actually 'prove' it. That's why you see such a mingling of styles across the 1990s too: 1950s escapism mingling with 1960s hope and love, a 1970s demand for 'heroes' and 1980s I'm-alright-Jack impersonality. The bright new world promised by digital synths in the 1980s was no longer the 'future' and anyway was too cold and heartless for what we wanted to 'say' once the world moved on from thoughts of greed and power. But there were no great new inventions in the 1990s (rap and dance and grunge were all 1980s babies formed in protest at pop synths), no new ideas and no great drive forward. Naturally, being the babies of the last two decades of a century packed full of change, we looked backwards - but no one could decide what bit of the 'past' to borrow. Some bands nicked bits of the 1960s and ignored the more recent 1980s (Oasis for the most part and all their copycats, plus the under-rated Marillion who pretended every movement since 1968 simply hadn't happened), while others pretended it was still the 1980s and continued to grow their hair in mullets and ponytails.

The best bands, like Belle and Sebastian, embraced it all. Their records, especially the early ones, are like a sampler of everything that came before it for visiting aliens after a crash course in 20th century music: Merseybeat catchiness, folk lyricism, psychedelic peace, 1970s poetic prog, an occasional burst of punk aggression and1980s synths and songs that sound 'different' to what they're trying to tell us. In short, Belle and Sebastian used more ingredients to cook up their music than maybe any other band in history. What's more, they knew their stuff too. I think I know a lot about music but Stevie Jackson probably knows more about the 1960s than I do, growing up on a similar diet of 1960s music in a 1980s that sounded diametrically opposed to it (many of his solo songs play on this idea, his playground naive innocent who still thought The Beatles were more hip and happening than any pop trend also a dead ringer for me). Isobel Campbell thought the same but chose hipper, more cultish acts to adore. Stuart Murdoch loved the 1980s new wave acts with a passion. Stuart David loved the avant garde weird stuff that came in and out of fashion. Some of the band were even into classical music. That's a lot of styles and many a band have come a cropper with similar ideas of uniting everything, but Murdoch's (and to some extent the others') writing voice is strong enough and original and of its time enough to hold everything together.

Because he is writing about 'us'. No question, he's the first writer I've really heard writing about my generation in all our muddled, proud, lonely, confused glory. While Oasis had everybody down the pub for a singsong and The Spice Girls appealed to empty-headed pop lovers who didn't really listen to the lyrics but wanted to look like the twits on the front cover, Belle and Sebastian were writing about the common 1990s character of the mis-understood loner, usually being taken advantage of by someone in authority (most of these characters are still at school after all). Though the dating gets a bit weird (Stuart's m.e. left his main memories and inspirations for music back in his 1980s schooldays, something that lasted for quite a while through the bands' songs of the1990s), by and large we're the youngsters getting picked on, every generation above us telling us we're too unruly, too well-behaved, too thick, too clever, too rebellious, too conformist, too greedy and ambitious, too laidback and uncaring to live up to past glories, depending who exactly is talking to us and when.

I've watched people dismiss my generation as a 'bunch of hooligans' while watching the news about how so many people have outscored past years in exams they're having to re-set the pass rate and how they help elderly ladies cross the road; I've also seen my generation praised for their tolerance over such once up-in-the-air issues as race and gender politics after becoming arguably the first to live with equality in most things as being 'normal'. But equality isn't here yet: I've also seen a far scarier rise of gender and racial issues which can't be explained away by ignorance of the fact that 'everybody thinks like that'. Some make out that 'our' generation are a bunch of cowards, hiding behind political correctness and twitter 'block' buttons. But we have more to be scared of than ever before and we fight with more to lose, given our lack of job security which no previous generation faced until at least middle age; plus the threat to our world isn't a world war that kills only soldiers or an atomic bomb that kills everybody but sporadic terrorist threats that could strike anywhere at anytime. Our generation (especially the bit just below 'us') grew up in a world where nothing was safe or taken for granted and death could come at anytime. Most of our generation came to 'power' just as the credit crunch took the hope of career and future away from us, leaving us further divided as we fought between each other for the crumbs. Our generation are disillusioned with both sides of politics, not just one, caught between (at least in the UK) a party who lies about wars for greed and power and a party that lies about how many savings they're going to make and when for more greed and power than anyone could possibly ever need, without any hope of a 'saviour' (because even if we get one, like Jeremy Corbyn, the establishment are established enough now to kill them off from the start). Even 'our' Beatles, Oasis, could only get so big before shattering in a haze of self-indulgence and uncertainty over what to do with all that power, music fans enough to know how the story was likely to end (something The Beatles never had to face given everything was 'new'). Our generation were smaller to begin with compared to our bigger-sized generations (yes there are more people on the planet now but less babies being born, especially in our era) and we seem to be dying out quicker, with a much faster rate of suicide and premature illness. We're not a healthy bunch with a great future ahead of us - we are the permanently worried, largely powerless generation, to the 1940s survivors, the 1960s' young hopefuls and the 1970s-80s kareer kids. None of these generations ever had it easy - and I'd never swap living through what I went through to cope with a war, even one that led to greater equality in many areas - but living through our generation, when progress has largely stagnated sucks: all the good fights have been won, all the visible progress has been made and the momentum is with our 'enemies'. There's no heroes, only villains and little justice or hope, only the same old lies on repeat. Oh, the state we're in.

That's why Belle and Sebastian are 'our' band, over and above all the others. More than any other writer Stuart Murdoch manages to conjure up a sense of all the above (or at least he does to my ears), managing to be everything. He combines not only the 1960s through to the 1980s influences but also a combination of Lennon and McCartney working practices. The songs in this book are nearly all lyrically driven bursts of emotion and anger, wrapped up in golden melodic nuggets that diffuse all that hurt and longing with beauty. These characters hurt the way we're hurting, ignored by teachers looking up 'our' skirts, dismissed by people as attention-seeking when we're exploring 'our' sexuality (there's a lot of confusion about that going on - Murdoch surprised many fans when he got married a couple of years ago after decades of slipping in songs about gay and lesbian characters into his songs) or simply being bullied for talking a bit posh in a world where being clever and standing out from being 'common insignificant scum' gets us punched (ours is a generation where, more than ever before, you're not supposed to feel 'special', which funnily enough is exactly what Belle and Sebastian make 'us' feel most of the time, giving us an attention we never get in 'real' life). We are out of practice, we're out of sight, on the edge of nobody's empire.

Belle and Sebastian's characters almost always suffer and never have it easy - but they're not passive, helpless victims either and actively hope and dream and long for better futures. Sometimes Murdoch's characters manage to find a way out of their situation: [3] String Bean Jean finds a way past her problems with anorexia, [27] Photo Jenny finds escapism back home away from her peer group and [98] Lord Anthony will one day pass enough exams to 'raise two fingers' to the people who thought he would amount to nothing. Enough characters 'lose' though for this to be more than just lazy unrealistic writing and for every hero there's a sacrificial victim: [24] Lazy Line Painter Jane tries to get attention by falling pregnant, only to give birth alone and friendless on a bus, [25] 'You Made Me Forget My Dreams' sees a frustrated lover so distraught at being unable to communicate turning to murder and poor Lisa ends up 'losing it' (on [5]) as disaster after disaster hits her throughout the day. [12] 'I Don't Love Anyone' tries to reject everything that came before, full of glamour and tinsel, even 'Christmas' and especially the narrator's dysfunctional family, but it's still searching for something to replace the gaps with and can't find it. These are 'my' people as I see so many of my intelligent, hard-working, committed, right-minded friends and peers, now silenced in dead-end jobs or no job at all despite their many talents - sure that something better is out there but not able to agree as a generation on what that something is.

Still, though, Murdoch's characters dream of a future away from being trapped, even when the odds are against them. [9] 'I Could Be Dreaming' has the most Belle and Sebastian line ev-uh, combining local glumness with generational angst, when the narrator looks at the huge sea of steps to the town hall that feels another world away and imagines all the people who aren't represented there but want to be, that 'for every step there is a local boy who wants to be a hero'. Even commitment and hard work, the usual solutions for most songwriters, don't work in the Belle and Sebastian universe, a legacy perhaps of the illness Murdoch caught when he was working too hard. There are no less than three songs about the [70] 'loneliness of being a distance runner', the other two being [18] 'Fox In The Snow' worrying about the runner's health when the narrator wonders why they push themselves so hard for no reward and [33] 'It Could Have Been A Different Career', sympathising when the athlete over-extends himself and ends up with a stroke. The only way we can get ahead is luck of the draw, of being in the right place at the right time - because to Murdoch we are all talented and 'special' and deserve a better world than the one we got lumbered with. We aren't the 'lucky' generation of the 1960s whose path was lit by The Beatles or the ambitious kids of the 1980s who made pots of money when they could to brighten their later days, or even the current generation who can be 'discovered' through reality TV if they wish to despite often having no talent whatsoever; instead we're the losers in the school playground of life, picked on by other generations without the power to fight back or the organisation to work out how to begin fighting people bigger than ourselves.

While other bands of this era tried to pretend that I'm an idiot who'll buy any old pop record and not care about anyone except myself (who mentioned 'The Spice Girls'?!) Murdoch 'gets' our generation, our stifled intellectualism and our desperate need to better ourselves even though it only makes our situation worse and the people in charge will only say that exams were much easier in their day, even when we pass all of them. We don't want to be patronised or told it's gonna be alright when we know it probably won't, we just want someone to understand our pain and our frustration when we try to be 'discovered for our art' and get told to get a 'proper' job and leave art to artier generations. Murdoch knows  this because he stayed for years in bed listening to the stories of what his friends were going through in the scary outside world, convinced that would be his fate next too on the unlucky chance he got better, tracing threads back to when things went wrong for all the smart, happy, confident kids he used to know. He was 'trapped' in bed, but the awful contradiction was that he knew from his peers that there was precious little to get out of bed for and that most people he knew felt 'trapped' too. His 'God Help The Girl' film is about the very moment when hopes and dreams became disappointments, set in a bands' late teens as they set out to try to change the world but find in a fragmented, uncertain universe that they can barely help themselves and are forced to change in order to get by - a metaphor for my poor generation if ever there was one. There may be other writers I love just as much, who speak to my soul in a way no one else does (Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, most of The Beach Boys and Beatles, all of CSN), but no other writer 'gets' my particular generation this well I don't think.

However, something changed a few years ago in Murdoch's writing which still gives me hope (quite possibly the marriage and children he'd given up all hope of in his early 40s). You haven't got there yet in the book so I won't spoil it too much, but there's a moment on 2015 album 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' where Stuart tries to write his 'normal' type of character, alienated from her peers and reading Sylvia Plath poems to feel less alone. She's a clear parallel for every confused school kid (usually female) he's ever written for down the years - bright and bubbly, made out to feel stupid and rejected, forced to become withdrawn and hardened. Suddenly, halfway through the song, after doing his usual sympathising and comforting and understanding, Murdoch actually blesses his character (a side effect from his growing belief in Christianity) and sends her his 'faith' of a better future because he suddenly realises he has enough faith himself this many years into the band's career to spare to give to the rest of us, that as Belle and Sebastian gave him faith so he gives that faith over to 'us'. I'd like to think that it's not only this one character who suddenly gets the gift of 'faith' but in retrospect all the String Bean Jeans, Lisas, Painter Janes and Lord Anthonys and maybe that we listeners too are blessed with Murdoch's faith that better days may come, that we will be hushed victims no more. For Belle and Sebastian don't just represent the 'worst' of us, struggling to lead normal lives in a most un-normal world, but the best of us too as they see our strength, our tenacity and our refusal to give in. We're the generation that everyone has dismissed, but that only makes our fight stronger. Murdoch, you sense, somewhere deep inside, believes in miracles despite being as realistic a writer as any out there, having experienced one himself when he bucked the dead-end misery of illness and unemployment to find a musical future he wasn't expecting to find on a jobcentre course of all things. Throughout Belle and Sebastian's catalogue there's an unspoken rule, too, that we might get our own miracle one day if we can only last long enough; [156] 'Ever Had A Little Faith?' asks a recent song, telling us to put our headphones on and drown out the world and find ourselves. Maybe we do have that faith, at last. Now Murdoch clearly didn't write these songs just for 'us' any more than The Beatles only believed that only their particular age group really needed love (and anyway music is the one true universal language, without borders or boundaries), but a band will always write about what they know first and foremost and for once our generation are first in the queue here.

What's more, Belle and Sebastian were presented like a band of our generation should be, long before most mainstream acts caught onto the idea. They grew via word of mouth and a limited edition internet release, back in the days when most people (me included) didn't know what the heck the internet was. Their career exists, or at least did for the first seven years, not because of a 1960s explosion or a 1980s mega publicity campaign but through humble word of mouth, their following growing little bit by little bit all the time. They even started, perfectly for my generation, on that jobcentre course where they were ignored for most of it and made a band more because they had nothing else going for them than through any great realistic ambition or hope, the way The Beatles and comrades did. Like a lot of us, Belle and Sebastian remained unseen for most of their career, only really starting to play gigs in earnest from 1998 onwards and even then mostly sticking to town halls and local venues, while that year also marked the first time any of them appeared on their own packaging (and even then tinted a lurid shade of green). To this day most of the people who appear on the band's albums are friends of the group, not band-members or models, eager to join in the idea of Belle and Sebastian as an extended 'family' made up of all of us. The albums come without writing credits to the extent that only on a 1999 re-release of internet debut 'Tigermilk' did we learn what the names of the band even were. Things changed when the band left smaller label Jeepster to get on Rough Trade records - they were also one of the last groups to appear on Top Of The Pops and even started doing interviews as well as featuring a much more marketable, commercial sound. But they remain true to their roots as 'our band', 'playing' at being just another modern rock band while still singing eccentric songs about eccentric characters who could be 'other' members of 'our' extended family in all our unlikely, befuddled, passionate glory. They've become big not through being talked about but simply through being loved, as each fan who discovers them passes on their records anew to our mates and so on. They slipped through the cracks of power, uncompromised (largely) by record label capitalist interference and defied their miserable start full of illness and unemployment to become one of the most loved bands that ever was (and this is a band who truly inspire love in their devotees, the way the best bands do, even if there still aren't quite enough of us to match past movements yet; we fans are currently split between wanting to see them enjoy the success they deserve and wanting to keep them a special secret just for ourselves; my love of passing on good music to good people has 'won' though, hence this book. Hence, too, the sheer amount of online fans who voted them the 'Brit Newcomers' in 1998, despite the fact that almost no one - again me included - had even heard of them at the time and they, umm, started in 1995). That, I think, is a lesson for my generation: we might not get there en masse the way the 1960s kids did and we certainly won't make the money and fame and fortune the way the 1980s kids, but I'm ok with that - as long as a few of us trickle through to 'make' it for all the right reasons to inspire the others and 'make things pretty if we can' and we never have to stop being ourselves, that's good enough for me. Maybe by the time we get there the world will start turning again and Belle and Sebastian will yet be the world's biggest band, instead of the greatest group most people have never heard of, but then this was a band that was never after fame, fortune, glory or influence and yet used it wisely and kindly when they got it. Maybe it's not too late for 'us' to do the same. We are the ones who will never realise that it doesn't pay to be smarter than teachers, smarter than most boys. Even though we know the world was made for men - and not us!




"Live 2015"
(Concert Live, May 2015)
Intro/Nobody's Empire/I'm A Cuckoo/The Party Line/Dirty Dream Number Two/If She Wants Me/I Want The World To Stop/Perfect Couples/Lord Anthony/If You're Feeling Sinister/The Power Of Three/Electronic Renaissance/Dear Catastrophe Waitress/If You Find Yourself Caught In Love/The Boy With The Arab Strap/Legal Man/Sleep The Clock Around/Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying!/Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie
"I want to write a message to you every night at ten o'clock in the evening"
Returning to their 'roots' as an internet band, Belle and Sebastian streamed this homecoming concert from the Glasgow Hydro arena to their fans for a price, with a limited edition format on CD (the first 100 signed by the band members - the show went on 'proper' sale with shops and everything only in Japan). It's kind of the third 'nearly' live B and S CD after the extra disc on copies of 'Live At The BBC' and the complete live recording of 'If You're Feeling Sinister'. It's also by far the best: after twenty years of treating the live show as an inconvenient part of record-making Belle and Sebastian have somehow transformed themselves into a tight, disciplined yet still tremendously exciting live act and 2015, from what I've heard, appears to have been their best tour so far. The 'Girls In Peacetime' songs fit well with the live arena, the 'Write About Love' songs sound better without all the productions and the dip into the bag of oldies has some really fascinating moments such as a fifteen year old [60] 'Legal Man' just at the point when we were accepting we were never going to hear it live and a passionate performance of [98] 'Lord Anthony', perhaps the single least likely B and S song to play on the stage given it's tricky chord changes and orchestral backing! The moments of speech - some typically tongue-in-cheek humour about the 'history' of the band and the amount of 'T-shirts' on sale, pall compared to the songs but even these reveal the anarchic spirit of Belle and Sebastian is in good health. Even if nothing is quite a substitute for the studio albums and there are no really big risks taken across the show, this is a worthy souvenir from a band who've finally got really good at this live business after twenty years of practice.  Who'd have guessed that after the ramshackle gigs of the first years together?

Non-Album Recordings Part #12: 2015:
A) The limited edition double-vinyl set of 'Girls In Peacetime' came with four extra tracks - oddly dropped in at random with the original running order jumbled up too - and none of which were up to the album 'proper' but which are nice to have and if nothing else make a lot more sense of that curious title. The first of these is [161] 'Born To Act', which has a typically strong Murdoch female character dancing, in peacetime. The backing is odd - it's much more muscly and a lot more 1970s than the usual B and S fare and sounds more like it belongs on 'The Life Pursuit' with Stuart almost shouting his lyric, just as if he's back at the 'Party Line' disco again. He knows he can't compete with the beauty he sees but he's locked eye-contact with her and is trying to act cool while secretly praying she doesn't simply get up and leave before he's overcome his shyness enough to talk to her. The overall feeling is a bit disjointed and not B and S like enough, but there are still some witty couplets, such as the classic 'Play a wonderful song to me and it's better than a date!' and where the girl singing on the record becomes 'my lover surrogate'! Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
B) 'Two Birds' sounds even less like the band, with a strangely 1980s synth-fest kept under control only by a typically B and S guitar riff. The lyrics return to school at first, with two birds flying the nest of full-time education while the boy 'Stuart' bird tries to pluck up the confidence (and feathers?) to ask girl bird 'Sarah' out. Stuart really wants to risk it all though because in a very B and S couplet 'life is short - and then you sleep'. The song switches moods halfway through though, becoming a sort-of-sequel to [153] 'The Cat With The Cream' in which Stuart complains that the world's priorities are wrong: 'We never give money to the people that are broke!' he urges and points towards the media's refusal to pay attention to the real people. 'There are people gathering in the square, they've had enough!' he cries before turning on bankers, saying that he hoped once the credit crunch would lead to real change but instead the hole in the tough of money has been plugged up with the savings of others. It's a highly impressive charge of emotion which you wish had been left to stay on its own two feet instead of the song clumsily linking the two disparate parts back together again with 'two birds' choosing to either cut their nest in half or invest twigs elsewhere thanks to belief in the people - guess which bird ends up feathering their nest with more greed? A better tune and a bit more humanity about the performance and this could have been another strong tune for B and S' most political album.  Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
C) 'Piggy In The Middle' is odd in quite a different way. Over a sultry, slowed down dance backing Stuart complains that he's alone when he thought a relationship was going places, finding himself caught in a love triangle. Oddly, Stuart's solution lies in mathematics, drawing new shapes around his relationship as he uses equations to make his girl become the one in the 'middle' instead. Later verses have Stuart wishing that he could escape 'to 1986' when Stuart was eighteen (halfway between the two dates mentioned in [2] 'The State I Am In') and remembering another time when he got dumped on a dance floor. Oddly, though, the mood isn't sad as it would be on most other B and S songs - instead it's sexy, as if Stuart is belatedly trying to chat up his long-since-gone lover anyway and bordering on angry at times with this song full of short, clipped sentences most unlike Murdoch's usual writing style. The overall recording works rather well, however, thanks to a storming production and excellent performances all round. Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
D) 'A Politician's Silence' is the most recognisably B and S song of the four, with a whispered vocal and a bed of strings taking us right back in time. Unfortunately, while the title suggests another political diatribe, this is another minor key Belle and Sebastian romance gone wrong and may be another reference to Isobel. 'I want you for a lover' Stuart declares but all the signs are bad: the trees are dying, the wind is building and chaos is everywhere. The only thing that feels 'safe' is when he runs up to his and his partner's old 'bolthole' where he peers through the window and sees her in the warm, 'absorbing life's stories' by the fire, a 'comfort blanket' that makes life better even though he can only feel her presence from a distance. This song feels out of kilter with the rest of this period, which is about new beginnings and opportunities, but would have slotted in well on 'Write About Love' or indeed most of the past love stories in song (it makes for a worthy finale to this book in other words). Stuart and Sarah's ghostly vocals and the repetitive lyric, which doesn't stop for a breather or even a chorus, makes this hard going though and not quite as memorable as past songs on the same subject. Find it on: the limited edition double vinyl version of 'Girls In Peacetime Just Want To Dance' (2015)
"The Jeepster Singles Collection"

(Jeepster, October 2016)
Dog On Wheels EP: Dog On Wheels/The State I Am In (Demo)/String Bean Jean/Belle and Sebastian
Lazy Line Painter Jane EP: Lazy Line Painter Jane/You Made Me Forget My Dreams/A Century Of Elvis/Photo Jenny
3...6...9...Seconds Of Light EP: A Century Of Fakers/Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie/Beautiful/Put The Book Back On The Shelf (unlisted: Songs For Children)
This Is Just A Modern Rock Song EP: This Is Just A Modern Rock Song/I Know Where The Summer Goes/The Gate/Slow Graffiti
Legal Man EP: Legal Man/Judy Is A Dick Slap/Winter Wooskie/Judy Is A Dick Slap (Re-Mix)
Jonathan David EP: Jonathan David/Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It/The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner
I'm Waking Up To Us EP: I'm Waking Up To Us/I Love My Car/Marx and Engels
"I love my Dog (on wheels), my 3,6,9 seconds of light and my modern rock songs, I can even find it in my heart to listen to Judy Is A Dickslap again"
If you own the fine if weirdly named set 'Push Barman To Heal Old Wounds' set from 2005 then you don't really need this one - there's nothing new except a rather dull re-mix of the weakest song  [61] 'Judy Is A Dickslap', the videos already featured in the 'For Fans Only' DVD and a bit of fancy packaging. Certainly the £95 price-tag seems a bit high for stuff fans have already got, although as it is a limited edition rather than a mainstream money-grabber I'll let the band off. If you don't own any of these seven charming EPs from 1995-2001, though, you're in for a treat as Belle and Sebastian have rarely sounded better, especially on vinyl. Starting right back at the beginning with the first ever recording (a tentative demo of the superb [2a] 'The State I Am In' and the rather hopeful [4] 'Belle and Sebastian On The Radio' back when the band were still students) and on to the end of the Jeepster days (with Stuart Murdoch's scathing farewell to singer Isobel Campbell he's been courting all this time on [71] 'I'm Waking Up To Us' - 'we're a disaster!') this reflects the first and most interesting portion of B and S' career as talented indie wannabes doing what they want even if it turns out a mess and a far cry from the slightly less soulful commercial band of the 21st century. No one can write a lyric like Murdoch or set it to music that pulls at your heart-strings quite so movingly and there are some of the best songs ever written here, from the pregnant teen having a nervous breakdown on the back of a bus on [24] 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' to the spot-on observation of the [28] '20th Century Of Fakers' to the band's most convincing and breathless rocker [29] 'Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie' to the most gorgeous-sounding evil song ever written [25] 'You Made Me Forget My Dreams' and the indescribable monologue [26] 'A Century Of Elvis'. Superb even at the high price.


The complete (till they flipping release a new one!) collection of Belle and Sebastian articles from this website:


A Now Complete Link Of Belle and Sebastian Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:
‘Fold Your Hands, Child, You Walk Like A Peasant’ (2001) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/belle-and-sebastian-fold-your-hands.html
'Storytelling' (2002) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2017/02/belle-and-sebastian-storytelling-2002.html

'Push Barman To Open Old Wounds' (EP compilation 2003)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-100-belle-and-sebastian-push.html

'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' (2004)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/news-views-and-music-issue-139-belle.html
'The Life Pursuit' (2006) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-life-pursuit-2006.html

'Write About Love' (2010)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/news-views-and-music-issue-86-belle-and.html
'God Help The Girl' (Stuart Murdoch Film) (2014) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/belle-and-sebastianstuart-murdoch-god.html
Girls In Peace Time Just Want To Dance (2015) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/belle-and-sebastian-girls-in-peacetime.html

Belle and Sebastian: Existing TV Clips http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-existing-tv-clips.html
Belle and Sebastian: 12 Unreleased Songs http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-12-unreleased-songs.html
Belle and Sebastian: Non-Album Songs http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/belle-and-sebastian-non-album_29.html
Belle and Sebastian: Solo/Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/belle-and-sebastian-assorted.html
Essay: B and S Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/belle-and-sebastian-essay-talking-bout.html
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/belle-and-sebastian-five-landmark.html






Neil Young: Live/Compilation/Archive/Crazy Horse Albums Part Two 1977-2016




"Decade"

(Warner Brothers, October 1977)

Down To The Wire* (Buffalo Springfield)/Burned (Buffalo Springfield)/Mr Soul (Buffalo Springfield)/Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield)/Expecting To Fly (Buffalo Springfield)/Sugar Mountain//I Am A Child (Buffalo Springfield)/The Loner/The Old Laughing Lady/Cinnamon Girl/Down By The River//Cowgirl In The Sand/I Believe In You/After The Gold Rush/Southern Man/Helpless (CSNY)//Ohio (CSNY)/Soldier/Old Man/A Man Needs A Maid/Harvest/Heart Of Gold/A Star Of Bethlehem//The Needle and the Damage Done/Tonight's The Night (Part One)/Tired Eyes/Walk On/For The Turnstiles/Winterlong*/Deep Forbidden Lake*//Like A Hurricane (Alternate Vocal)/Love Is A Rose*/Cortez The Killer/Campaigner*/Long May You Run (CSNY) (Unreleased Mix)
* = Previously Unreleased Recording

"There you stood on the edge of your feather, expecting to fly..."

Every artist had best-ofs released in the 1970s, big or small or indifferent, as back in the day vinyl tended to wear out (especially on 45 rpm singles) and there were so many albums around they all went off-catalogue relatively quickly. Neil was never going to do things the normal way and when he learnt Reprise wanted to release a collection of his own works he got involved, setting the track listing, throwing in some unreleased songs from his own tape vaults (this is when we began to hear the famous words 'one day there'll be a box set named 'Archives'...', something which won't happen until 2009) and writing his own esoteric sleevenotes. Somehow, it works. Despite the fact that, even before the genre-hopping Geffen days, no two Neil Young albums sounded anything alike and the fact that this set also contains works by Buffalo Springfield and CSNY who sound nothing like Neil as a solo act, this triple album set is full of cohesion and much stronger than the sum of its parts, the way all good best-ofs should be. Neil isn't one of those artists who wants everyone to forget everything but the hits with Neil spending as much time in the 'ditch' as he did in the 'middle of the road' with nearly as many tracks from the 'Doom Trilogy' as mega-hits 'After The Goldrush' and 'Harvest' (though sadly there's nothing from 'Time Fades Away' here, not even career highlight 'Don't Be Denied'). Neil gives precious space over to no less than four lengthy guitar-based ten minute epics ('Down By The Roiver' 'Cowgirl In The Sand' 'Cortez The Killer' and 'Like A Hurricane' which between them last as long as your average 1970s compilation would anyway) plus lots of rarities such as B-side 'Sugar Mountain' and a full five unreleased songs, all of them up to the high standard of the rest of the set.

The set even starts with one (what other best-of has ever done that?) with the Springfield outtake 'Down To The Wire' the perfect place to start - energetic and catchy but also quirky and unusual; then towards the end we get a couple from 1974's 'Homegrown' with both 'Winterlong' and 'Deep Forbidden Lake' the perfect transition from the gloomy 'Doom Trilogy' years to the happier good time rock of 'Zuma' while 'Love Is A Rose' is a sweet song intended for 1977's 'Chrome Dreams' that's simple but sweet and 'Campaigner', a brand new song at the time, was Neil having second thoughts about damning Nixon to Hell on 'Ohio'. If ever a record covered Neil's extremes of thoughts successfully it's this one, taking in everything from heavy rock to folky Dylanesque ballads to sweet solo songs to the wake of 'Tonight's The Night'. There's a little bit of everything here, which makes 'decade' one of the most rounded and eclectic best-ofs out there, always delivering something different which each turn of the vinyl.

That said, this set isn't perfect. The running order is close to being chronological but isn't strictly so that for instance 1974's gloomy 'Star Of Bethlehem' takes place straight after the joyful abandon of 'Heart Of Gold' (where the two don't really fit) and we end unconvincingly on probably the set's weakest choice 'Long May You Run' (in an abandoned mix with full CSNY harmonies despite rumours Stills had slahed the master-tapes with a razor blade so they couldn't be released following a big fallout between the quartet!) though really we should be closing on either the gloom of 'Campaigner' or the delight of 'Hurricane' (depending on whether you're going by recording dates or release dates). There are several key songs missing too: as well as 'Don't Be Denied' it's a real shame that 'Ambulance Blues' 'World On A String' 'Dangerbird' and 'Will To Love' aren't here to name just five truly essential Young songs of the period, or 'Country Girl' so that Neil's CSNY works up to 1977 could have been collected together in one handy place. The packaging too is dreadful for such an important release - terribly ugly unlike the music which is mainly beautiful - and that isn't even Neil pictured on the front cover, hiding Jesus-like behind a guitar covered in travel stamps (at least they could have given the desert setting a Crazy Horse in the background?!)

Neil's sleevenotes however rescue even that. In handwriting as messy as most of the songs (and even messier than mine), Neil tells us little titbits about each of the songs - not enough to explain them, but enough to pique our interest. Many of these remain his most quotable sayings to this day (on 'Heart of Gold': 'This song put me in the middle of the road. Travelling there became a bore so I headed for the ditch', on 'Ohio': 'Perhaps the greatest lesson ever learned at an American place of learning') while others are better still (on his first vocal on 'Burned' : 'I was staying in a $12.50 a month apartment at the time and everybody on the floor liked it too!' or Cinnamon Girl: 'I wrote this for a city girl on Peeling Pavement coming at me through Phil Ochs eyes playing finger cymbals - it was hard to explain to my wife!' or 'I remember Crazy Horse the way Roy Orbison remembers Leah and Blue Bayou!' - Roy's songs were both about happier memories of bandmates left behind, tellingly, with Neil still in mourning for Danny Whitten across much of the set five years on). Young also remembers to whet our appetite with unreleased material, telling us 'Bethlehem' should have been on 'Homegrown' ('sort of a sequel to Harvest') and 'Hurricane' on 'Chrome Dreams'. For Neil, then, 'Decade' was a holding operation until Neil got around to releasing the near-complete and comprehensive box set he really wanted to make - for everyone else it was a reminder of just how many roads Neil had taken already in his career and how brave he was to have taken most of them at all. A fine compilation, for it's vintage rarely matched and never bettered and still the best place for any fan to start their collection (notably the single disc 'Greatest Hits' set only adds three songs despite all the years that have gone by since 1977). 

Crazy Horse "Crazy Moon"

(One Way, November 1978)

She's Hot/Going Down Again/Lost and Lonely Feelin'/Dancin' Lady/End Of The Line/New Orleans//Love Don't Come Easy/Downhill/Too Late Now/That Day/Thunder and Lightning

"Too deep to quit, gotta keep looking and searching for a way to be free again!"

Not a 'Harvest' Moon exactly, but for the Horse out in the fields of opportunity it's ploughing time again. The only thing the Horse were missing to make a full career out of their sideline trips was the boost of a guest appearance of Neil Young and a new lead guitarist who could help the band with new material, which they got in spades once Frank Sampedro joined in 1975. Some of this album dates back to the sessions the Horse were working on when Neil joined them and they made 'Zuma' instead, while some others are from late 1975 when the band went back to work on this record and some date from sessions in 1978 when The Horse were taking a break between 'Stars n Bars' and 'Rust Never Sleeps'. By far the most Young-like of all the Horse albums, this set is still nowhere near up to the level of the Danny Whitten era (Frank, Ralph and Billy aren't songwriting giants by any stretch of the imagination and aren't exactly born lead singers either, taking it in turns here) but it's an atmospheric set that makes up in energy and instrumentation what it lacks in material. Ralph is the surprise star of the set, having never sung a note except on occasional harmonies or written a song bar a co-write on the first record in 1968 prior to this album but he has a real feel for moody expressive ballads based on tricky rhythm structures. Billy and Frank write songs more in keeping with what you'd expect - dumb songs about dumb women more often than not drinking some dumb drink, but then nobody expected art from Crazy Horse and Ralph's songs are just arty enough to make this more than the dumb record it could have been. The set really comes alive when Neil turns up, playing blistering leads on five of the album's better songs and you can hear the Horse gain confidence on all of them. Kind of the missing link between the joy of 'Zuma' and the belief of 'Rust' this set is recommended to Horse fans as long as you don't expect miracles or an album on a par with their 1971 debut. Even so, this is arguably the group's second best LP and desperately in need of a CD re-issue sometime soon (there was one in Australia in 1997 that made it a twin pack with 'The Rockets' and threw a couple of songs from 'Crooked Lake' in there too!)

Neil's guitar rings like a bell on Sampedro rocker 'She's Hot', a song that doesn't have any bigger ambition than fancying a girl but somehow sounds cool anyway thanks to a variation on the band's favourite 'Drive Back' rhythm and riff and some impressively tight harmonies. If The Rolling Stones had done it (and they did release a song of the same name) people would be falling on themselves to say how good it sounded.

Ralph shines on 'Going Down Again', a slow torturous ballad about falling on bad times and picking yourselves up again. The song is made special thanks to some 'Dangerbird' style Young guitar and some really lovely vocals, both Ralph's emoting lead and Frank and Billy's oh so angelic backing. The Horse haven't sounded this beautiful since 'I Don't Want To Talk About It'.

Sampedro country-rocker 'Lost and Lonely Feelin' is one of the album's weakest songs though, sounding like bad Poco (or good Eagles). It temporarily returns the Horse to their 1972-1973 period as a country band and fittingly features their old member Greg LeRoy on guest guitar.

Frank and Billy together were never going to come up with an intellectual number and so it proves as the downright stupid 'Dancin' Lady' hops from foot to foot as the narrator watches his girl dance. A lot of Horse songs involve dancing ('When You Dance I Can Really Love' and 'Dance Dance Dance' among them, while that's the central theme of 'Cinnamon Girl'), but this is their worst and rather finds them falling over.

Ralph's 'End Of The Line' is a lovely ballad though, as the drummer gets to show off his lovely falsetto (ignored on album for far too long). Talking about how every relationship has a time-clock of when it's meant to start and meant to end, Ralph admits that there's nothing he can do to put things right and sadly stands back to let things take their course. This song gets a bit OTT at times but sports a rather lovely tune.

Billy wrote 'New Orleans' in collaboration with old pal Ben Keith - presumably he wrote the girl-seducing lyrics and Ben the more sophisticated tune. Some nice Young lead guitar brightens up the song considerably, though the track itself isn't up to much.

Ralph writes more country-rock on 'Love Don't Come Easy' as he goes from gruff despondency to Franki Valli style falsetto hope. If only the Horse could have afforded to make this a bigger, more epic sounding arrangement this song about misery in love could have been really special - however it still sounds pretty good, mainly thanks to Molina's pretty singing.

'Downhill' is Sampedro's best song on the album, in which Neil re-creates the mystery of 'Dangerbird' on a similar track about feeling hemmed in and trapped by life, the narrator n the losing end as it were. Frank's vocal, though not conventionally beautiful, is sung with real raw passion and feeling.

'Too Late Now' is Sampedro's worst song on the album though, as he tries to revive Jack Nietzsche's country honky tonk style from the 1971 LP. Mourning the loss of a lover but determined to move on and forget her, this song's slightly woozy boozy feel prevents it from being as tight as some of the others on the album.

Billy's 'That Day' is the most Young track here and very much sounds like it's recycling the riff from 'Let It Shine', a track on Stills-Young Band album 'Long May You Run'. Billy's unconventional singing and rather deep lyric about trying to come to terms with tragedy are winners though in any setting.

The album ends with more bursting Young guitar howls on 'Thunder and Lightning', a simple Frank/Billy rocker that doesn't do much but has great fun doing it, taking a riff that sounds a little like 'Lotta Love' and playing around with the lovely chord changes.
Overall, then, 'Crazy Moon' isn't perfect by any means, but considering it was recorded in part by a band that had only just met back in 1975, that it features three people making their album debut as both writers and singers and that it comes after a full six year gap, it's all good reason for a party. 'Crazy Moon' maintains the old Crazy Horse imagery and genre without being just a limp copycat of a Neil Young album, with Ralph's ballads especially giving the album a real emotional heart most of the other Horse albums lack. 

A major improvement on both 'Loose' and 'Crooked Lake', it's just a shame that the Horse didn't go on to record a whole string of albums like this as, sadly, fans will have to wait a full eleven years for another Horse album which is looking increasingly like their swansong as the years tick by. Like 'Harvest Moon', 'Crazy Moon' isn't the best thing the band ever delivered, but it harks back to glory days most prettily while breaking a few boundaries too and it's an album that deserved to sell much better than it did. 

"Live Rust"

(Reprise, November 1979)

Sugar Mountain/I Am A Child/Comes A Time/After The Gold Rush/My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)//When You Dance I Can Really Love/The Loner/The Needle and the Damage Done/Lotta Love/Sedan Delivery//Powderfinger/Cortez The Killer/Cinnamon Girl//Like A Hurricane/Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)/Tonight's The Night

"Hey hey my my, rock and roll can never die!"

Forget the compilations - if you really want to know if Neil Young is for you then 'Live Rust' is the place to start, with a teasing opening quarter chock-full of most of Neil's best acoustic songs, followed by three-quarters filled with Crazy Horse at their most raucous and energetic. The 'Rust Never Sleeps' tour was a fun show, with Neil enjoying his time back in the spotlight and a popular new album, though he was still eccentric enough to give the audience something they couldn't get anywhere else. The theme was 'a history of rock and roll' with Neil waking up as a 'baby' surrounded by giant 20 foot microphones and amplifiers, while snatches of old classic moments from rock history played between songs (Hendrix doing the Star Spangled Banner, quotes from Woodstock about 'bad acid' and - in the film not the record - bursts of Chuck Berry and The Beatles' 'A Day In The Life'). Then there's 'road-eyes' roadies dresses as Ewok Ninjas. 'There's nobody else I'd wear this goddamn hood for' said a hardened burly roadie backstage before pausing and saying 'come to think of it, there's nobody else who'd goddamned ask'!' Then there's Neil's invention of 'Rustovision' glasses as he laughingly invites the audience to see the 'rust' falling from the band's instruments as they play their older material. The point would be a stupid one to make if the new songs failed to match up to the old ones, but generally they do with a pair of acoustic and electric versions of new anthem 'Hey Hey My My' and new rockers like 'Powderfinger' and 'Sedan Delivery' sounding very at home rubbing shoulders with a particularly on-form 'Cinnamon Girl' and a spooky version of 'Tonight's The Night' (heard, in the film, as an encore after the credits have played and everyone was meant to go home - very Neil...)

Where this set doesn't quite work is on the long monster jams. Frank Sampedro's biggest moment in the sun since 'Zuma' finds him struggling to maintain the improvisation and run of ideas that Danny Whitten once brought to the band (as heard on 'Live At Fillmore East') and the album's intended 'big' events 'Cortez The Killer' and 'Like A Hurricane' both fall a little flat (especially 'Cortez', which is given a 'reggae' makeover and the new chorus 'he come dancing across da water man!') 'Lotta Love' is also out of place, a sweet poppy tune that simply doesn't work buried between the acoustic sorrow of 'Needle' and the punk thrash of 'Sedan Delivery'. Neil's played several better acoustic sets than this down the years too and compared to later shows the setlists seems unusually obvious and 'safe', with no then-unreleased material for once (this is the only live Young set that doesn't feature anything in the way of unreleased songs) and nothing that true into-the-blue fans haven't heard a million times already. However that's small fry compared to what does work in this set, which is much of it with Crazy Horse at the top of their game and raising Neil to close to the top of his with fun performances of songs that range from the very heavy to the very silly. True fans will probably get more out of the on-the-edge power of 'Weld' and maybe even the surprises of 'Year Of The Horse', but this is easily Young's most consistent live album and as such the perfect introduction to new fans. As older fans know, consistency is something of a rarity in Young's works, which actually makes 'Live Rust' all the more special. Do be warned, though, that this set hasn't always been catered for properly in the digital age, with the only CD issue  cut down to fit on a single disc (the electric 'Hey Hey' and 'Cortez' are the casualties, though bizarrely 'Hurricane' runs a fraction longer thanks to a 'false start' cut from the original vinyl album). I'd get the download version which runs full-length if I were you, but of course the gap in your collection if you have all the other CDs is something of a pain!

                                                                             

Various Artists "Where The Buffalo Roam" (Film Soundtrack)

(Backstreet-MCA, '1980')

Buffalo Stomp*/Ode To Wild Bill #1*/All Along The Watchtower/Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds/Ode To Wild Bill #2*/Papa Was A Rolling Stone/Home On The Range*/Straight Answers (Film Dialogue)//Highway 61 Revisited/I can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch Squid Face)/Ode To Wild Bill #3*/Keep On Chooglin'/Ode To Wild Bill #4*/Purple Haze/Buffalo Stomp Refrain*
* = Neil Young Perfomances

"Never is heard a discouraging word...or is it?"

Have you ever longed to hear what 'Home On The Range' would sound like played in Neil's guitar and - occasionally - in his voice? If so then 'Where The Buffalo Roam' is for you! And yes it is every bit as weird as it sounds - especially as the follow-up to the all-singing all-dancing return to cult status with 'Rust Never Sleeps'. Nobody seems to know quite why Neil was asked to write the score (or ten minutes of it at least) for this low budget biography based on the life of Hunter S Thompson. The film wasn't a happy experience from the first - the writer agreed to the film without really thinking about it, having tried so hard for so many years to turn his own books into movies, and was horrified when he read the script and found out he couldn't stop it. Producer Art Linson decided to direct the film even though he had no prior experience, while principle actor Bill Murray had something of a nervous breakdown during the making of it, scaring his old Saturday Night Live mates by still thinking he really was Hunter S Thompson a few months after making it. Critics hated everything about it  - even the music, which to be fair probably didn't take Neil a lot of time to think about. Any credit for this soundtrack album should really go to arranger David Blumberg, who somehow manages to make the orchestra rock (something Neil never quite managed on his own) and yet still leaves enough space for 'Old Black' to start properly howling. The result is another of those records that only a fan could love, though at least there are chances to hear Neil sing a traditional folk standard some thirty years before 'Americana' (he sings 'Home On The Range' rather better than anything on that album too), while the guitar-based instrumentals are far prettier and more sophisticated than anything on Neil's second film soundtrack 'Dead Man'. As for the rest of the soundtrack, it's awful and most of it is cut from the DVD of the film for licensing issues anyway (only Neil and Creedence Clearwater Revival said yes) while Bill Murray mangles 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' with all the subtlety of a Rottweiler. Put this one down to experience and don't pay too much for it (though that said the soundtrack is rather rare - Neil's only just allowed 'On The Beach' out on CD so he's not going to let this one through any time soon!)

To take the songs in order, such as they are: 'Buffalo Stomp' is the most complete instrumental here, with some lively strings and brass set to the tune of 'Home On The Range' while Neil's guitar fizzles along; 'Ode To Wild Bill #1' doesn't do a lot in its fifty seconds but after twenty seconds of drumming Neil starts rehearsing his solo 'Home On The Range' lines; 'Ode To Wild Bill #2' is a spacier version of the same song with Neil playing like Hendrix on 'The Star Spangled Banner' until he gives up midway through and the orchestra join in; 'Home On The Range' starts with a big fanfare before we get the anti-climax of Neil's wobbly voice singing a capella, sounding vulnerable like never before. Even though it's probably meant as a joke this version, so wistful and lonely, is actually quite affecting; 'Ode To Wild Bill #3' has Neil warming up and improvising around the 'Home' chords and sounding not unlike the spaced-out stomp of 'Sedan Delivery'. Unfortunately we get some dumb speech from the film over the top just as the track gets interesting; 'Ode To Wild Bill #4' is a pointless thirty second reprise featuring just the orchestra but it's credit to Neil anyway even though his guitar isn't on the track; Finally 'Buffalo Stomp Refrain' is a virtual re-run of the opening track, with Neil playing first before the orchestra take over, with only minimal differences in Neil's performance. It's arguably the best money he ever got for the shortest working day of his life!

Note: 'A Treasure' was previously reviewed and can be read here: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/news-views-and-music-issue-147-neil.html

"Bluenote Cafe"

(Archives Volume 11)

(Reprise, Recorded November 1987-August 1998, Released November 2015)

CD One: Welcome To The Big Room*/Don't Take Your Love Away From Me/This Note's For You/Ten Men Workin'/Life In The City/Hello Lonely Woman*/Soul Of A Woman*/Married Man/Bad News Comes To Town/Ain't It The Truth?/One Thing/Twilight
CD Two: I'm Goin'*/Ordinary People/Crime In The City/Crime Of The Heart*/Welcome Rap (Spoken Word)/Doghouse*/Fool For Your Love/Encore Rap (Spoken Word)/On The Way Home/Sunny Inside/Tonight's The Night

* = Unreleased Composition

"What starts out weak might get too strong if you can't tell foul from fair"

Trust Neil to give me a second album to write about in the dying moments of the first drafts of these books...but trust it, too, to be an archives set that yet again beats the flimsy original to smithereens. I can't say I'm a big fan of the Bluenotes album 'This Note's For You'. Smart alecky title track aside, there isn't really too much on that album worth saving - just generic blues songs played by a band who've all too clearly only just met each other. We've known that these tapes existed for years - this version of Neil's first ever song  'Ain't It The Truth?' and the mournful cry 'Don't Take Your Love Away From Me' both appeared on Geffen compilation 'Lucky Thirteen' (even though strictly they were written in the second Reprise era - not that I'm complaining given that they're the highlights of the record, except of course that I just have). Could the rest of the gig live up to this pair of tracks? Yes - actually the average of the set is if anything even higher. Not for the first or last time the resulting tour was a much more interesting beast with a whole slew of new songs written too late to make the record, old favourites dressed up in the newer style and album tracks played by a band who have a much clearer sense of what they're doing. Suddenly this era is a revelation: new songs like the heavy hitting 'I'm Goin', the swinging 'Welcome To The Big Room', the mournful ballad 'Crime Of The Heart', the fun 'Hello Lonely Woman' and the hilarious 'Doghouse' (complete with sound effects) are all as good as anything on the record proper and suggest that Neil was contemplating a follow-up volume before the multi-faceted genre-hopping of 'Freedom' caught his muse instead. As for the oldies, the Springfield's 'On The Way Home' is a surprise candidate for being drenched in horns but comes off rather well, while the title track of 'Tonight's The Night' almost works as an elongated nineteen minute jamming session that just won't shut up, complete with a pained cry to inspiration and roadie Bruce Berry that's positively chilling.

Album tracks like 'Ten Men Workin' (now an eight minute jam) and 'Twilight' (now a moody eight minutes too with an extended guitar solo) sound far more 'real' than they ever did on record and work far better, with only 'Sunny Inside' and 'Married Man' sounding a little dashed off. Better yet is two early previews of songs that will become key to Neil's concerts and eventually albums in the coming years:  an intense 'Crime In The City's is halfway between the epic nineteen minute original and the shortened version on Freedom/Weld, with lots of 'missing' verses restored at the beginning. It's not quite the best version out there, but it's still a great version of possibly Neil's best song of the decade. 'Ordinary People' - finally released as late as 2006 - also sounds far more natural back in the time it was written, a thirteen minute jog drenched in horns and irony that finally sounds as good as fans lucky enough to hear this song in concert always said it was. In fact the only minus number the whole night is the between song raps - Neil's have always been weird but are usually at least interesting and unique to him. Here, though, he's just trying old blues shtick (sample quote: 'Life is easier with a beautiful woman by your side!') or simply being rude ('You weren't clapping loud enough for an encore but we came out anyway because we like New York!') and even when posing as a 'character' this falls flat. Still, that's peanuts compared to the vast greatness compared on this set which matches the real greats already released in the archive sets: 'Massey Hall' 'Cellar Door' and 'A Treasure'. Neil's done it again, keeping the great moments from ghastly eras back in the vaults - on this basis the Shocking Pinks and 'Landing on Water' sets (even worse studio albums in  their original form) are going to be amazing!

"Eldorado" (CD EP)

(Reprise, April 1989)

Cocaine Eyes/Don't Cry/Heavy Love/On Broadway/Eldorado

"I may just slip by you, with your eyes turned up above"

Neil's muse took him from the bluesy laidback horns of The Blue Notes to thrash heavy metal in the late 1980s, but somewhere early on in the sessions Neil realised he didn't want to make his next album another genre-hopping exercise. Back in 1986 during an interview for New Zealand TV Neil told the reporter that his favourite format had always been the EP - they were smaller, cheaper, came with less 'filler' and didn't take as long to make. As it happened the invention of the CD saw a brief revival of the EP format as artists realised they could add all sorts of interesting extras to their singles thanks to the extended running time. So Neil made his new work an EP and to make sure that people didn't get too excited about it or name it as his big new release, he promptly released it only in a few limited countries where his following wasn't quite as strong as elsewhere - in Japan and Australia mostly. Neil added that there were enough copies printed so his real loyal followers would be able to 'beg, borrow or steal one' and as a big passionate collector of music himself realised the thrill of owning something not everyone else did.

Perhaps it's just as well that 'Eldorado' didn't become a full work because even at twenty-five minutes it's a very wearing listen. All five songs are incredibly noisy, with Neil improving on the half-heavy primitive beat of 'Landing On Water' made with the same rhythm section of Rick Rosas and Chad Cromwell by actually throwing in some actual songs this time. Each one is moody, dramatic and performed as if Neil's heart is breaking as he harrangues another great enetertainer for falling prey to drugs on 'Cocaine Eyes' (Stephen Stills?), guiltily bids goodbye to a loved one on 'Don't Cry' to the sound of feedback and hearts breaking, complains 'Like A Hurricane' style that he can't get away from a hypnotic lover on 'Heavy Love', sees a bullfighter risk his life for no good reason on 'Eldorado' and tries to become a star 'On Broadway' even though he's living penniless on skid row, his dreams in tatters. All songs feature some of the most extraordinary guitar playing of Neil's long career, as he bypasses melody and goes instead for the sort of fireworks that will later be more famous on 'Weld' and 'Arc', while his vocals too are amongst his best as Neil doesn't sing so much as howl, utterly committed to his art (especially 'Don't Cry' which might just be the saddest song of his whole career, way out on a limb). The sheer weight and oppression of the atmosphere makes these songs utterly moving, but that said the three songs remixed and edited slightly for release on 'Freedom' ('Don't Cry' - the most changed, losing 45 seconds of feedback at the end - 'Eldorado' and 'On Broadway') make more sense there as the 'heavy dishes' served up amongst some of Neil's sweetest and most melodic works. Though the two songs left behind are amongst the best (certainly better than bullfight 'Eldorado' and the Drifters cover) hearing all five together is just too much passion for one work. Still worth seeking out though, as long as you don't pay a fortune for the set.

Crazy Horse "Left For Dead"

(Capitol, 'Mid 1989')

Left For Dead/Child Of War/You and I/Mountain Man/I Could Never Lose Your Love/In The Middle/If I Ever Do/World Of Love/Show A Little Faith

"Ahmmmm a maaaahntaaaaahn maaaaan!"

The second AAA-related album to use sculptor James Earle Fraser's piece 'End Of The Trail' featuring a wounded Indian on horseback as it's front cover (the first was The Beach Boys' 'Surf's Up in 1971), 'Left For Dead' has a bitter point to make from packaging to contents. People often ask how Crazy Horse feel when Neil runs off to play with another band and leaves them stranded. Generally the band have come to accept it, as usually they have their own things to do and have known, at least since 1975, that even though Neil abandons every other group he always comes back to the Horse eventually. However if ever the band felt the rift it was in the late 1980s. Neil asked more of the Horse than they were able to provide on 1987's 'Life' and in hindsight should probably have found a different band to work with on that record's technical arrangements and elaborate use of keyboards and drum sounds. Neil lost his temper a lot and the Horse felt bitter. Neil then decided to break off and play with his new band 'The Bluenotes' but instead of leaving the Horse to their own devices he decided to pinch Frank Sampedro for his new project too, leaving Billy and Ralph again without a real band. They figured that after the row Neil would never work with them again - as it happens they'll be back together again on the much more Horse-based 'Ragged Glory' in 1990, but they weren't to know that at the time. So, for the fifth and last time, we get a whole new Crazy Horse album with an entirely different line-up to the one that made the previous record. The band recruited singer-songwriter and rhythm guitarist Sonny Mone and lead guitarist and harmony vocalist Matt Piucci, with both members having been in the band Rain Parade. As with 'Loose' and 'Crooked Lake'the result doesn't sound much like the Horse and you wonder what the band might have achieved had they ever been allowed to have some consistency, but it's about the best that could be done in the circumstances even if, most distressingly of all, Billy and Ralph's contributions are again overlooked despite the eleven year writing gap since 'Crazy Moon'. The result is a rather noisy, abrasive album that treats the Horse's usual plod as cannon fodder in a war of heavy metal guitars and vocals that only a fan could love. However, as with all the Horse albums, this is an under-rated set too and is far from terrible, with Billy and Ralph proving once and for all that they may be the third best garage band in the world (possibly slipping to fourth here!)

'Left For Dead' itself is an angry snarling Sonny Mone song about being overlooked, bass-heavy and slow and brooding. It's not terribly memorable, even for this album.

'Child Of War' has some great guitar interplay and coaxes the best out of Ralph's rat-a-tat drumming. It's also rather clichéd and noisy, like 'Landing On Water' if remixed by a producer who considered it too 'subtle' (!) Stills, I prefer this shouting to the similar and more famous efforts by Guns and Roses, that's for sure...

'You and I' is quieter - in the same way that being run over by a motorbike is quieter than being run over by a steamroller - and almost poetic in its debates about what it means to be in love. Billy wrote this with Matt.


'Mountain Man' There's a cheeky lift from the Young catalogue as Mone wails 'you'll never be an opera star!' and Piucci plays a pretty convincing facsimile of Young's lead guitar work but otherwise this is just standard noisy heavy metal. The track features the album's best riff, a gritty singalong piece of heavy metal fluff, but this 'Gone Dead Train' turned diesel lacks beauty somehow.

'I Could Never Lose Your Love' is more noisy thrashing about to no real end - by now I'm beginning to get a headache!

'In The Middle' is perhaps the best song, starting with atmospheric sound effects that recall either old English folk songs or American Indian campfires before turning into subtle sweet pop with some lovely harmonies. You can tell without looking that this is Billy and Ralph's track, mixing Billy's 'party' style with Ralph's pretty sweetness.

Maybe I'm becoming immune to this album, but I rather liked the rock funk of 'If I Ever Do' even if it sounds as simple and cliched as all the rest. It's less about posing though and more about rocking and Crazy Horse are a band built for taking a simple riff and having fun with it like this, while the lyrics about 'wanting something you can't have' fit the band's rebellious feel.

'World Of Love' cheekily nicks its entire structure from Neil's 'Weight Of The World' (off 'Landing On Water' in 1986). I actually prefer this song though, with its lyrics about waiting for the world to change in 1963 and a passion and hope that still runs through certain hippies. 'Were you standing in the rain at Yasgur's farm?' run the lyrics. The 'I was alone for all my life' part is then given a new lyric about 'tin soldiers coming' that nicks from another Young classic, 'Ohio'. This could have been clumsy but actually it's rather good - assuming Neil's lawyers don't get to hear about it...

'Show A Little Faith' is a pretty ballad to end on, if a little drab. It's a song, like the first, about not being overlooked which fits with the 'mood' of the band at the time but like most things here a little anonymous.

Still, the album isn't all bad by any means. Had Billy and Ralph been allowed to write (and sing!) more songs and had the album had more of the cleverness of 'If I Ever Do' and 'World Of Love' this could have been a respectable effort. Instead it's a reminder that Crazy Horse can only really be at their best performing a certain kind of rock and roll and heavy metal is another genre they can't do, to follow the psychedelic of The Rockets and the country-honk of 'Loose'. 

'Weld' is also previously reviewed and can be read here: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-95-neil-young-weld-1991.html


"Arc"

(Reprise, November 1991)

Arc (A Compilation Composition)

"I want to love you, but I get so blown away!"

For fans who didn't think the ear-drum-breaking 'Weld' was noisy enough, Neil included a 'free' avant garde disc amongst original copies which with a limited edition of just 25,000 copies now sells for quite a bit to collectors. This record isn't really made for easy listening and is more of a self-indulgent whim like the John 'n' Yoko albums, mixing and matching bits of feedback and howls of guitar from the end of songs into one great whole as if the 'collapse' near the end is more important than the song itself. Occasionally you'll also get ghostly vocals as Neil reprises some song in his haste to bring a song to conclusion (there's a slow mournful reprise of the first verse of 'Hurricane' played over thunderous feedback three minutes in that's quite affecting, at least until Neil and Billy duet on the 'I wanna love you' refrain for a further five; a later sequence has Neil sighing sadly 'love and only love...' after one of the noisiest sequences in his canon; the ending is an even noisier finale to 'Welfare Mothers' than the one on 'Weld' as Crazy Horse have a nervous breakdown on stage), though mostly all you get is criss-crossing thrash chords and noisy drumming that could have been from anything or anywhere and mainly sounds like a hippo with a megaphone in childbirth while an octopus playing the drums has a fit. No wonder Neil lost his hearing after this tour - I have a theory we'd lose ours too if we played this set enough times, but then 'Arc' isn't really a set built for repeated listening. After thirty-five minutes of continual segues you've all but lost the will to live, but heard in the right frame of mind and perhaps seen alongside the Gulf War news footage that was fed into the gigs live night after night, this set makes a lot more sense. This is a war, a war that nobody's winning and Neil's given up trying to sing pretty songs about love and peace. This isn't for everyone though - it's clearly not the middle of the road any longer and it's not even the ditch, it's the sewer running under the ditch that's a stage further away from public consumption. At least the front cover's fun though, a parody of the 'Weld' covers as Neil stands in front of his overgrown amplifiers, only this time he's a zombie. Don't have nightmares...

"Dreamin' Man - Harvest Moon Live 1992"

(Archives Volume 12)

(Reprise, Recorded January-November 1992 Released December 2009)

Dreamin' Man/Such A Woman/One Of These Days/Harvest Moon/You and Me/From Hank To Hendrix/Unknown Legend/Old King/Natural Beauty/War Of Man

"No one else can thrill me like you do - but no one else can kill me like you do"

'Dreamin' Man' is the least interesting release in the 'Archives' series so far - not because the performance is bad (Neil's on good form throughout) but because this album sounds so similar to the one we did get named 'Harvest Moon'. Other Young live sets either mix and match albums or provide full band performances of solo studio albums or vice versa, but 'Harvest Moon' was nearly all acoustic anyway so hearing Neil on his own isn't that different to hearing Neil, an accordion and a man with a broom. The set might have been more interesting if Neil had done what he's done with some of the others and released everything from a single show (hits, rarities, newbies and all) but instead this show is a compilation of various moments from the 1992 tour (between January and November) and only features the new songs. Impressively Neil performs everything from the album (even a rather rambling version of 'Natural Beauty', which is still the highlight even without all the crickets and sound effects), but oddly Neil puts this album together in a different way, with a different running order that doesn't work anywhere near as well - despite the fact that, as a compilation set, he could easily have put them in any order he liked. The result is worth buying if you happen to be a huge mega fan of this era of Young or you really want to know what 'Old King' sounds like played on a guitar rather than a banjo or you want to hear 'Such A Woman' without the strings (actually I'm not sure I do - without them the song is surprisingly bare and ugly, even if the strings did seem like a bad idea on the record). Plus the 'Unplugged' set featured better 'live' versions of most of these songs anyway, given that it was the album Neil just had out at the time. If 'Harvest Moon' had never existed then this would be a fine album and Neil is clearly inspired throughout the set, with the performances chosen with care. But there are no songs here that improve or even differ that much from the parent album which all makes this release rather pointless. 

"Lucky Thirteen"

(Geffen, January 1993)

Sample and Hold (Alternate Version)*/Transformer Man/Depression Blues*/Get Gone (Live)*/Don't Take Your Love Away From Me (Live)*/Once An Angel/Where Is The Highway Tonight?/Hippie Dream/Pressure/Around The World/Mideast Vacation/Ain't It The Truth? (Live)*/This Note's For You (Live)*

* = Previously Unreleased Recordings

"The thought never struck me I'd be black and white for life"

Fans weren't expecting much from a 'Geffen' best-of set: Neil had no real hits in this period, most albums released in this 1982-1988 period were unpopular and the thought of sticking all those different generic styles seemed like disaster. Instead Geffen did the sensible thing - arguably for the first time since hiring Neil in the first place - and allowed the guitarist to get involved. Figuring that without his input the label would just stick any old rubbish out Neil got busy, rummaging through his tape box for a few unreleased gems and making sure that each album was equally represented, whether fans hated it or not. Hearing the Geffen albums reduced to two songs per album rather than ten is a good move, as most of Neil's choices are spot on (including the best songs from classic albums like 'Trans' and the only two listenable songs from 'Landing On Water') and even those that aren't (why isn't 'Misfits' here from 'Old Ways'?) pass by before you have a chance to get sick of them. Typically many of the albums abandoned on the way sound far more interesting than what we got: 'Depression Blues' from the original, lighter 'Old Ways' is one of the best things on the album, while 'Everybody's Rockin' might yet have become a popular album with fans had Neil actually included the two best tracks from the project 'Get Gone' and 'Don't Take Your Love Away From Me', both songs making their debut appearance here. Better still there's a stunning alternate take of the already pretty stunning 'Sample and Hold' that just has to be heard to be believed (many fans consider this one superior - and Geffen included it on their 'Trans' CD re-issue controversially - not as a bonus track but as a direct replacement for the old one). The timing is also skewed slightly so that we get a couple of pretty fine live recordings with The Bluenotes that are way more lively than anything on the studio 'This Note's For You' record (an album released when Neil was back on Reprise, but technically this live shows dates from the very end of the Geffen period), especially the unexpected revival of SAquires song 'Ain't It The truth?' Even the title and cover (featuring a vocoder-wearing, short-haired Young that doesn't look much like himself) is clever and doesn't try to hide the fact that this is an attempt to get right Neil's most misunderstood period. A shame the set doesn't run for longer of course (it would have been nice to hear a couple of songs from the abandoned 'Island In The Sun' album that was intended to be Neil's Geffen debut or more from the original 'Old Ways'), but this set does include more rarities than most best-ofs already and the outtakes are easily up to the released stuff. A solid introduction to an era most fans are wary of getting involved with, 'Lucky Thirteen' can only be as good as the albums it's taken from but unlike the album themselves most of the time it's delivered with care and kindness. Surprisingly good and almost equal to 'Decade' as a second hits-with-extras set.

"Unplugged" (TV Soundtrack)

 (Reprise, Recorded February Released June 1992)

The Old Laughing Lady/Mr Soul/World On A String/Pocahontas/Stringman*/Like A Hurricane/The Needle and the Damage Done/Helpless/Harvest Moon/Transformer Man/Unknown Legend/Look Out For My Love/Long May You Run/From Hank To Hendrix
* = Previously Unreleased Composition

"You know I lose, you know I win, you know I call for the shape I'm in...Only real in the way that I feel from day to day"

There was an unspoken rule amongst 'Unplugged' performers to provide a little something extra for fans of these MTV-broadcast shows. Not just making everything acoustic, but tossing in songs that wouldn't normally be part of a group's setlist - obscure album tracks, rare B-sides or unreleased songs. Neil, clearly, had a lot more unreleased material than most so hopes were high that Neil was going to play a whole set of unheard songs - or at least parts of his catalogue that he hadn't played live before. Instead we got a depressingly average set that's high on 'Harvest Moon' numbers and fan favourites and relatively low on surprises. Neil was also in rather a surly mood throughout - he actually abandoned an entire first recorded show (even more reliant on 'Harvest Moon' but actually not bad at all) before complaining about the technology and the crowd and his own performances and asking for another go - this time he brought out some old friends to help him (like Nils Lofgren and Nicolette Larsson) but still Neil didn't really acknowledge the audience (apart from grinning at a cry of 'thankyou Neil' and saying 'aww, it was nothing!') and the mood backstage was reportedly pretty grim.

In retrospect Young was probably already getting fed up of the attention that his career was suddenly getting and was already in the gloomy place that would be heard on his next dark and foreboding record 'Sleeps With Angels'. He certainly sounds that way on the more intense moments of this set, where the dark and edgy numbers sound far more convincing than the lighter singalongs.  A surprise revival of 'The World On A String' had real memories of 'Tonight's The Night' for instance, while 'Look Out For My Love' is nicely dark and menacing and the set's one unreleased moment 'Stringman' is a gorgeous piano ballad that could easily have found a home on that album, a desperate cry about being powerless to help a friend in need struggling to cope that many fans think is about Stephen Stills. Best of all, though, was a stunning re-interpretation of 'Like A Hurricane' which was performed on Neil's 'new' favourite instrument, a pump organ (you'll be hearing a lot of that sound in the albums to come!) Still intense and unrelenting, but in a completely different way, this performance points to just how different and brilliant this set could have been if approached in the same way. In contrast 'Transformer Man' was performed at last as a 'straight' song rather than through a vocoder and sounded almost celebratory as Neil's son Ben was now a teenager with all of the song's worries about communicating and being close to him through his Cerebral Palsy illness now a distant memory. A little more of the dark side or a little more of that healing of old songs would have made 'Unplugged' truly a night to remember, but even on half-form this set has much going for it and more than deserved it's release as a standalone album (one of the first in the series to be released in this way in fact, with Neil's recording following Paul McCartney's into the shops by a matter of months). Not essential like many live Young performances, but an intriguing and often revealing sideways look at most eras of Neil's lengthy career. 

"Dead Man" (Film Soundtrack)

(Vapor, February 1996)

Guitar Solo #1/The Round Stones Beneath The Earth/Guitar Solo #2/Why Dost Thou Hide Thyself In Clouds?/Organ Solo/Do You Know How To Use This Weapon?/Guitar Solo #3/Nobody's Story/Guitar Solo #4/Stupid White Men/Guitar Solo #5/Time For You To Leave William Blake/Guitar Solo #6

"Dead man, look at my life, I'm nothing at all like you were"

Neil isn't exactly well known for his film soundtrack works ( 'Journey Thru The Past' and 'Where The Buffalo Roam' are both weird and overlong) and 'Dead Man' is one of those films that's pretty to look at but where hardly anything ever happens, so this didn't bode well that a full film soundtrack album was going to be a career highlight. So it proves: Neil sticks to guitar to the whole album and doesn't sing a note (though Depp gets to read out some poetry, badly). That should be thrilling, but he's come up with at best one or two ideas worth playing and extends them out for the whole record - which is either more inventive or less inventive that warbling 'Home On The Range' five different ways as he did on 'Buffalo' depending on your point of view. The two albums are very similar in fact. Neil isn't here to play tunes or provide the story or give the listener any emotion whatsoever - he's here for colour. Seen in the context of the film the music works quite well: whenever Jim Jarmusch has yet another gunslinger on the prowl in the ol' Wild Western Neil's on hand to announce his arrival, usually with a scratchy guitar sound. Whenever somebody is saved Neil plays something a bit lighter, albeit still with a scratchy sound. Whenever there's a silence in the film (which is most of the time to be honest) Neil's there to fill it with something and he captures the oppressed, unspoken feelings of the characters quite well, with tensions lurking below the surface. Where this album doesn't work is when this is all released as a full complete soundtrack album to be enjoyed in it's own right. Unless you happen to leave near enough the Wild West to expect to see retired gunslingers prowling the territory outside as you listen to the album, it's null and void. For fans only - and even then not all of them. This is also the start, you could argue, of Neil's fall from grace after scoring big with every album since about 1989. In retrospect maybe director Jim Jarmusch should have got his new lead Johnny Depp to play guitar instead as he's arguably a better musician than actor. Note that a special edition of this album was available too, made to look like a leather-bound 19th century notebook, although none of the tracks were different.

'Guitar Solo no 1' sets the tone, with Neil scratching away at his guitar as if it's got a bad itch - for five whole minutes.

'Round Stones Beneath The Earth' is Johnny Depp coughing mostly while characters read out spooky ghost stories.

'Guitar Solo  no 2' is more memorable and sounds like the rolling chord finale to 'When Your Lonely Heart Breaks', albeit with more noise.

'Why Dost Thou Hide Yourself?' is just guitar solo no 2 buried by some dialogue.
'Organ Solo' is 90 seconds of 'What Happened Yesterday' from 'Mirrorball' without the lyrics and is rather lovely if not very substantial.

'Do You Know How To use This Weapon?' No. Not unless it's the pump organ again, drowned out by dialogue and thunderstorm effects.

'Guitar Solo no 3' has Neil feverish from scratching by now, interrupting his picked parts for some occasional bluesy howls from 'Old Black'. This is arguably the most interesting piece on the album as it's the one most like the 'traditional' Neil and sounds like a great solo from a song that hasn't been written yet.

'Nobody's Story' is Guitar Solo no 2' behind yet more boring dialogue. I don't remember anybody speaking that much in the film - is all the dialogue on the album?

'Guitar Solo no 5' is slower and moodier but quite impressive once it gets going, slowly bursting into life little bit by little bit.

'Stupid White Men' is a full nine minutes of listening to two mean eat and talk in front of a roaring fire and some very unconvincing sounding crickets.

'Guitar Solo no 5' sounds like the start of 'Love and Only Love' with Neil at his loudest, his guitar screaming for justice, longing and safety. It's quite affecting, though it should perhaps have been edited down from nearly fifteen full minutes.

'Time For You To Leave William Blake' barely features anything at all - just Johnny Depp speaking so slowly you wonder if he's forgotten his lines while Neil's guitar howls in the background. 

'Guitar Solo no 6' ends the record on sadly rather anticlimactic form as Neil sounds as if he's tuning his guitar more than he's playing it. So ends one of the weirdest releases in the Young discography and, to date, the last time the guitarist was ever asked to write a film soundtrack. Even for a songwriter who made his name writing songs on behalf of the American Indians, Neil seems a strange choice to ask for this record and comes up with something a lot stranger than he was probably asked to provide. I'd give this one a miss unless you're big on Westerns, Neil's guitar or having a complete collection. Sadly I fear that's most of us, so back on the shelf this one goes to be played in another decade or so when I'm feeling strong enough!

"Year Of The Horse"

(Reprise, June 1997)

When You Dance I Can Really Love/Barstool Blues/When Your Lonely Heart Breaks/Mr Soul/Big Time/Pocahontas/Human Highway//Slip Away/Scattered (Let's Think About Livin')/Dangerbird/Prisoners Of Rock 'n' Roll

CD Bonus Track: Sedan Delivery

"Some people tell us that we play too loud, but they don't know what our music's about!"

The Horse are struggling to win the crowd over, unlike their triumphant 'Weld' tour of 1991, as unfamiliar songs merge into lumpy new ones. 'It all sounds the same!' declares one unhappy punter. 'It's all one song!' shouts back Neil. And he's right - never before has Neil's canon come with such cohesion or has his jumping of styles made so much sense. This live record is Crazy Horse doing what Crazy Horse do best - playing everything loud, slightly slow and turning even the simplest riff into a ten minute jamming session. Where 'Live Rust' and especially 'Weld' came with lots of colour and shade in between the noise, 'Year Of The Horse' comes with no real variety just noise (it was released - of course it was - in the Chinese New Year of the Ox; The next Year Of The Horse was 2002 which makes a lot of sense; this set is stubborn and unmoving throughout). The sound bored audience members after Neil's prettier acoustic side to tears and this album got some of the first steamingly angry reviews Neil had received in a decade - and yet this set makes sense to me. It's like a sampler of all of Neil's various styles strung together and played at the same intense volume, whether it's beautiful ballads like 'When Your Lonely Heart Breaks' or a slow bluesy version of 'Mr Soul' or an acoustic countryside ramble like 'Human Highway'. Despite the differences and the often thirty year age gap between songs, here they do sound all the same - as Neil's career is all one song.

There are, as always on Young live albums, great moments and ghastly moments, depending how inspired the end jam the Horse fall into seems and how rare the material is, with in-concert debuts for several classic songs. A bonkers 'When You Dance' and 'Barstool Blues' are the perfect way to start, while 'Lonely Heart' is beautiful despite or perhaps because of all the noise and the revival of 'Mr Soul' in a third completely different style may be the best of the lot - acoustic, wild and a little sad. The 'Broken Arrow' tunes, meanwhile sound dreadful as they're over-extended even further than on the album and the Horse utterly lose the plot during a distracted 'Scattered' where nobody seems to be playing the same tune. One of my favourite moments in this entire book comes next though as Neil picks his way out of the chaos, wakes up from the choodling along and suddenly charges into a beautiful but painful and oh so real version of 'Dangerbird' you will ever hear. Suddenly Crazy Horse are right with him, switching from a cantor to a gallop, as Neil revisits his mid-1970s nervous breakdown and howls out his pain with such intensity you think he's having another one. The original 'Dangerbird' is one of the most brilliant Young moments anyway, but this sudden moment of reality and hurt in an otherwise pretty awful second disc performed on automatic pilot is astonishing as Neil takes a full quarter of an hour to somehow bring himself back to normal and take the Horse into a demented fun version of 'Prisoners Of Rock 'n' Roll' instead. 'Year Of The Horse' isn't the best Crazy Horse live album - it lacks the consistency of 'Live Rust' and the sheer brilliance of the best of 'Weld' (which stays in a similarly committed vein for a good two-thirds of the record), but 'Year Of The Horse' isn't as far behind as some reviewers and fans reckoned at the time, unfairly shunting it to the lower end of Neil's catalogue. Half the record is a huge disappointment, but oh the other half might be better than anything released on either record. It's always the years of the horse, then, and it's all one song, good and bad, performed brilliantly or indifferently. At least, too, this live album skipped the famous songs already featured on the two previous albums for something a little meatier than just the greatest hits again, despite the fact the Horse were being filmed for a big feature film also released as 'Year Of The Horse' - like the album, it's a bit of a muddle with some boring quarter hours but some truly great moments.

"Road Rock Vol 1: Friends and Relatives"

(Reprise, Recorded September-October Released December 2000)

Cowgirl In The Sand/Walk On/Fool For Your Love/Peace Of Mind/Words (Between The Lines Of Age)/Motorcycle Mama/Tonight's The Night/All Along The Watchtower

"When so many love you is it the same? It's the artist in you that makes us want to play this game!"

Here we are again with yet another case of 'wrong tour, wrong live album'. Instead of Pearl Jam's concerts live in 1995 (far better than the 'Mirrorball' album) or the rather good solo acoustic concert tour to promote 'Silver and Gold' in 2000 comes possibly the weakest Young live album of them all. In many ways this album is as big a curio and as deliberately audience-provoking as 'Journey Thru The Past' or 'Everybody's Rockin' as Neil revives several songs commonly voted on by fans as his worst songs ev-uh (does anybody out there like 'Words' or 'Motorcycle Mama'?) and even they sound more palatable than past classics like 'Cowgirl In The Sand' and 'Walk ON' being bludgeoned to death through feedback and indifference. It's also the logical conclusion of the 'wretched song, bad sound quality bootleg' indulgence of 'Baby What You Want Me To Do?' released on the end of 'Broken Arrow' - a badly recorded set of songs that no fan ever wanted to hear in the first place performed with a sort of petulant glee from someone who no longer needed to care how good or bad his records were because he knew they would sell regardless from a fanbase who actually relished the 'challenges' he gave them. It's as if Neil held a poll to find the songs that fans were sick of either though overkill or because they didn't work and decided to record them all.

For me there are several no-nos when it comes to live albums that never work no matter how hard the artist tries and Neil commits several cardinal sins here: endless pointless Dylan covers ('All Along The Watchtower' is far too obvious a choice and given a terribly wooden arrangement), revived songs that were abandoned the first time through audience request (the so-simple-it's-stupid 'Fool For Your Love' first played live with The Bluenotes in 1988 and so generic it could have been written by anyone), special guest stars who sound completely lost as to why they're there (Pretender Chrissie Hynde just shrieks her way through her part of the show - which as a shame as she'd be a big benefit to a Neil acoustic show), family members on backing vocals (wife Pegi and half-sister Astrid are clearly on tour to keep an eye on their husband/brother and though they're as worthy a singer as Linda Ronstadt or Nicolette Larsson in the studio they're not natural live singers) and endless self-indulgent jamming sessions that stretch songs past breaking length ('Tonight's The Night' goes on for so long that it must surely be 'Tomorrow Night' by the time it ends). Throughout Neil sounds distracted, as if unwilling or unable to give his all to songs he once sang with such venom and passion. His backing band (made up of old friends Spooner Oldham, Jim Keltner and Donald 'Duck' Dunn from Booker T and the MGs) are wooden and clearly under-rehearsed - a usual complaint for Neil's backing bands but this one sounds genuinely lost in places and this triumvirate work much better in the studio on 'Are You Passionate?' Only a sweet and laidback 'Peace Of Mind' cuts through the sonic mud and that might be more because it's the lightest and shortest song here than any real musical merit. As tuneless as the worst of Neil's back catalogue without the invention, drive or heart that usually allows him to get away with similarly sloppy moments, this is a terrible record that deserved its place as one of Neil's worst sellers with virtually nothing about it to recommend. Was it really only ten years since 'Weld' showed Neil coming so alive? You may notice that the subtitle of this record is 'Volume One' - to date there's never been a 'Volume Two', for which fans have so far been very grateful. 

Billy Talbot "Alive In The Spirit World"

(**, September 2004)

The Way Life Is/Painting Of A Man/On The Horizon/His Song/Security Girl/Dreamer/Rainy Days/Stress Release/Stained/Living In The Spirit World

"Like a picture of a man walking through a door..."

Well, that was a surprise to say the least. In the previous thirty-six years' worth of recordings Crazy Horse's Billy Talbot had released only half a side' worth of original music and none pof the Horse had ever made a solo album. Billy was going through some fairly hefty changes in his life, including moving house to a new state and moving in with a new wife and the big decisions seem to have been playing on his mind across this likeable if moody album. Billy isn't a natural lead singer but his scar-worn vocals suit these songs of innocence and joy, giving them a more lived-in feel than would be the case if a prettier singer had covered them. Though Talbot is famous in Horse circles for only playing occasionally and then playing loud, what impresses most about this album is the subtlety. 'Painting Of A Man' is a real surrealist take on life that works a lot better than Neil's similar go the next year on 'The Painter'; the eleven minute epic 'Security Girl' recalls 'Cowgirl In The Sand' with a stomping collection of backwards guitar loops and 'Dreamer' and 'Rainy Days' are both achingly pretty tracks. Only the contemporary-sounding 'Stress Release' sounds a little desperate for radio-play. The album's closest twin album in the Young discography is 'Sleeps With Angels' with its similarly skewed-vision of a world seen through a fog and the same oppressive feel of claustrophobia. However 'Alive' is a prettier album by far, with moments when the world seems bright and everything is right as Billy expresses his thoughts that everything comes good eventually if you can keep going long enough. Talbot is famous for putting the 'crazy' in crazy horse about actually he's the band's 'dark' horse, with far more sensitivity and intelligence under all that head-banging and joking than anyone would have guessed. Better than every Young album since around 1995 and every Crazy Horse album since 1971, Billy isn't just alive but alive and well. A much recommended listen.

"Greatest Hits"

(Reprise, November 2004)

Down By The River/Cowgirl In The Sand/Cinnamon Girl/Helpless (CSNY)/After The Goldrush/Only Love Can Break Your Heart/Southern Man/Ohio (CSNY)/The Needle and the Damage Done/Old Man/Heart Of Gold/Like A Hurricane/Comes A Time/Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)/Rockin' In The Free World/Harvest Moon

"There was a band playing in my head and I felt like getting high"

Most AAA artists we cover are onto about their twentieth compilation by now; Neil's only ever had three (if we ignore the box set which only covers the first few years). Maybe that's because being a Young fan has never been about the hits or even the singles - or maybe that's because 'Decade' pretty well got things right the first time round. Or maybe that's because everybody knew trying to get Neil's entire career down to a single disc was a terrible idea - which it is. 'Greatest Hits' has only four songs not already on 'Decade' (the last four, this set being in strict chronological order), while it misses out on several must-have greats already on that record such as 'The Loner' 'Laughing Old Lady' and 'Cortez The Killer', not to mention a far more comprehensive understanding of Neil's career as a whole. Not to mention songs that fan realise are the 'true' classics: 'World On A String' 'Ambulance Blues' 'Will To Love' 'Pocahontas' 'Natural Beauty' and pretty much anything off 'Sleeps With Angels'. Starting with the two lengthy Crazy Horse jams really unbalances the album too - surely 'Cinnamon Girl' was a more natural opening song? Newcomer fans would be much better off with 'Decade' and oldtimer fans get nothing new except the cover (a nice arty black and white shot of a 1970 era Young backstage), which makes this set rather pointless although if you really want just the hits then this will do I suppose, with most of the obvious songs here. That's probably because Neil went out of his way to do so market research and got not just fans but non-fans to vote on the songs they expected to see included here and looked at his most popular songs on download listens. Which is sensible and what most artists would do, but not exactly courageous - and being brave and expecting the unexpected is, after all, pretty much the whole point of being a Neil Young fan in the first place. Better newbies learn that from the beginning rather than later! 

"Living With War: The Beginning"

 (Reprise, November 2006)

After The Garden/Living With War/The Restless Consumer/Shock and Awe/Families/Flags Of Freedom/Let's Impeach The President/Lookin' For A Leader/Roger and Out

"I see a light ahead but there's a chill wind blowin' in my head..."

Released six months after the 'official' album, this album was announced before release as 'Raw War' and that palindrome sums the album up well. Basically this is a remixed album that strips the recordings down to their bare essentials (well most of them anyway - even Neil couldn't find a way of making the choir on 'America The Beautiful' simpler so that song isn't here) and is a welcome release for anyone who ever felt having so many singers stripped this album of its burning anger and dignity. As this was a CD/DVD release you also got mocked-up news footage videos to accompany all the songs, which is clever but hardly the most gripping of views. The new mix won't change how you view the original album - this is either your favourite or least favourite Young album of the 21st century it seems; typically for me it's right in the middle - but it does make more of an impact when you hear the albums side by side. Few fans bothered with this pricey set when they'd already bought the original though so for a relatively contemporary release this is actually quite a rare one. 

"Pegi Young"

(**, June 2007)

Fake/Heterosexual Masses/When The Wild Life Betrays Me/Hold On/Love Like Water/Key To Love/Sometimes/Sometimes Like A River/I Like The Party Life/White Line In The Sun/I'm Not Through Loving You Yet

"For a time I can feel the heat...give us the courage to get things said"

One of the things that made Neil fall for third wife Pegi was her passionate love of music and her pretty voice, so it seems odd that it wasn't until after five years of marriage (1983's 'Everybody's Rockin') that Pegi made her recording debut. Since then Mrs Young ended up in quite a few of Neil's bands over the years and often accompanied him on tour and her pretty backing vocals (along with Neil's half-sister Astrid's) were the highlight of many a set. What people hadn't realised was that Pegi was also a songwriter, taking keen interest in what her husband was up to and learning many of his tricks of the trade. Though Pegi is more in the folkie singer-songwriter 'After The Goldrush' bracket of Neil's work and doesn't share his eclecticism, her songs are pretty excellent all round and she could have become a star in her own right had she never met her husband. Neil does guest on the album and plays some subtle guitar (plus duet vocals on 'Love Like Water'), but fans are more likely to recognise the contributions of long-standing Young friends Ben Keith and Spooner Oldham who between them re-create much of the 'Harvest' vibe. Highlights include the pretty country ballad cover 'Sometimes Like A River', Pegi's own moody 'Key To Love' (a reflection on growing older as Neil forgets his glasses). Plus the two songs that bookend the album and appear to comment on her marriage - 'Fake' with it's mirror of 'I Believe In You' ('I wonder do you believe in me at all?') and Spooner's pretty blues song 'I'm Not Through Loving You Yet'.  In retrospect it feels as if Neil was helping his wife find a career and a voice for herself before taking the courage to leave her for Darryl Hannah; however it sounds here as if Pegi doesn't need any help - she's more than capable enough herself. No classic perhaps, but a lovely listen that's a lot better than quite a few of Neil's own albums.


Crazy Horse "Trick Horse"

(iTunes, '2009')

Part Of You/Rock House/Loving You The Way I Do/People Talkin'/Mexicali/Lookin' For Somebody/I Miss You/It's So Easy/Back In The City

"How can we survive when we're the only ones alive?!?"

I know a lot of Neil Young fans and rely on them to fill in any holes in my own knowledge (there are a few, even if I pride myself on knowing about the CSNY end of things). Not one of them even knew this album existed, never mind where it comes from and I must confess I'd never heard of it either at the time of release - only a single teasing reference to something else I assumed was a mistake or something else mis-titled. But no: there really is a Crazy Horse album released quietly on iTunes, with no known CD or vinyl or anything physical, and no as this is a download there aren't any sleevenotes. Even the always excellent (even when they're being rude about CSN!) fansite 'Thresher's Wheat' can only surmise and guess what this is. However, I believe they're right (though I'm waiting to hear if they're not...) Back in 1986 the Poncho-Billy-Ralph Crazy Horse tried to record their much delayed follow-up to 'Crazy Moon'. They didn't get very far, writing a few songs and deciding that recording sounded too much like hard work so they 'hired' a bunch of session musicians to play for them instead while they concentrated on singing (meaning that this album, technically the sixth Horse album instead of 'Left For Dead' I guess, technically does feature an entirely different line-up yet again). That would certainly explain why this album sounds even less like the Horse than normal, even with all their wobbly trademarks and Frank and Bill's rasping gruff leads contrasting against Ralph's sweet falsetto. It would explain why, rather than taking the Horse into the 21st century, the whole project sounds so 1980s with digital drums, banks of keyboards and heavy metal style guitar parts. The only real question then is why release it this way and why in 2009? (Did Frank have time on his hands after an accident left him unable to tour? Did iTunes offer the Horse a deal we don't know about? Were the Horse jealous of how many unreleased records were coming out on Neil's 'Archive'?!) The only name credit on the entire sleeve doesn't help by the way, though I'm willing to bet producer 'Poncho Villa' has something to do with Frank Sampedro...Anyway, even as an iTunes exclusive there isn't an awful lot to get excited about and you're not missing a lot if you don't own this album. Lacking even the occasional good taste of 'Loose' 'Crooked Lake' and 'Left For Dead' and way below par compared to 'Crazy Moon' (bring back the ballads!) even the biggest presence yet of Frank as a singer and (presumably - there are no credits) writer can't rescue this from being another case of Horseplay with the wrong genre, style and instruments. One for committed fans only - and even then they'll want to keep some painkiller handy after all that noise...

'Part Of You' is a twisty Billy-sung song with a big fat ugly riff and a squawking 'oh-oh-oh' chorus that makes this sound like country and heavy metal combined in the same track. hearing this you'll realise why more bands haven't done this down the years.

'Rock House' is rather good though, with Sampedro's vocals rather sweet above Billy's rattling throbbing basslines. There are two pioneering inventions here too, assuming that our 1986 hypothesis is correct: one is the idea of a 'rock house' that somehow manages to hide away from the ravages of time outside (Neil's 1990 song 'Mansion On The Hill' is a dead ringer for this song lyrically...) and some bluesy horns which recall The Bluenotes of 1988 (and which Frank had a lot to do with).

'Loving You The Way I Do' is one of the best songs on the album, a lovely Ralph weepie that's up to the standard of his songs fror 'Crazy Moon' but with a bigger production. Ralph's wife is off all the time - he mopes around at home alone wondering whether to go out himself but he cares too much to risk the consequences. There's a long held note on the word 'doooooo' that instantly recalls the doo-wop era of Danny and the Memories. I'd swear that's not Ralph playing the drums though - they're awful!

'People Talkin' is a noisy thrash a minute heavy metal track with (I think) Billy screaming a song of violent rage that suggests the Horse had heard tapes of Neil's recently released 'Landing On Water' album. There's a gonzo guitar solo that's all flashy pyrotechnics that sounds like a heavy metal reincarnation of Nils Lofgren.

'Mexicali' has Frank cooling his heels to some Mexican horns but sadly he seems to have forgotten to write a song to go with the riff and all we get is some plodding heavy metal beats and some 'oooohs'. Admittedly the 'oohs' sound rather nice, but if 'oohs' were all I wanted to hear I'd go listen to some pigeons - at least they don't play heavy metal at the same time.

'Looking For Somebody' has Ralph sweetly singing about having so much love he wants to give to somebody. This is another of the album's better songs, somehow getting t=over the heavy metal posing to be a song with real integrity and some more lovely backing vocals, singing 'awwwwww' this time round!

'I Miss You' is Billy's best song on the album and this slower, more contemplative track is much closer in style to his two solo albums to come (or in the past - this time-travelling release date is difficult to cope with!) A couple shared so much that even though they hate each other they miss each other and casn't help thinking of the olden times. This time the backing vocals sing 'o-ohhhh' like a crying teletubby. The best song on the album.

Frank's 'It's So Easy' borrows heavily from Buddy Holly's 'It's So Easy To Fall In Love' but adds more horns and more heavy metal guitar to no real effect, though the horn riff and another bonkers guitar solo is pretty fun.

Billy gets the last word with the muted singalong pop of 'Back In The City', a forgettable track about a man trying to cope after a holiday fling has ended. The lovers vow to be together one day but you kind of sense from the misery in his voice that this isn't going to happen anytime soon. This time the harmonies sing 'wo-o-o-o-o-ah'.

Overall, then, 'Trick Horse' isn't actually that much of a trick - it's the Horse rolling over and playing dead, albeit with more unusual instruments than normal. And frankly there are too many moments when the Horse does that. The band were probably right to leave it in the can, then, but it makes for an interesting oddity at least and it's always better to have these albums out than hidden away somewhere. Plus the cover (a horse draped in an American flag) is a clever one, whatever decade it comes from (for once the packaging hasn't dated as quickly as the music if we assume that both are from 1986). Yet again how great would this album have been if Crazy Horse had, you know, played and written everything in their traditional rock and roll style? Oh well, by 2009 that seemed like horses for courses and another typically weird entry in the crazy tale of Crazy Horse. 

"Archives Volume One: 1963-1972"

 (Reprise, June 2009)

CD One (1963-1965): Aurora (The Squires)/The Sultan (The Squires)/I Wonder (The Squires)*/Mustang (The Squires)*/I'll Love You Forever (The Squires)*/(I'm A Man And) I Cry (The Squires)*/Hello Lonely Woman (Neil Young/Comrie Smith)*/Casting Me Away From You (Neil Young/Comrie Smith)*/There Goes My Babe (Neil Young/Comrie Smith)*/Sugar Mountain (Demo)*/Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing (Demo)*/Runaround Babe*/The Ballad Of Peggy Grover*/The Rent Is Always Due*/Extra Extra*/I Wonder*/(Hidden Bonus Track) Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing (Buffalo Springfield)

CD Two: Buffalo Springfield (1966-1968): Flying On The Ground Is Wrong/Burned/Out Of My Mind/Down Down Down/Kahuna Sunset/Mr Soul/Sell Out*/Down To The Wire/Expecting To Fly/Slowly Burning*/One More Sign/Broken Arrow/I Am A Child/(Hidden Bonus Tracks): Do I Have To Come Right Out and Say It?/Flying On The Ground Is Wrong/For What It's Worth/This Is It! (Farewell Gig Extracts)*

CD Three (1968-1969): Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Alternate Version)*/The Loner/Birds (Alternate Version)*/What Did You Do To My Life? (Alternate Mix)/The Last Trip To Tulsa/Here We Are In The Years/I've Been Waiting For You (Alternate Mix)/The Old Laughing Lady/I've Loved Her So Long/Live At Canterbury House 1968 (Sugar Mountain/Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing)/Down By The River/Cowgirl In The Sand/Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/(Hidden Bonus Track): The Emperor Of Wyoming

CD Four: Live At The Riverboat (Toronto 1969): Emcee Intro-Sugar Mountain Intro/Sugar Mountain/Incredible Doctor Rap/The Old Laughing Lady/Audience Observation-Dope Song-Band Names Rap/Flying On The Ground Is Wrong/On The Way Home Intro/On The Way Home/Set Break-Emcee Intro/I've Loved Her So Long/Allen-A-Dale-Rap/I Am A Child/1956 Bubblegum Disaster/The Last Trip To Tulsa/Words Rap/Broken Arrow/Turn The Lights Down Rap/Whiskey Boot Hill/Expecting To Fly Intro/Expecting To Fly

CD Five (1969-1970): Cinnamon Girl/Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)/Round and Round (It Won't Be Long)/Oh! Lonesome Me (Alternate Mix)/Birds/Everybody's Alone*/I Believe In You/Sea Of Madness (CSNY)/Dance Dance Dance*/Country Girl (CSNY)/Helpless (Alternate Mix) (CSNY)/It Might Have Been*/(Hidden Bonus Tracks): I Believe In You (Alternate Mix)/I've Loved Her So Long (CSNY)*
CD Six: Live At The Filmore East 1970: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/Winterlong/Down By The River/Wonderin'/(C'Mon Baby Let's Go) Downtown/Cowgirl In The Sand

CD Seven (1970): Tell Me Why/After The Goldrush/Only Love Can Break Your Heart/ Wonderin'*/Don't Let It Bring You Down/Cripple Creek Ferry/Southern Man/Till The Morning Comes/When You Dance I Can Really Love/Ohio (CSNY)/Only Love Can Break Your Heart (CSNY)*/Tell Me Why (CSNY)*/Music Is Love (CNY)/See The Sky About To Rain*/(Hidden Bonus Tracks): Don't Let It Bring You Down (Re-Issue Mix)/When You Dance I Can Really Love (Re-Issue Mix)/Birds

CD Eight: Live At Massey Hall 1971: On The Way Home/Tell Me Why/Old Man/Journey Through The Past/Helpless/Love In Mind/A Man Needs A Man-Heart Of Gold/Cowgirl In The Sand/Don't Let It Bring You Down/There's A World/Bad Fog Of Loneliness/The Needle and the Damage Done/Ohio/See The Sky About To Rain/Down By The River/Dance Dance Dance/I Am A Child

CD Nine (1971-1972): Heart Of Gold*/The Needle and the Damage Done/Bad Fog Of Loneliness*/Old Man/Heart Of Gold/Dance Dance Dance*/A Man Needs A Maid (Alternate Mix)/Harvest/Journey Through The Past*/Are You Ready For The Country?/Alabama/Words (Between The Lines Of Age)/Soldier (Alternate Mix)/War Song (NY)

DVD Ten: Journey Through The Past (Film)

Online Downloads Available After Purchasing Set: I Wonder (The Squires Rehearsal)/Here We Are In The Years (New Mix)/Cinnamon Girl (Filmore East 1970)/Mr Soul (Buffalo Springfield 1967)/The Rent Is Always Due/Shakey Pictures Fanfare/It's My Time (The Mynah Birds)/Go On and Cry (The Mynah Birds)/I Ain't Got The Blues*/Mustang (The Squires)

* = Previously Unreleased Recording

"I will stay with you if you stay with me said the fiddler to the drum and we'll make good time on a journey through the past"

Some thirty years in the making, 'Archives' is a colossal exercise. Most box sets come in a small box - 'Archives' is a block set which comes in a block. A majority of these sets tease fans with a few tidbits of outtakes and rarities buried amongst a few choice highlights from the catalogue - Neil's includes whole unreleased shows in between ever-so-nearly completely everything he ever released between his first recording decade. Many similar boxes contain a booklet with a few rare photos or maybe a film clip or two - Neil's come with cd-roms on each disc leading to a 'virtual filing cabinet' full of unseen photos, lyrics, scraps of paper and odds and ends, as well as a full film and various easter eggs of him working on his project. Most box sets give you some idea about an artist and takes up a few hours of your life - this one demands your attention and relies on your patience and it can takes days or weeks to get through it all - and at first 'getting through it' is what this set feels like. This is no best-of with extra thrown in. You have to be a huge Neil Young nut to make the most out of it rather than a casual fan and of course the set only covers the years through to 1972 before many of his biggest songs ('Cortez The Killer' 'Like A Hurricane' and 'Harvest Moon') were even written.

As the title 'archives' implies, this isn't meant to be a selection, but a 'whole' and it comes frustratingly close to being complete with everything releasable recorded by Neil across his chosen 'decade'. Obviously the non-Young Springfield stuff is missing and you can understand why Neil has only chosen to give us a selection of Squires songs and early demos here even though another sixteen Squires recordings at least still exist in his 'real' archives. The 'Mynah Birds' material too doesn't feature much Young input and are hard if not impossible to get hold of licensing rights for anyway. However how much greater would this set have been if we'd had every single Young song from the Springfield days here (this set is missing such classics as 'Do I Have To Come Right Out and Say It?' and 'On The Way Home') and every single track from 'Neil Young' 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' 'After The Goldrush' 'Harvest' and the increasingly rare 'Journey Thru The Past'? Admittedly practically everything you'd ever want is here and most songs can be heard in one version or another, but for the mammoth price and the colossal commitment this set demands it would have been nice to have squeezed an extra disc out of this set and really made it complete (by contrast all of Neil's period CSNY songs are here, including some from the live '4 Way Street', although then again there never were that many).

What we do get, however, is pretty good. The first disc is especially fascinating featuring no less than fourteen unreleased recordings (and kudos to you if you're one of about three people in the whole world who own the only released material on the disc, the 1963 Squire single of 'The Sultan' and 'Aurora!') Yes these are earyl, simple, often surprisingly cheesy songs and hearing Neil pretending he's Hank Marvin is less interesting than Neil Young knowing he was put on this earth to be a second Bob Dylan, but The Squires sound like a band who are going places - or should do places further than Winnipeg anyway. 'Aurora' is especially good, with her posh spoken announcement and Shadows dance-steps but so are some of the unreleased material featuring Neil's first wobbly vocals on the Four Seasons style 'I'm A Man and I Can't Cry' or the first stirrings of his own voice on 'I Wonder'. Three songs with old Canadian school pal Comrie Smith on a sleepover-with-tape-recorders (is there any other sort?) are also special, as Neil gets to rekindle an old friendship through music and he gets to show his pal some new songs in the new Dylan style while his mate passes on a love for the blues. The solo demos are the weakest on the disc, being less interesting than most of the ones that made it to the Buffalo Springfield box set (the couple that are the same songs are earlier performances, not yet as strong) but these have their moments too with 'The Ballad Of Peggy Grover' showing that Neil wasn't just Dylan's disciple but arguably his equal. Yes casual fans will just hear grotty tape hiss, simple guitar-only songs and instrumentals that could be by anyone (well, by anyone with a guitar and talent like Neil's, as you can still tell the Hank Marvin licks are his) - but for true fans this first disc is a treasure trove, a cornucopia of delights, that reveal Neil slowly going stage by stage from a wannabe to a fully fledged artist like no one else around.

Thereafter the set is divided up between discs that mix the mostly familiar and the occasional rare gem or unreleased tracks and entire unheard live tapes. Most of these live shows were either released separately at the time this box came out or shortly after (which must have been a pain for fans who forked out for the full thing) and we've reviewed 'Live At The Riverboat' 'The Fillmore East' and 'Live At Massey Hall' separately in this book - odd that 'Sugar Mountain - Canterbury House' isn't here complete by the way though we do get the two best songs, the title track and a moving 'Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing', a song making its third appearance on the set). As for the rarities and unissued material they include lots of hidden unlisted bonus tracks, the most interesting ones being a blurry bootleg of ten minutes from the Springfield's last live show in 1968 (labelled 'This Is It!'), a fascinating live CSNY recording of 'I've Loved Her So Long' never released on bootleg with characteristically pretty harmonies and an alternate early version of 'Birds' alongside less interesting reproductions of already-famous recordings of 'Clancy' yet again and 'The Emperor Of Wyoming, which Neil should have just listed  as part of the set rather than trying to hide.

Scattered across the set are such rarities as 'Sea Of madness' (the rather good and funky Young song performed by CSNY the week after Woodstock which somehow made it's way to the various artists first Woodstock set anyway), the Nash collaboraton 'War Song' (which used to be about the rarest Young release around and is a rather good Nixon-baiting sequel to 'Ohio'), 'Soldier' (the 'lost' song thrown away at the end of the 'Journey Thru The Past' set), 'Music Is Love' from David Crosby's 'If I Could Only Remember My Name' album which is a bit odd (Neil only provides some shrill harmonies and some marimbas - overdubbed without the song's main composer's knowledge!) and a couple of alternate mixes (with a less shrill 'A Man Needs A Maid' sounding pretty good). In unreleased terms there's actually very little to be heard past the live albums and the opening disc - especially given all the prior media coverage and the hefty price-tag - but there are a few gems here too. 'Sell Out' is a Stones-like Springfield jam that's silly and short but comes with some nice stinging guitar from Stills and Young, 'Slowly Burning' is a late-period Springfield number that's aiming for the orchestral loveliness of 'Expecting To Fly' using just rock and roll instruments that only falls a fraction short, there's a rehearsal take of 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' cut during sessions for the debut album and in that album's more 'epic' style complete with unexpected flute solo (!), the gorgeous post-Goldrush pre-Harvest lament 'Everybody's Alone', the simple but fun 'Dance Dance Dance' later given to Crazy Horse for their first album, an early 'See The Sky About To Rain', weirdo country cover 'It Might Have Been' where Crazy Horse seem very lost and confused, the moving 'Doom Trilogy' precursor 'Bad Fog Of Loneliness' and a much more countryfied 'Heart Of Gold' in concert. Of these recordings, only 'Everybody's Alone' and 'Bad Fog' are unreleased material up to the standard of what came out on the albums but for true fans all of them are interesting and add up to our patchwork quilt knowledge of Young's many facets and styles.
As for the packaging, it all makes sense. From the outside this box is drab, bland and dreary and looks a mess sitting on the shelf (not least because it's about four times the size of any 'normal' box). Inside the box doesn't look a lot better, seeming like a 'scrapbook' kept by a ten year old whose as bad with scissors as I am and deliberately painted a faded yellow. However the discs themselves are presented with care, each one covering a different era in Neil's lifetime listed by where he lived rather than by album or band (although 'Topanga Three' deserves a better name!) Rare photographs abound and compared to the box the CDs are bright and energetic. The discs get even more exciting if you play them on a computer hooked up to the internet where each one 'unlocks' certain 'extras' that vary from yet more unheard material not thought important enough to make the album (such as a couple of Mynah Birds tracks and yet more Squires songs which are outtakes of the ones that did make the set), plus numerous funny videos including Neil buying a CSNY bootleg and ranting at the hapless record store owner for selling it ('Who was that guy?' he asks the cameraman at the end, none the wiser), Neil in 2008 opening an envelope of lyrics he posted to himself in 1962 as 'proof of copyright' and the inevitable discussions of cars (presumably we'll get stuff about trains when and if we ever get an 'Archives II'). Many of these are included as 'easter eggs' so you can lose far too many hours of your life randomly hitting buttons and watching clips through to the end to see if you get anything hidden away - if ever a box was made for the nerdy fan who wants to own everything then it's this one and I can see now why Neil kept delaying this set (first discussed as early as 1977 when we got 'Decade' instead) until the technology was 'right' Then there's the entire 'Journey Thru The Past' film officially available for the first time in 45 years and it's, erm, well, let's just say by the time you've flogged your way through the rest of this set you're mind will be numb enough to sit through anything including this curious collection of archive TV footage, dreamscapes and rehearsals. I thought my mind was weird, but I feel a lot more 'normal' after seeing this film. 'Human Highway', which might be on 'Archives II', will perform a similar function...

Overall, 'Archives' sometimes feels overwhelming. Nine discs covering ten years (during the first five of which Neil didn't actually release much music, condensed here to just two of the nine discs) seems like a bit much for anyone - and at least Pink Floyd had the sense to release everything old as well as the new stuff on their similar behemoth of a set so future fans wouldn't still have to track other stuff down. In some ways, after waiting so long and being teased with snippets and anecdotes across the making of twenty odd albums since we first heard about it 'Archives' is an anti-climax, with live discs we can buy elsewhere and a jumbled up running order that could have done with another few months work to make it perfect. However there's no denying the worth and brilliance of much of the material here or the generosity of the early recordings and various online extras. Will there ever be an 'Archives Two', as first promised when this set first came out around a decade ago? Well, for the sake of my nerves and my bank balance I'm not sure if I could go through this experience again - especially as that set is likely to start with the 'Doom Trilogy' and will end around 'Re-Ac-Tor' which will make Volume One easy listening by comparison. However the fan inme loves the fact that, after years of talking about them, Neil's finally allowed fans the chance to hear all these parallel Young albums that were either discussed and abandoned or replaced by something better that came along. Many of the live records here are better than any of the studiio albums (I'd take 'Massey Hall' over 'Harvest' any-day) and there's so much about this set to enjoy. Perhaps a bit too much if I'm honest...This isn't a set this is a house, this isn't a greatest hits it's (very nearly) everything - but then this isn't just any old artist we're talking about here, this is Neil Young so of course this set somehow makes perfect (if pricey) sense. 


Pegi Young "Foul Deeds"

(Warner Brothers, June 2010)

Pleasing To Me/Broken Vows/Foul Deeds/Starting Over/Who Knew?/Side Of The Road/Blues Sunday/Travelling/Body Breaks/Travelling (With The Band)/Love Like Water (Live)

"Body aches and the head takes it's time, you'll get over yours and I'll get over mine, and the sun will shine..."

Pegi's second album is arguably more groundbreaking than her husband's contemporary set 'Le Noise'. Rather than perform old songs solo Pegi has built a bigger band around her and is much more open and honest as a writer, even if her singing is sadly a little further down the road to country girl parody. As well as Neil, Ben and Spooner Pegi has added her fellow Shocking Pink Anthony Crawford and regular bass player Rick Rosas and the sound is even more Neil-like. So are the songs, which are frequently tough and uncompromising as the Young's marriage unravels and Pegi oozes a slow, tough, bravado across the album. 'Broken Vows' is a slow, stately rocker in which a prim and proper Pegi sings about herself in third person 'She never saw it coming, because she believed in your truth!' The title track has Pegi digging out her inner blues singer as she pleads for a second chance and that she's 'waiting by the door' for someone (whose clearly Neil) just as soon as he's finished 'playing this game'. 'Who Knew' and 'Starting Over' are both Shania Twain-style country-rocker about moving on despite 'an ache in my heart'. However the best song is the most Young-like, the mournful ballad 'Travellin' about feeling restless and moving on after being in one place for too long - it's basically 'White Line' but sung from a sadder place. Neil has never been this direct (even if 'Storytone', his 'goodbye' album to Pegi from 2014, comes closest) and that honesty is what makes this album, even when Pegi is trying out different characters rather than singing from the heart. The covers aren't as strong as Pegi's own songs as she sings them the same way too, but that doesn't matter - this is a fabulous album more than worthy of the Young name. 

Pegi Young "Bracing For Impact"

(Warner Brothers, November 2011)

Flatline Mama/Med Line/Trouble In A Bottle/No heartbeat Sounds/I Don't Want To Talk About It/ Lie/No 9 Train/Daddy Married Satan/Doghouse/Gonna Walk Away/Song For A Baby Girl

"Trouble in a bottle coursing through your veins, try and hide from it and it finds you just the same"

Pegi clearly got her prolificness from her husband too as she returns with a third album within five years. By and large this is the weakest album of the four Pegi has released so far. It's not that this album is bad, but it features more cover songs than normal and lacks the innocence of the first album and the knowing hurt of the second, sounding more like your average country-rock album. That said it's still a  superior country-rock album and Pegi is singing more like herself across this album, with a natural air that suits the bigger band sound behind her. There are also two songs that every Neil fans needs to hear - Pegi's wicked take on 'Doghouse', a comedy song about having an affair that was first heard on the BlueNotes tour in 1988 (Neil's version came out on 'Bluenote Cafe') and sung with real bravado and a knowing sneer and a pretty take on Danny Whitten's 'I Don't Want To Talk About It', a song that fits for so many circumstances including this one. Though 'Braced For Impact' tries hard to be a cooler and uncaring album, the misery of the period is still very much on show and infuses all the best songs here once more, especially 'Gonna Walk Away' the best of the originals in which Pegi takes a leaf from the 1971 Crazy Horse album and takes a sad song and tries to make it better. 

"Americana"

(Reprise, June 2012)

Oh! Susannah/Clementine/Tom Duala/Gallows Pole/Get A Job/Travel On/High Flyin' Bird/Jesus Chariot/This Land Is Your Land/Wayfarin' Stranger/God Save The Queen

"We'll all sing Hallelujah when it ends, as Neil teams back up with some old friends, but full of weirdo songs that go on for far too long, Neil's going not going round the mountain but the bend!"

I'd never realised how much I hated 'Oh! Susannah' before hearing the version on this record. Or 'Clementine' come to that. Or 'Tom Dooley'. Or the hideously right-wing 'Get A Job' (yeah, right, recording that in the middle of a credit crunch was going to be a good idea). Or, heck, pretty much all of this record (with the exception of 'God Save The Queen'. I'd always hated that, even though Neil thankfully skips the racist second verse). To be honest even if Crazy Horse had chosen a selection of favourites from the AAA catalogue to jam away on as a 'warm up' for the 'Psychedelic Pill' album I don't think I'd have been too pleased. Every song here, whatever century it comes from, whatever key the original was in, whatever the story behind the words, just comes out sounding like the same old Crazy Horse 'Ragged Glory' era jamming session. 'Americana' is Crazy Horse at their most discordant, simplest and rawest and Neil even fails his 'first thought only thought' litmus test thanks to some over-powered overdubs of all-girl choirs. Also you've never heard a 'sha na na' as weak as Crazy Horse's. Even the songs that have something going for them are dragged out way past their bedtime, to the point when the Horse are playing the same parts over and over because no one has the courage to stop yet (those of you who've sat through the bootleg sessions of 'Ragged Glory' will already know what this is like). This is one of those albums that absolutely anyone else would have kept safely under lock and key in the vaults, getting out once a year at Christmas to giggle at while drunk. Neil being Neil, it became a big publicity blitz that actually hurt sales for the 'proper' album to come 'Psychedelic Pill'. It's Neil's worst waste of vinyl/compact disc/pono player since 'Greendale'.

It's also, on occasion, a lot of fun. Having Crazy Horse at their most primal tackle some of the most famous songs in American folklore (and British with 'God Save The Queen' segueing into 'My Country 'Tis Of Thee' at the end) is certainly a new way of looking at your record collection and the band are their usual mix of reverent and anarchic. Even more than most Crazy Horse albums this one subtly glides from tongue-in-cheek parody to heartfelt protest in a matter of seconds ('Get A Job' starts out as the most stupid song ever, before turning sad somewhere about the third repeat, while murder tale 'Tom Dooley' goes from ha-ha to oh-no in the time it takes Neil to raise a knife). Though everything is played with same hard pounding backbeat familiar from any Crazy Horse album from 'Zuma' onwards, there's more subtlety here than normal behind the smokescreen of chunky chords and feedback. Plus in 'High Flyin' Bird' (the Jefferson Airplane classic that gave Noel Gallagher his post-Oasis band name) the Horse finally get a song to match their mood and they sound pretty good on it. However the album should have been even better: in the lead-up to this album Neil tried to give all sorts of reasons why he was riding the Horse through some of the most over-heard and least-suitable songs he possibly could by wanting to make this album a 'dark' take on America's history 'complete with the ugly verses most versions cut'. Plus the packaging keeps making mention of American Indians and Crazy Horse's namesake, making it seem as if this is going to be an American Indian protest album on a footing with Johnny Cash's greatest(and most Neil-ish) LP 'Bitter Tears'. Sadly that didn't happen (even 'God Save The Queen' cuts before we get to the really controversial bit about the English having the right to rob the French because they're stupid - they so should have written their own comeback for 'La Marseille'!) The result is an interesting curio, which would have been a riot leaked on bootleg and which might have gathered mild attention if released in decades to come as part of the ongoing 'Archives' series of CDs, but falls apart badly when left to rise and fall depending on its merits as 'Neil Young and Crazy Horse's new album'.

'Oh! Susannah' starts off like every other Young song for Crazy Horse in the past twenty years so it's rather a surprise when it slowly meanders it's way into Stephen Foster's folk standard 'Oh! Susannah' (via Tim Rose's arrangement for The Big Three). Amazingly Neil is the second member of CSNY to record this folk song about banjos and knees (The Byrds made it the lact track on 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' where it was even more unexpected). This is one of the better tracks, with Neil pronouncing the letters of 'banjo' rather than the word and the backing choir getting mellow repeating the title over and over. However even the most supportive fan is already thinking 'this album is a joke, right?' from this opening number.

The next pretty girl to get the heavy Horse treatment is 'Clementine', usually a children's song - people forget that it's a dark song about murder (or at least drowning). The narrator loses either his wife or his daughter (the song is vague) as she drowns in a pool and he experiences guilt at being unable to save her. Neil's weedy vocal and the rock solemnity with which the Horse play do weird things to the rather pretty original sing-songy melody though and the result is a recording that's likely to drive you to murder to be honest.

'Tom Dula' - better known as 'Tom Dooley' -is worse. Crazy Horse scream his name over and over for thirty seconds before anything interesting happens and even then it's not that interesting, with Neil changing the melody to a slowed down version of 'Goin' Home' from 'Are You Passionate?' I've never understood why this 1860s folk song about a murderer getting away with his crime was so popular possessing neither clever words nor emotional drama and while the original tune wasn't that great either at least it had one which is more than Crazy Horse's does. Even for fans used to 27 minutes of 'Driftin' Back' and 14 of 'Change Your Mind' this eight minute plod isn't half boring.

Finnish folk song 'Gallows Pole' (so much for this album being Americana!) is - as you might expect - more gallows humour, performed by the band with a lighter step than usual on this album as a woman tries to delay her death because she knows someone is coming to her rescue and thinks she's spotted him in the crowd (the twist is he's come to see her hang for a crime he committed himself!) The sudden purity of the choir is distracting through and only Ralph's manic military drumming catches the ear.

The Silhouettes scored a big hit with 'Get A Job', perhaps because there was near record employment at the time so more people got the 'joke'. Recording a song in which the unemployed are dismissed as lazy and liars is dangerous ground indeed in 2011 when the job market was at an all-time low (and David Cameron and the right wing press between them pushed many of the unemployed to suicide as it was). Neil thinks he's having fun with all his yip-yip-yips and sha-na-na-nas but really it sounds like he's vamping until he can remember what the original tune was and never quite finds it. However by the final repeat of the last verse everything is in sync and Neil sounds bitter and angry that his beloved doesn't believe him. Crazy Horse get to relive their past as doo-wop band Danny and The Memories for a few precious moments too.

'Travel On' is the most Young-like song here, despite being another English standards (again, most of 'Americana' isn't American!) Neil's narrator is getting restless and leaving for a more interesting town with better weather - presumably he's the 'Johnny' who refuses to 'come home' when 'papa' asks him to. This lopsided jig isn't one of the album's better moments though and is either too lightweight (when the Horse play on their own) or too heavy (when they're joined by a choir). Only a gritty Young solo, delayed past it's natural point to two minutes into the song, really excites.

Neil learnt Billy Ed Wheeler's folk classic 'High Flyin' Bird' from Stephen Stills according to the album's sleevenotes (although he means pre-Springfield band 'The Au Go Go Singers' not 'The Company' as he calls them here). Had Stills recorded a cover he'd have done it like his other cover songs, throwing so much at the song to see what would stick that it would be barely unrecognisable by the end (Stills did that with many a Young song amongst others). But Neil simply slows the song down and adds a choir. The song is the one track here good enough to survive the bombardment though and Neil's howling guitar lines of desperation do show a commitment and feeling rare for this album, making it easily the standout track.

'Jesus' Chariot' marks the third time an AAA band recorded a variation on 'She'll Be Comin' Round The Mountain'. Sadly Crazy Horse weren't produced by Shel Talmy by the other two (The Kinks and The Who - being out of copyright it was a sneaky way for the producer to get songwriting royalties for 'arranging' a song everybody knew how to play already). On the plus side Neil sticks some of the rarer verses in, which makes this more of a song than normal ('We'll all go out to meet her when she comes', 'we will kill the old red rooster when she comes' and most weirdly of all 'She will bring us to the portal when she comes' - is this song about Stargate SG1?!) - on the minus side that means this song runs for far longer than normal without any difference between melody on this very repetitive song. Frank Sampedro's raspy backing vocals are a delight though. A mistake in all copies of the lyric booklet mean that the lyrics are printed twice, under the heading 'This Land Is My Land' as well.

'This Land Is My Land' is the album's other (relative) highlight thanks to a lighter use of the amplifiers and a bigger cameo from the choir. That's wife Pegi and one time sparring partner Stephen Stills on alternating verses where Pegi sounds shy and Stills sounds hoarse. Woody Guthrie wrote the song in the 1940s as a less prejudiced alternative to 'God Bless America' that actually welcomed it's immigrants. Thankfully he didn't live to hear Neil's ragged version of his song.

'Wayfarin' Stranger' is the shortest song here at three minutes (yay!) but feels like one hell of a lot longer thanks to another repetitive performance and a Young vocal best described as 'indecipherable' (boo!) Though a 19th century song generally credited to 'anonymous', Neil gives credit in the sleevenotes to Burl Ives' arrangement which the Horse borrowed word for word, though there aren't actually that many of them as the song keeps going round and round instead. The narrator travels towards a better place which is presumably death. We're not that lucky though because we still have to sit through...

Finale 'God Save The Queen', sped up nearly beyond all recognition and treated to the same gruff respect as Hendrix's similar take on 'The Star Spangled Banner'. It's odd to hear a Canadian, backed by a bunch of Americans (including one born to Spanish immigrant parents) cheering on the English Queen with what sounds like uncharacteristic reverence. Frankly, The Queen doesn't deserve even the two minutes it must have taken the band to come up with the arrangement and Neil's vocal is ugly and raw even for this album (she probably doesn't even own a Neil Young album!) and covering, say, The Sex Pistols' 'God Save The Queen' would have been a far better, erm, 'tribute' (The Sex Pistols have more in common with Crazy Horse than people assume). The choir interrupt for a blast of 'My Country 'Tis Of Thee' but this is too high and warbly and doesn't have the same tender tones as Crosby's versions of the song (recording it with Nash twice, in 1989 and 2005).

Oh Crazy Horse arise, take these tears from my eyes, before I scream. These covers are too raw, I can't take any more, you've run out of steam. You should be victorious, make us happy and glorious, instead I am furious - what happened to the Crazy Horse team?! 'Americana' is a joke, that could have been made by any bloke with guitar and amp, but it's Neil so of course it is, and so Crazy Horse it is, they still sound like champs. But please no volume two, there's enough good sets out there to review and I think I've spent longer on this album than you, get back to those Crazy Horse themes!


The Billy Talbot Band "On The Road To Spearfish"

(Vapor Records, May 2013)

Empty Stadium/Runnin' Around/Cold Wind/On The Road To Spearfish/Big Rain/The Herd/Miller Drive/God and Me/Ring The Bell

Halfway to nowhere - and I'm not turning back, I'm talking about colours and old rock and roll, I'm talking 'bout women and songs for the soul"

More gruff beauty from Billy as this album about getting older and preserving the old is even more consistent and brilliant than the debut nine years earlier. Billy has really grown into his voice and he's found the best backing for it too, with the sort of low-key spookiness of 'On The Beach' and the thoughtful lyrics of 'Prairie Wind'. The album is a loose concept work, revolving around an old house that Billy and his wife did up after finding it dilapidated and uncared for, making it their new home. There are all sorts of lyrics about moving on while looking back and realising how far you've come and how many houses you've lived in, with Billy - a year before suffering a stroke - singing sweetly about wanting to retire while people are still listening. 'Empty Stadium' is a gorgeous opening song, funeralic, melancholy and realistic about how few years the Talbots may have left to live in their new property, but also an upbeat mood about how things will still live on. Other highlights include the strutting horn-drenched rocker 'Runnin' Around' (which sounds like the Bluenotes should have done), the messy 'Mirrorball' style title track and the pretty ballad 'The Herd', which is like a Crazy Horse album with Brian Wilson producing - simple, slow and really really beautiful. On the down side there's only the dreary over-long ballad 'Cold Wind' (which sounds very much like 'Storytone', the album Neil was working on at the time). All in all this is another fine effort as Billy comes to terms with love lost in the past and love overflowing in the future, while working out what he's learnt from his life so far. A special kind of album, easily the equal of any Young album of the era. Billy published a lengthy 'making of' video for the entire album on his Youtube channel which is well worth a look if you want to try the album out before buying it first! 

"A Letter Home"

(Reprise, April 2014)

Intro (Spoken Word)/Changes/Girl From The North Country/Needle Of Death/Early Morning Rain/Crazy/Reason To Believe/On The Road Again/If You Could Read My Mind/Since I Met You Baby/My Hometown/I Wonder If I Care As Much
Bonus Tracks: Blowin' In The Wind/Crazy (Alternate Take)

"The hero would be me, but heroes often fail"

There are many moments when even as a fully paid-up, vinyl-carrying member of the Neil Young community I still think to myself 'he's lost it - finally'. 'A Letter Home' is perhaps the moment when I thought that the most: after years of plugging away high technology and writing too many songs to fit on his own CDs, Neil records a blurry badly recorded mono covers album. Taking a break from his 'pono' music player, Neil 'borrows' his new pal Jack White's new toy: a 1947 Vpoiuce-O-Graph booth voice recording machine of the sort normally kept in the back of record shops and which The Squires probably used when cutting their first single 'The Sultan' back in 1963. Neil must have felt as if he was at 'home' after so many years of cutting edge technology - and yet this album's theme of homesickness. The first release after Neil's split with wife Pegi to move in with actress Darryl Hannah, like the 'proper' main course to follow 'Storytone' it's full of betrayal and one hell of a lot of guilt. Neil's weird spoken word passage was taken by many fans at the time as more evidence of Neil's eccentricity, but in retrospect it's deeply painful: Neil calls up his mum to apologise for not being in touch more and chats away about nothing - about the weather in Winnipeg and what's on TV and new inventions he's heard about as sons do. But Rassy, of course, died in 1990 and Neil is actually speaking to her in heaven, which gives lines like  'I'm sorry we haven't spoken more' and 'I think you should start speaking to dad more' added poignancy (Scott passed in 2005). Neil doesn't address his personal issues head on (of course he doesn't - this is Neil Young after all!) but his voice drops as he admits quietly 'Things haven't been that great lately - by day it's real good, most of the time, but every once in a while all hell breaks loose ma and it's not like anything I've ever seen before'. Neil passes on his best to 'Ben' (pedal steel player Ben Keith who died in 2010) and says that he'll see his mum soon 'But not too soon, because I have a lot of things down here I still really need to do first'.
Most of the songs are quietly sad too, with tearful performances by a man whose clearly not himself and not usually this open with 'us' the listener (Neil probably knows that, as a poorly promoted covers album  recorded in fuzzy one-speaker mono, this album is only going to sell to true fans the way the 'Doom Trilogy' did) which in themselves makes them interesting and better than usual covers albums. Rather than go for obvious songs, Neil restricts himself to what would have been around, not necessarily when this model of cylinder machine was in the shops but up to the mid 1960s when this sort of thing were around and when Neil and his peers stopped using them. Neil's choice of songs too occasionally strikes gold, such as the Bert Jansch classic 'Needle Of Death' (the song that inspired 'The Needle and The Damage Done' - Neil was friends with Bert and toured with him which gives this song added poignancy given that Bert only died in 2011)and fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot's lovely 'If You Could Only Read My Mind'. However even when this album gets the song and performance write it's not exactly made for easy listening with the 'gimmick' of the lo-fi quality and the choice of some lacklustre and rather obvious songs ruining what could have been a sweet album. The result is an album that will test your patience for the most part, even more than usualm but unlike recent other experimental albums such as 'Dead Man' or 'Americana' at least this one will make you cry. Neil's own website records this album as 'an unheard collection of re-discovered songs from the past recorded on ancient electro-mechanical technology that captures and unleashes the essence of something that could have been gone forever'. Most fans will remember it as 'That weird unlistenable album that sounds terrible even when bought on a system that plays really good technology and on which Neil seems to have the blues but won't tell us why'. This work was ignored by many but still became the first all-mono work in decades to make the UK album top twenty!

We've covered 'Introduction' already - but did we mention Neil's weird rap about a machine that can control the weather? He clearly knows something we don't but thinks it's a bad idea and that there are parts of the world that are just going 'mad', 'not everywhere but just little bits here and there some of the time'.

Like Neil, Phil Ochs left a lot of fan favourites as mere in concert favourites without recording them in the studio - 'Changes' is such a song. Sounding not unlike Neil's own 'Lost In Space', this abstract love song tries to deal with moving on  by taking comfort from the changing nature of, well, nature. Neil often used such themes in his work but his vocal is far sadder than the original and he's clearly pining for Pegi.

Bob Dylan's over-heard 'Girl From The North Country' is faster and jazzier than most cover versions (see Pete Townshend and Stephen Stills for two AAA versions) and one of the album's weaker songs thanks to a throwaway vocal and the fact this song doesn't really fit the album's theme of loss. Neil's guitar playing is as strong as ever though.

Bert Jansch's 'Needle of Death' is the perfect choice of song though, written by the future Pentangle star after worrying about a pal and mentor during his coffee house days and heading up to his flat after he failed to show for a gig, only to learn he'd died that night. This bleak song of 'how could you?' mixed with 'why did you?' and 'what do I do now?' would have slotted in just fine on 'Tonight's The Night' and even in lo-fi mono Neil's big heart shines through on the single best song and single best performance on the record.

Gordon Lightfoot gets not one song on this album but two! 'Early Morning Rain' isn't quite as strong as 'Mind' but it's fine enough and recalls Neil songs such as 'White Line' about looking forward to moving on whilst also being upset at what was being left behind. Neil's voice cracks on the line 'I miss my loved one so'. The early Grateful Dead recorded this song too.

Neil's old pal Willie Nelson wrote 'Crazy', a song that's more about loneliness than madness. Neil tries to pull himself together and think straight but he's too lovestruck and knows in his heart his lover was always going to leave him one day. This song is a little too simple compared to the rest of the album but Neil's pained middle eight plea of 'what in the world did I do?' still catches the ear.

'Hey mom' Neil interrupts, 'I can still do this!' I'm not so sure. Neil's somehow got a piano into the tiny music-booth but his honky tonk stylings don't suit Tim Hardin's 'Reason To Believe', a song in which he confronts his lover about being with another. Neil admits he finds it 'hard to live without somebody else' but his lines about 'never thinking of myself' came as a surprise to fans who knew what this album was really about and how much of the Youngs' split was Neil's doing.

Everybody's sung 'On The Road Again' at one point in their career surely - here's Neil's take. Another piano-based song, it's noisier and even less made for easy listening than the rest of the album, with Jack White providing some ragged guitar. Having two musicians playing loud rather overbalances the poor seventy year old machine and the harmonies between Neil and Jack make Crazy Horse sound like Simon and Garfunkel. 'That was a funky one!' Neil laughs at the end. That wasn't the word that sprang to my mind...

Because Neil is an expert at reading minds. 'If You Could Read My Mind' is a gorgeous song from Gordon Lightfoot that could easily be a Young composition with its surreal imagery of ghosts and memories and it's slow burning romance that's too shy to come right out and say it. Neil adds a nice acoustic guitar interlude that wasn't in the original but otherwise sings this passionate song down a notch. The ending, too, is just too hard to take, as it were, full of tape 'scratches' and suddenly collapsing in the middle of the song's riff.

Ivory Joe Hunter wrote 'Since I Met You Baby' in 1956, a honky tonk song about how much the narrator has changed since meeting a loved one. Typically, though, Neil doesn't sound all that happy about the change and sings as if his heart is breaking. An odd combination with the piano, which sounds as if it's laughing at him.

Bruce Sporingsteen's 'My Hometown' is the odd one out on this album, written a good twenty years after everything else here. An album track taken from the best-selling 'Born To Run' album in 1985, maybe Neil heard it from mutual pal (and occasional bandmate) Nils Lofgren? Frankly Neil's (and Nils' songs come to that) are superior and this song's tale of childhood poverty doesn't sound as sincere as others on the record. Neil probably chose it because he, too, had a paper round he took with his dad and could identify with walking round a home town before anyone else was up as if he owned it.

The original album closed with the weakest recording, a hideous off-key version of The Everly Brothers' 'I Wonder If I Care As Much' (the B-side of breakthrough hit 'Bye Bye Love' in 1957). Such a pretty song deserves a better recording than Neil and Jack pretending to sing and standing way too close to the microphone, but it's sad tale of loss and lament and wondering if the narrator is going to regret his mistake for the rest of his life does fit the album 'mood' better than most ('The Everlys' arrangement of Temptation' would have been a better fit yet though and a better song!)

The vinyl box set edition of the album included a rather dull version of Dylan's 'Blowin' In The Wind' - a writer conspicuous by his absence from this acoustic covers set. Neil did the song much more justice when performed as an angry electric ballad on 1991 live album 'Weld', but it's no worse than the rest of the album and should really have been included on there instead of a pricey box set collectors had to track down.

Overall, then, 'A Letter Home' is not for the fainthearted fan. Neil is lost, his usual creativity seems to have deserted him and his only response to the recent major changes in his life is to hire an antique recording device and hide away singing songs that used to give him comfort back when he was little. No other artist would dare release an album of such low fidelity and indeed invention, but then Neil's not like other artists and this is actually quite a revealing album in context as, like 'Trans before it, Neil hides away his very real heartbreak even from 'us' until he's had time to process it. Sadly where 'Trans' simply made understanding what was going on in Neil's life hard work, 'A Letter Home' is written in code and almost impossible to read fully. Not a great album by any means, but a great Neil Young record if that makes sense, full of endearing eccentricity and appealing oddness.  
Pegi Young "Lonely In A Crowded Room"

(Warner Brothers, October 2014)

I Be Weary/Obsession/Better Livin' Through Chemicals/Ruler Of My Heart/Lonely Women Make Good Lovers/Don't Let Me Be Lonely/Feels Just Like A Memory/In My Dreams/Walking On A Tightrope/Blame It On Me

"Want to be like a little girl, crawl back in my cocoon, don't want to talk to nobody, just sleep until noon"

Pegi's latest record at the time of writing is her only one released after the news of her divorce with Neil broke and it's kind of her version of 'Storytone', wondering where things went wrong and wishing they hadn't. This album shares that album's confused hurt and bittersweet memories, but lacks the guilt and strings as Pegi ignores sweetness and goes instead for the blues jugular. In the end both albums bring out the best in this husband and wife team, as each lift their game acknowledging what they learnt from the other. Being direct was never really Neil's style so it's left to Pegi to tell us just how she really feels without imagery of plastic flowers or seeing her lover in the rare-view mirror of their car; she tells us how weary she is, how much she wants this difficult period to blow over and how she hates the world and everyone in it, at the moment at least. She sings about breaking plates on the head of the one who betrayed her, of her great fear of being on her own forevermore after spending so much of her life as part of a couple and - via Spooner's song - the bitter irony that being lonely makes her a better lover, more desperate for human contact rather than taking it for granted. This is a tough album, too sweet and too country to be 'Tonight's The Night'; but clearly closer to the ditch than the middle of the road for once and the sound really suits Pegi on what might well be her strongest album yet. Most songs are highlights, including the teary 'I Be Weary', the finger-snapping 'Better Livin' Through Chemicals' (because it's better than suicide) and the aching gorgeousness of 'Don't Let Me Be Lonely'. There are a few songs that don't work - tracks like 'In My Dreams' and 'Walking On A Tightrope' that are a bit too poppy for such a heartfelt album. However by and large this is a strong album performed with real passion and soul and even though it sounds less like Neil's work than the others it's the record each of his fans should start with, presenting a whole different side to the story. 



"The Wolves" (EP)

(released via billytalbot.com, '2014')

On The Run/Know Your Knot/Practising Patience/Looking Up

"A world under harm, with tentative charm, holding him back"

Well, this is a surprise. In 2014 Billy and Ralph got together to make their first recordings together since 1989 for what's effectively a Crazy Horse in Wolf's clothing (the pair decided to put the Horse name out to pasture as Frank didn't want to be a part of these sessions). The pair have so far only released a 'teaser' EP with a full album yet to follow - and even that can only be heard via a page on Billy's website (though the music is free to hear, which is always good). It's a shame the pair haven't had a higher profile though because this their best non-Young work in decades - maybe even since 1971? Billy has had a real revival of fortune of late, discovering his songwriting 'voice' while in his sixties and the delightfully atmospheric thoughtfulness of his solo albums can be heard here too. Throw in Ralph, always up for a pretty ballad, plus George Whitsell back in the band for the first time since 1972 and you have a very interesting set of recordings that don't sound much like The Rockets would have done if the 'old' band had returned in 1968 perhaps, but which sounds pretty fine anyway. 'On The Run' features some stinging Young-like guitar by Whitsell and sounds much like 'Ragged Glory' playing at slow speed, with mournful lyrics about death and saying farewell that sound more like 'Sleeps With Angels'. Only lead vocalist Ryan James Holzer sounds out of place, the 'Eddie Vedder' to this album's 'Mirrorball'. The backing harmonies are nice though. 'Know Your Knot' is funkier but just as moody, as a teary ballad slowly stutters into life with some stinging guitar duels between Holzer and Whitsell. It's a shame the song spends so long as an instrumental (with ghostly harmonies) as there's a great song in here somewhere trying to get out. 'Practising Patience' cuts midway in, on a wonky mouthorgan note before slowly getting into gear on the back of a fine Billy 'n' Ralph rhythm track. The mood is like the wigged-out acoustic songs on 'Broken Arrow'. Finally 'Looking Up' has shades of 'Dance Dance Dance' about it before the guitars spark into a sort of slow-motion sprint so common to the Horse. Again only the vocals disappoint on a surreal song that would have been better if the guitars had been left to ring out instead. Still this EP shows promise - yet again - as the sixth version of Crazy Horse make their sixth set of new music together and may well prove to be the best since the Whitten days. 
"Earth"

(Reprise, June 2016)

Mother Earth/Seed Justice/My Country Home/The Monsanto Years/Western Hero/Vampire Blues/Hippie Dream/After The Goldrush/Human Highway//Big Box/People Want To Hear About Love/Wolf Moon/Love and Only Love

"Take my head and change my mind, how could people get so unkind?"

A revival, of sorts, for the abandoned Crazy Horse album 'Toast' from 2000 (a work Frank Sampedro once described as 'the sound of lots of bees farting). Teaming up with The Promise Of The Real to perform 'The Monsanto Years' it made sense to throw in a few older songs that tied into the same 'ecological' spirit or which shared similar themes about 'decay'. Throughout the record you can hear not just audience applause and comments but whole species of birds, animals and insects as if Neil and band have come together not just with the human population of the planet but everybody. On paper that sounds quite fun - in practise it means two hours of straining to hear 'Vampire Blues' through the screeching of a mannatee and wondering if Neil's guitar is bursting into feedback or has been overdubbed with the sound of a macaw. The (presumably crazy) horse that snorts its way through the end of 'Vampire Blues' also deserves a whole spin-off album to himself. Even more distracting is the dreaded return of the massed choir - overdubbed later in the studio and with an all-too-obviously different sound - which are even more ill-fitting here than they were on 'Living With War' and 'Americana'. Part live and far too raw and part over-polished and tidy, this album is neither pretty nor pretty exciting and sounds like one of those artificially bred foodstuffs Neil was criticising Monsanto for releasing into the wild. 'Earth' has an important message to say and Neil had more than enough great songs to say it with (where's 'Here We Are In The Years', Neil's first ecological song, or 'Natural Beauty', arguably his best?) but one again in Neil's live discography this botch-job isn't it. Once again bootlegs recorded of the tour sound far more exciting and energising than ever this album does.

On the plus side at least Neil's song selection is genuinely interesting this time around. There are several welcome returns or even first appearances in the setlists for several great Young songs from the past: 'Vampire Blues' from 'On The Beach' 'Hippie Dream' from 'Landing On Water', 'My Country Home' from 'Ragged Glory', 'Western Hero' from 'Sleeps With Angels' and the first 'After The Goldrush' in ever such a long time. 'Mother Earth' (also from 'Ragged Glory') is the only song that improves on the original though., with some fine pump organ, a faster tempo and a much tighter performance. In fact Promise Of The Real sound good all round on the shorter songs, transporting 'Hippie Dream' from an angry snarl of hopelessness into a mournful menacing song of warning and having a lot more fun with the nonsensical 'Vampire Blues' than ever the 'On The Beach' band ever did. However they're no Crazy Horse and struggle to keep up on the extended jams (such as a full twenty-eight minute version of 'Love and Only Love' that's nearly unlistenable).As for the 'Monsanto' songs they sound so like the original record they're pretty pointless - and in many cases they're worse thanks to the decision to add electronic trickery to Neil's voice (which is in keeping with the 'tampering with nature' theme of the album but not really in keeping with  the nature of a 'live' album). I'm not sure I can quite forgive the ugly choir stuck on top of 'Western Hero' either, turning what should be a light and shade song into an ugly obvious one (though the Promise have, well, promise and power in spades, they lack even the Horse's occasional subtlety). I've never been much of a fan of 'Human Highway' either but it's never sounded as wretched as here, as wobbly pure country lament. There's one new song on offer here too which was written after the album but (unusually for Neil) on much the same theme: 'Seed Justice' is no great loss but it's nice to have with another singalong protest chorus, more snarling rock and roll riffs and one of the better uses of the choir as the 'silent majority' get a say in how the world is handled at last. That's a little like the album as a whole in fact: there are some great moments, some brave moments and any album that included a ten second solo by a laughing hyena has got to be good - but too many sections of this album test your patience and it's both too raw and too polished to make it's point as well as it might.