Monday, 11 December 2017
The Final Review: Crosby, Stills and Nash "After The Storm" (1994)
Crosby, Stills and Nash “After The Storm” (1994)
Only Waiting For You/Find A Dream/Camera/Unequal Love/Till It Shines/It Won’t Go Away/These Empty Days/In My Life/Street To Lean On/Bad Boyz/After The Storm/Panama
‘There are things I wish I would have said before you rushed out of my life…It will take a million years to fill these empty days” or “I’ve got one last great love in my life and my heart is telling me it might be youuuuu”
Wow. We are here. We are actually here. The moment that I have been building up to across ten years, five youtube videos, four laptops, multiple sleepless nights, endless breakdowns, constant fascinating discussions on social media, one thousand one hundred and ninety nine posts and five hundred and twenty reviews. This, dear readers, is it, the very last review of the very last album missing from the thirty AAA bands we cover at Alan’s Album Archives. Every stone has been unturned, every turn has been stoned, even every one of the flipping thirty Rolling Stone live albums have been dissected across a decade of newsing, viewing, musing, perusing, reviewing and music-ing. At least until Neil Young releases another flipping album as he no doubt will in a fortnight’s time (hopefully he’s giving me a break for a week after the shock announcement of last week’s record ‘The Visitor’!) And what have we learnt in all that time and all those quadzillions of words dear reader? That by and large most bands’ essential releases tend to come at the beginning of their career, when they’re hungry and desperate to make their mark and are true to themselves, before record company interference and pressure causes all bands to buckle under the pressure some time, in some way (whether its band break-ups, line-up changes, nervous breakdowns, drug and drink overdoses or ‘Magical Mystery Tour’). That you can never ever quite count out the impossible (who guessed that I would be able to actually review a physical official copy of ‘The Beach Boys’ ‘Smile’ – actually make that two of them! – as well as comebacks from Cat Stevens, Pink Floyd, The Monkees and The Grateful Dead that I just didn’t see coming). That life is precious and short (we still miss you those who were lost along the way during the making of this website, from the Floyd’s Rick Wright on week three through to Buffalo Springfield’s Dewey Martin, The Kinks’ Pete Quaife, The Monkees’ Davy Jones, Syd Barrett, The Searchers’ Tony Jackson, The Small Faces’ Ian McLagan, The Who’s John Entwistle, Jefferson Airplane’s Signe Andersen, Lindisfarne’s Si Cowe, and the Airplane’s Paul Kantner last year, not to mention Oasis who released what turned out to be their final album weeks after we went online – and we always will). That the world can be crazy and do really dumb things (ten years ago the word ‘Brexit’ sounded like the title of a bad prog rock album and David Cameron could still stand next to a pig without making the world break down in laughter, while would you believe Obama was elected less than a year into the AAA’s reign over the internet and Trump was still seen as an idiot businessman?) That music is the single most glorious, wonderful, fantastical thing you could possibly be doing with or without your clothes on as it teaches us to be kind, to seek the truth, to embrace life and fight injustice with everything we’ve got. That music may well be the best art form there is, allowing us to dance our troubles away with the rhythms while the words tell us something we didn’t know about life – the two together, whether working together or in a battle, is a glorious sound when it’s used right as a good 80% of the records we’ve covered in our decade together demonstrate. That our visiting aliens from Zigorous Three and beyond including Catalunia The Third and Habridan The Seventh are astro-nuts, not to mention a whole role-call of clandusprods, mrasianarts and belobrats down the years. And of course that the Spice Girls are awful!
And also that ‘All Things Must Pass’. Except, for now, this website: aside from hoping to bring you the trickle of releases as they arrive next year and the following year and beyond into the future, we have a whole six months to go before the (hopeful) start of our book series, months in which we can bring you key concerts, key cover versions and an essay dedicated to each and every one of our bands (we even released two of them this year in the quiet period before the Christmas ‘rush’ of, err, two whole albums). Even so, this feels like an end, the moment I have been dreaming of for nine years at least, since I realised that if I was well enough and ambitious enough and mad enough that one day I might end up here with my job of discussing every single one of the studio albums by our chosen bands done one day (with smaller entries for live and solo and compilation records and, well, everything you could ask for really). I wasn’t sure that moment would ever arrive, I’m still not quite sure that it has – but the moment has been prepared for.
I’ve wondered long and hard about what album to put here as a big finale, dear readers and have even been asked on a couple of occasions what might go in this spot. If I’d really known I was going to get this far then I met kept back one of my all-time favourites for this spot (The Beach Boys’ ‘Smile’, The Who’s Quadrophenia’, The Hollies’ ‘Butterfly’, the Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/CSNY crossover that is ‘Blows Against The Empire’). But I used up so many of my favourites for my original list of ‘101 classic or neglected albums everyone must own’ (what a long time ago that seems four hundred reviews ago!) that I didn’t have any left. I do, however, have a very wonderful album which sums up everything I wanted this site to be about and it’s an album that has everything this site has been banging on about since early 2008: passionate love songs, fierce angry politics, sweet reflective moments, raw dangerous passages, lots of old familiar signature moments combined with new places a band have never been to before. It looks back to the past, embraces the present and worries about the future, all frequent themes of many albums on this website. It sees the world with a view of short-term pessimism and long-term optimism, which turns up a lot too (particularly on Kinks LPs). This is an album that has, to quote from one of the very first reviews I ever wrote (the first CSN record) ‘harmonies straight from heaven – and rock credentials straight from hell’. It has the entirely fitting near goodbye message that ‘music is worth all the pain’ (an Alan’s Album Archives motto if ever there was one!) It is dominated by Graham Nash who, thanks to his triple stint in The Hollies and CSNY and solo has dominated this site more than any other figure except one – and Paul McCartney duly turns up to play too thanks to co-writing the album’s Beatles cover ‘In My Life’. And nobody else I know out there, even the most committed CSN fans of the lot even seems to know about or notice it.
That, of course, is where we come in – to rescue wonderful albums that fell through the cracks thanks to a band being out of fashion or an album being hard to buy and tell you lot to go out and buy them! ‘After The Storm’ might not have the daring-do or the free-wheeling wonders of the trio/quartet’s first brace of albums, but other websites out there have talked about those albums endlessly (plus we covered them in our early run of reviews). This reunion album from 1994 though is special: though the band didn’t realise it till record label Atlantic pointed it out and asked the trio to rush-release it, ‘Storm’ came out on the twenty-fifth anniversary of their first LP, the as-ever imaginatively titled ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’ in 1969. Though CSN hardly ever looked backwards, they do on this LP and come up with a similar balance of love songs and political angst after a career of leaning towards one or the other (or taking the easy way out and breaking up, nine times out of ten). In the rollercoaster world of CSN most albums tend to be pitched towards one of the trio or another: for much of the 1970s it was Stills, for much of the 1980s it was Nash (apart from ‘American Dream’ where it was very much Young’s show on one of Neil’s rare returns) and more recently it was Crosby who was propping up reunion albums like 2000’s ‘Lookin’ Forward’ with the best songs. But ‘After The Storm’ is the one CSN/Y album that’s more or less equal, where all three men have something to say and are itching to say it, playing their sweetest ballads, their rockiest rock songs and some of their weirdest weird love songs. In this period Crosby is eight years out of prison and at the end of a terrific prolific run of songs made when, free of drugs at last, the songs pour out of him. Stills is recovering from another failed marriage and enjoying the stability of a lifetime with his new wife Kristen, who might not get as many songs written about her as Suite: Judy Blue Eyes Collins, Veronique Sanson or Rita Coolidge but is perhaps the greatest Stills muse of them all. And Nash is enjoying life after a difficult two decades of murdered girlfriends, disintegrating bands and organising nuclear protests to properly take to being a family man in Hawaii. For CSN the past is an inspiration and the future seems golden.
Alas, the present is slightly less savoury. We’re at the stage politically when Bill Clinton is beginning to fade from view, having achieved all he can with a Republican congress blocking his movements and when he’d visibly much rather have been watching The Grateful Dead (jeez a Deadhead in charge of the free world - it all seems so long ago suddenly doesn’t it?) The Monica Lewinsky scandal is about to break, but already there is a feeling in the air that the change promised isn’t quite coming in America. Over in Britain Margaret Thatcher’s successor John Major is trying to cling onto power quietly, but the leader of the opposition Tony Blair is becoming more and more respectable, dogging his every move with youthful vigour and demanding honesty and fairness (wow, this really is a long time ago isn’t it?!) There’s a worldwide recession – the one before this one – to remind us about the evils of capitalism, right on cue five years after the collapsed of communism (when CSN were particularly riding the crest of a wave, being the headline act at the actual fall of the Berlin Wall that night in 1989). The young are out of work, the rich are becoming poor and the poor are starving. The Woodstock generation suddenly feels a lifetime ago and on the 25th anniversary of the concert the exact same month this album came out the point was made even starker with a ‘reunion’ concert. So few acts who played the show in 1969 are available to play thanks to illness, death, imprisonment, band break-ups or the need to stay safe in millionaire tax havens so in the end only Country Joe McDonald, Joe Cocker, John Sebastian, Santana and CSN are available to play. Many things have changed: back in 1969 there were so many millions of kids gathering for the concert that it was registered briefly as ‘the third biggest city’ in America, whilst it caught authorities by surprise as they were so overwhelmed the ticket price got waived and locals and police went in to help as much as they could. In 1994 only a fraction of people turn up and most of them are aged hippies wondering what happened to their mis-spent youth (‘seems more worthwhile every single day’), while everybody was ready this time, with endless breaks in the concert to advertise sponsors, burger vans a-plenty, endless merchandise vans and huge TV deals.
One of those people watching the TV that night was me. I’d been a CSN fan for two years already since discovering ‘Live It Up’ and I’d slowly worked my way backwards to buy as much of the back catalogue as I possibly could (not the rare stuff like ‘Stills Alone’ just yet though, that took another decade of scouring charity shops!) Being British and born in completely and utterly the wrong decade it was my first chance to actually my favourite band perform and I stayed up to a ridiculously long way past my then-bedtime (which would actually feel like going to bed early in my current lifestyle of spoonie illness and insomnia!) I had never actually seen CSN ‘move’ before. Sure they looked old and they sounded rough (even for a fan who loved ‘Four Way Street’) but they were one hell of a lot better than all the modern acts who were on (seriously, Salt and Pepa’s set over-ran so CSN had one less song on our television coverage. I’ve never quite forgiven them yet!) It was a huge event in my life so why wasn’t it in everybody else’s? Nobody was talking about it at school the next day, even the teachers (I’d given up on my Spice Girls loving classmates by then, more or less) and whenever I mentioned Crosby, Stills and Nash people assumed I was talking about a lawyer firm. This was a big deal for me, but I realised to my horror that it was such a tiny thing for everybody else and that the world had moved on from the Woodstock hope and good vibes and the idea that peace and love could be the ‘norm’ for society, not something weird people did at weekends in between office work.
CSN clearly realised it too because ‘After The Storm’ tries so hard to be contemporary. That’s what it really shares with the first album – it holds a mirror up to the world, shows where it went wrong and how it could be better. ‘Find A Dream’ is a gorgeous song that reflects on how much water has gone under the bridge and how crucial it is in an often cruel world to find something to hang on, to ‘find a dream’ whatever that dream may be and however impossible (very Alan’s Album Archives, that!) ‘Till It Shines’ is a song about being true to yourself come what may, that the world is a corrupt and confusing place and anyone who thinks they’ve spotted how it ‘works’ is lying to you. ‘It Won’t Go Away’ attacks the modern media’s reliance on big business and the way it brainwashes people into thinking that life is all miserable.‘Street To Lean On’ and ‘Bad Boyz’ worry about a generation seemingly doomed to be unemployed and castigated for not being lucky enough to be born baby boomers (has there ever been a more up-to-date AAA song than the latter, with its heavy metal crunch and outrage – it out-rocked any actual song any of my friends were listening to by ‘hip’ bands and it made sense too!) The world is a place of stars to reach for – and gutters when you fall over reaching for them. The first CSN album wasn’t an entirely hippie love-fest either (‘Wooden Ships’ is, after all, about the aftermath of a nuclear war while ‘Long Time Gone’ suffers a nervous breakdown after the assassination of Robert Kennedy). However ‘After The Storm’ is kinda darker, a more realistic portrayal of what changes mankind needs to make before we can live in peace and harmony.
Indeed, CSN can’t even live in peace and harmony at home anymore. Following on from the restless heartbreak of ‘Live It Up’ this is an album that’s less about ‘Our House’ and more about ‘your alimony’. We start off in a very happy place with Stills’ brilliant love song ‘Only Waiting For You’ which finds him dating Kristen (the pair will marry in 1996) and aware that ‘I’ve got one last love left in my life – and my heart is telling me it might be youuuuu!’ while dismissing his younger, more restless self-destructive self as a ‘basket case’. Elsewhere though he’s still very much feeling the split with his last wife Pamela: ‘These Empty Days’ wonders about the ‘things I forgot to say as you walked out of my life’ whilst the narrator knows his last difficult days with her are going to haunt him for ‘years’. Crosby is celebrating a fifteenth wedding anniversary he never expected to arrive but is haunted by how easily he nearly lost his life along with wife Jan and how he wished he could stop time ‘like a knife’ right here and now, where he’s happy. Nash has been married to wife Susan for even longer but the unease heard on ‘Live It Up’ is heard ever more on this album worried ballad ‘Unequal Love’. Love was, in 1969, something to be cherished because it was new and exciting and made you feel so alive – in 1994 love is something that keeps you going through your worst times and stops you feeling dead.
Finally Stills takes one last lingering look back to the past as he recalls how he lost his virginity to an older, more experienced girl from ‘Panama’ and how it was his rite of passage into being a ‘man’, as if to remind us how love has shaped him. Even the music recalls the Latin American grooves of Stills’ earlier years and solo albums (though only the ‘Cuban’ finale to ‘Suite: Judy’ had ever made it to a CSN record before now). That’s a typical finale for an album which does indeed have an eye over its shoulder all the way through, not just in a world but in a personal sense, though not always in ways that would be obvious to the casual fan. ‘Camera’ isn’t just about freezing time in the present but a tribute to Crosby’s cinematographer father Floyd (he got a ‘Golden Globe’ for his work on ‘High Noon’). ‘In My Life’ is a fabulous fab four song about revisiting the past (and as such is perfect for this album, being inspired by a walk Lennon took around childhood Liverpool haunts in a rare break from being a Beatle) that itself recalls ‘Blackbird’, one of the most popular songs in CSN’s setlists. It was also one of the first songs they sang together as an ‘audition’ piece for The Beatles’ ‘Apple’ records back in London before they signed to Atlantic for their first LP (they also performed it at both ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Woodstock ‘94’). ‘Street To Lean On’ also recalls Crosby’s years in prison (‘You know you can eat real good when you’re doing time!’)
The result is an album that feels like an ‘ending’. It almost was. Sessions for the album ended early when Crosby was feeling unwell. He got worse on the tour that followed and for the first time reviewers started to be rude about the trio’s harmonies, as opposed to their weight or their fashion sense or anachronisms as usual (ha, as if peace and love is a fashion statement rather than a way of life!) After keeling over Crosby was diagnosed with liver failure in November 1994 and was given emergency treatment. There was a lot of fuss in the press: did a former alcoholic who had openly admitted to taking drugs deserve a second chance at life when so many others lost theirs? But if CSN ever had a mantra it was that all life was worth saving (well, maybe not Bush Jnr or Nixon!) and Crosby had been a model recovering addict since returning from prison in 1987, giving many talks in public that must have been hard to make, attending endless meetings, adopting those he felt were in need and falling off the rails (including then-teenage child actress Drew Barrymore who lived with the Crosbys for a year) and opening up about how awful it was in a best-selling autobiography ‘Long Time Comin’ (still amongst the best AAA reads out there). If ever there was a figure of how to do right after doing wrong then it was Crosby – and if ever there was an album about doing the same its this one. Alas ‘After The Storm’ was so hideously unfashionable in a world of grunge and heavy metal that it disappeared and Atlantic did the unthinkable, dropping the band boss Ahmet Ertegun had helped put together and who had once been one of their best-selling acts, leaving CSN to disappear from view until Neil returns at the end of 1999. Chalking it up to another reminder to be more careful in the future, Crosby’s blazing creativity will slow down into something more ‘normal’ past this point, when he forms a band with son and friend to make up for the lack of touring which he names ‘CPR’ both for their combined names CSN-style and for the new lease of life he’s been given. Stills and Nash will be even more quiet than that, disappearing into family life and not making any more records until ‘Lookin’ Forward’ released just past the band’s thirtieth anniversary.
‘After The Storm’ was, then, a last chance to look back on a past that had seen the band on Atlantic for an unbroken thirty year run (well unbroken in terms of labels – it was broken up like crazy paving in terms of band bus-ups!) It’s full of pride about what the band achieved back in the day and what they stood for, along with songs about family and first loves. It’s full of worries over the present day and how the world is unfolding, in roughly the opposite direction to the way it had seemed when they’d first got together, full of songs about families both departing and starting. And they look to the future with wonder and hope, dreaming of a time when the mad crazy world we live in is finally working properly and people live together in harmony the way they should have done all along. One of CSN’s most consistent albums, this is also one of their most melodic, most poetic and most courageous albums, branching out into multiple different directions without doing what so many AAA album we’ve criticised in the past have done – far from throwing out the baby with the bathwater, this is an update of an old sound that’s still there, not a replacement for it. This is still audibly CSN from first note to last, but it does sound more relevant than normal, better suited to the times that ignored it and a far better match for what was happening in the world in 1994 than bleeding Spice Girls influences Salt ‘n’ Pepa. It’s one of their very best in fact, severely under-rated and long overdue for a re-issue one day so more fans can get to hear it (Atlantic buried it so much few even knew it was out the first time anyway). But then that’s what Alan’s Album Archives is all about: once the storm of whatever is currently in vogue has long died out and the brainwashing of the media about a particular politician has faded we can better see the world for what it really is and get back to what we should be doing: being kind to one another. I just want to see the love in fans’ eyes for this obscure album after ther storm has passed you and gone.
The album explodes into glorious technicolour with Stills’ ‘Only Waiting For You’, the single poppiest CSN moment since ‘Marrakesh Express’. The song was written at the last minute when the trio were putting their running order together and realised they didn’t have a strong catchy opener for the album. Given that the last time Nash mentioned this to Stills he had come up with the terrific ‘Carry On’, Graham jokingly mentioned this to Stephen to see if lightning would strike twice twenty-four years on. Stills is a master of deadlines and took to this song with speed, offering it up so CSN could record in one last frenetic session on July 1st (making this effectively the last song any of the band will make for their old ‘home’ at Atlantic). Though clearly written as a deliberately punchy ear-catching opener there is nothing forced about this song though and indeed its hard to imagine the album without it, as the dash of hope an otherwise gloomy record needs. In between writing his songs for the album in a downbeat mood in 1992 and 1993 Stills had shocked himself by falling in love again after meeting Kristen. Anyone whose come to this album after the heartbreak of ‘Live It Up’ and ‘Stills Alone’ will know that this was the last thing Stills was expecting (indeed, I would have laid money on him living in a cave and becoming a hermit after hearing the painful cry of ‘Haven’t We Lost Enough?’) Stills is as shocked as anyone at this rapid twist in fate and fortune and really feels like it’s the real deal this time (your heart will break on the line ‘I’ve got one last great love left in my life and my heart is telling me it might be you’, so fragile and so Stills after admitting to being over-confident just a verse before it!) While I’m not sure I quite buy his claims of being a ‘most reclusive kind of guy’ who ‘usually runs and hides’ around love (not after all those albums chasing Judy, Rita and Veronique!), there’s something delightfully autobiographical and open about this song, perhaps the last song Stills truly wrote from his big wide open heart. He calls his younger self a ‘basket case’, so desperate for love he tried too hard, prepared to woo his ‘best friend’ into being his lover and certain that all those missed opportunities and wasted chances across the rest of his life have been good practice for the love of his life, which he was waiting for all these years and has finally found. It’s such a CSN moment: life was horrific, but now everything is easy ‘cause of you’, hate and guilt and frustration turning into love at a moment’s notice and all you have to do is be ready for it. Admittedly the middle eight sounds rushed, Stills switching to a rudimentary run through the nearest minor chord while playing some gutsy bluesy guitar, but even this works in context The joy of this bouncy ‘Tigger’ song is infectious, marvellously handled by a band firing on all cylinders as their regular backing band in this era (Michael Finnigan, who is unusually subtle on the synths here, and drummer Jody Cortez, with everything else played by Stills in one last great show of being ‘Captain Manyhands’) and some classy CSN harmonies that make them all sound like love-struck teenagers in a way we’ve never quite heard them before. Stills’ lead is delightful too, raw but right on the money and so perfect for this track its clearly still new and fresh and exactly how he’s feeling at the moment he entered the studio. That joy is matched only by the response of the listener who have waited so so very long to hear Stills happy after such an awful time in his love life – and now at last he is. That was the best anniversary present CSN could ever have given us! How this wonderful pop ditty wasn’t the album single I’ll never know…
‘Find A Dream’ is even better. A moody Nash song about failure and throwing in the towel, it’s the perfect accompaniment to the last song. Wonderful moments when you feel on top of the world are rare and there to be cherished. Graham was clearly in a bad mood when he wrote this one: ‘life is uncertain, life is unknown, life is a shot in the dark’. One of Nash’s most poetic and under-rated set of words, its almost haiku like in its symmetry but gloriously written, telling a ‘whole’ story in a clever way (the rhyming couplet – which looks on paper as if it couldn’t possibly rhyme with anything, is the rather natty ‘life is a curtain, always unfolding, life is an amber and a spark’. Things can be extinguished quickly, without warning, a flame that can easily be put out and this equates to both mood and human life. In many ways this song is a call for help, Nash reaching out a hand to anyone listening to this song in trouble with the stark lines ‘don’t be a fool – stay around for a long time!’ It’s his equivalent emotional and evocative phrase counterpart to Neil’s line ‘it’s better to burn out than it is to rust’ – nonsense, says Nash with typical brusqueness, life is precious and valuable and it’s always worth fighting on. ‘Time is a gift, not a loan’ he urges, a gorgeous line that should be printed on a tour t-shirt one day. Looking to give his audience a practical reason why to get through the hard times he urges them ‘try to find a dream’ – a very CSN message because if you can find something to believe in and put your energies into, however small, then the world will be a batter place because of it. The music too is some of Nash’s best, sounding both instantly Nash-like (those gloomy chords, that wistful harmonica break) and something he’d never tried before (it’s all ice-cool detachment, as if singing to us from a distance, while the constant drum pattern that underlines everything is gorgeous, the constant repetition an grind of life that’s deeply unusual for the much more melodic Graham – how much better an album might be the synth-drums of ‘Innocent Eyes’ have been if it had sounded like this?) The recording too is marvellous. Perhaps sensing how out of touch with his usual style this song is and how well it suits the more eroded vocals of his companion, Nash gives the ‘lead’ of this song to Stills to sing and he excels at it, worrying at the song like a dog with a bone and there’s a particularly gorgeous point when he holds the note of most lines long past the point where its comfortable – it ought to sound wrong, but somehow it sounds beautiful (‘not a lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o—an!’, as if all that extra effort will be rewarded and lead into the next line in a continual round of digging yourself out of trouble). There are some exquisite CSN harmonies too when the song gets going, Crosby sinking under the weight of the world and Nash rising with hope all at the same time. Truly beautiful and incredibly haunting, ‘Find A Dream’ is one of the best CSN songs you might not know.
‘Camera’ makes it a pretty stunning one-two-three from each of the trio. Rather than getting sucked into the idea of a glorious present or depressive future, though, Crosby looks back to the past. His father Floyd had become rich through taking pictures and while David never followed his dad’s interests (has there ever been a Crosby selfie, even on his hilarious twitter feed?) he was fascinated by the idea of freezing time in a moment that could be seen as a memory forever. The point seems to be that the images mean nothing without their very human context – they would just be a sea of images and people, not ‘my first birthday party’ or ‘my best friend before he got shot in Vietnam/Iraq’, but that things and people that are important to the narrator can be kept and cherished forever, at a point in time when the narrator wants to remember them. As if to prove the point we open with a seemingly random image, of Crosby on his bike ‘wobbling down the path’ surrounded by laughing children – the face of the future that he ‘teaches’ by being himself in all his eccentric glory, who might remember him by a treasured photograph. In keeping with the album theme Crosby looks both forward and back, looking forward to ‘photographing the future when it finally comes ot call’ and ‘when I am old and lonely’ going through old photos can ‘cover up the clocks’ and make him feel young again. Crosby takes pictures of everything that means anything to him: his ‘lover’s sleeping smile with the starlight on his face’, his father fighting in WW2 while he was a baby ‘in the jungles of South America’ and the children who are captured in their innocence and open-ness because ‘they haven’t learnt to hide’ (or pose). Stills gets a co-credit for the music on this song and may well have suggested this song’s exotic Latin American rhythms after reading that verse of Crosby’s about ‘South America’. The only time Stills worked his musical love into one of his partner’s songs, it’s an inspired move, giving this song a lop-sided rhythm that makes it feel as if time is stopping and starting again and Stills excels himself with an exaggerated flamenco guitar part that catches him so by surprise he even chuckles during the song’s instrumental break in the silence before some terrific drumming from newcomer Tristan Imboden kicks the song off again. Wrapped up with some more delightful harmonies (‘While I r-i-i-i-i-i-i-de’ sounds like Crosby pals Jefferson Airplane singing ‘Watch Her Ride’ from their glorious album ‘After Bathing At Baxters’ in 1967, but with pleasure not pain) this is another stunning album moment, nicely handled.
Usually the first song recorded at a CSN album session rather set the tone, but album single ‘Unequal Love’ recorded back in January feels separate from the album somewhere. An overly emotional tale of heartbreak, on the one hand it’s the latest in a long line of sensitive Nash ballads and on the other it’s not like any other Nash love song at all. Nash has always known what he wants and what to get, whether he was chasing first wife Rose Eccles, muse Joni Mitchell, doomed lover Amy Gossage, wife Susan or current partner Amy Grantham. But here, for one time only, he sounds unsure. ‘Did you ever stay too long with a lover who was over you?’ he sighs, comparing a romance slowly falling apart with the line that the niggle started as a ‘whisper on the wind’ getting louder with every breath. Though his love life was as turbulent as Stills’, Nash was a far more eager and optimistic participant, but here he admits that ‘there are many many reasons not to play ‘the game’ at all’. He sighs that not all love is meant to be, that sometimes one partner will pull more than the other and that the ‘pressure of this can break them. A second verse tries to put a typical plaster over this (‘They’ll tear the arrow from your heart, it’s you they love, it’s not just anybody!’) and it’s the perfect moment for some spine-tingling harmonies to arrive with Stills on particularly great form again. The melody too is pretty sumptuous, with its rises and falls and long great sighs and fittingly feels like the narrator is sleepwalking, hypnotised into walking on despite his instincts (especially the harmonica break which starts off simple and short then keeps going until Nash collapses, having all but run out of breath, for Stills’ shimmering guitar to take over). The performance, though, feels a bit rushed and over-weighted on a song that sounds better when Nash is singing it alone (as he does on a live version on his ‘Reflections’ box set) and it’s a measure of how strong this album is that this lovely song isn’t quite up to the first three.
‘Till It Shines’ finds Crosby in a bluesy mood as he returns to his favourite chords from ‘Long Time Gone’ and plays them on guitar instead of Stills playing them on an organ. It’s a provocative track, trying to shake an unknown someone awake and make them see what’s really going on and it’s a very Crosby concept, sharing its title with the chant ‘How Does It Shine?’ from the ‘Crosby*Nash’ CD of 2004. Unlike many Crosby songs, though, this track keeps its target close to its chest and seems to be more about human ignorance in general than anyone specific. ‘What does it take to getcha to admit it?’ he purrs over the funky opening, before later adding that the people he seems around him who seem to know so much ought to be ‘as confused as me’, seeking information about how the world works when Crosby knows there are no real answers. The best verse comes in the middle when Crosby laughs at people who are reaching for something, anything, to make their life better and to start having fun, be it a good job, savings, women, families, retirement. ‘It’s a piece of empty paper!’ he snaps, ‘it’s a piece of empty pie, it’s a vision of illusion that will surely pass you by!’ Unfortunately, while this song reads like a great song the melody so insists on slapping the liostener around the face with its awkward and unusually ugly feel that it doesn’t really suit this band or the performance they give. Stills is having fun roaring his head off on guitar (has he ever played so many guitar parts on a CSN album before?), but this is his territory not Crosby’s and David’s vocal can’t match it. Still there’s a nice rush of energy during the middle eight that seems to find all the answers, gaining momentum and energy with a pulsing organ chord, even though it’s the passage of the song when Crosby admits that he’s clueless (‘Don’t know what to tell you, haven’t got a clue…’).
One of the forgotten album highlights ‘It Won’t Go Away’ is exactly what CSN should have been doing on their 25th anniversary. One of the biggest developments between 1969 and 1994 was the rise of the way politics was reported, with American media split between left and right wing networks all giving their own ‘spin’ on news events and 24 hour news channels that enabled you to see events unfold near real time. Stills had clearly been watching Fox News a lot as he spits venom on this kick-ass song about crooked politicians and ‘media honeys’ using their ‘TV choice’. CSN always used their voice for the disaffected and unheard and they do superbly here, Stills angrily turning on those who say that the youngsters are all lazy and that its all the fault of ‘people of colour’. Stills sees the media as trying to turn Americans against each other, ‘keeping us afraid of each other’ and the fact that so many of the reporters claim to ‘speak for me’. ‘One of us surely is a fool’ Stills scoffs, as the Government-affiliated networks spread lies and un-truths while assuming their audience are too thick to see through it and Stills sounds outraged as he concludes ‘you know that he thinks that its me!’ A storming guitar solo releases the tension before another glorious verse about those with ‘evil intent trying to confuse and control the minds of the innocent’. This time, though, instead of going where we went before Stills and Nash suddenly burst into instant falsetto harmonies on the line ‘good people have got to speak up!’, as if offering us a ‘new’ way of listening to each other. The pair are clearly having great fun on this vocal and they’re on top form (just listen to the way Nash mirrors the way Stills sings ‘inent-uh’, as if he knows his partner so well he guessed he was going to do this – Stills can’t stop grinning for the rest of the verse despite his anger). Performed with a terrific stinging contemporary feel (think superior period heavy metal), this is CSN doing what they always did so well – speaking up for disaffected youths – but the glory of this song is that they’re sticking up for ‘my’ generation (near enough) rather than merely their own. The whole theme of the song, anyway, is that corruption is always there with every generation and ‘won’t go away’, though the song retains the CSN hope that there are enough of ‘us’ to maybe one day overthrow the chains of ‘them’. ‘Don’t you dare turn away!’ CSN snarl, a sentiment I wish they’d given us more often in their later years. The younger rebellious selves of ‘Long Time Gone’ and ‘Ohio’ era would have been very proud of what their older selves grew into on this track, one of the best songs of their ‘reunion’ albums (which is pretty much all of them!)
‘After The Storm’ is a rare album of solidarity, with CSN making an album because they wanted to work with each other again (unlike ‘Daylight Again’ started without Crosby and ‘Live It Up’ started without Stills). This can be heard on the rare co-write ‘These Empty Days’ which feels as if it started life as a Nash song (the melody of the verses is pure Nash, folky Hollies in its lonely walk through Dylanesque chords but whilst wearing glittery pop shoes) before Crosby adopted it with his own ideas (the middle eight, which seems to run ‘backwards’, is very much like his usual work). The pair then hand the song over to Stills to sing lead on and he excels on a song that ended up very much like his own work too, despairing over another impending divorce. ‘I can’t deal with it!’ he pleads on his own in between some typical CSN harmonies, but the main theme of the song is more detached and poetic than usual. The narrator recalls how a relationship fell apart, how the decisions he made within the last few hours have haunted him for years and in a clever line ‘how it will take a million years to fill these empty days’ (that sounds like Crosby line to me!) What this song lacks is a performance as strong as the song, as CSN struggle with such a pot pourri of styles all flung together that veers from folk to blues to pop with each new flurry of words. It’s also a little too ‘tidy’ for an album that’s generally so emotional and CSN are perhaps a little too far gone to nail this song’s tricky precision with the pure beauty of their earlier work. This is still a lovely song, floating like a butterfly compared to many of the other songs that sting like a bee.
Stills had recorded his version of Beatles classic ‘In My Life’ for his ‘Stills Alone’ album in 1994. His solo version brings out the weary sense of loss and pain well, but it lacks the uplifting twist in Lennon’s lyrics and the pure beauty of one of McCartney’s greatest sleepwalking melodies (yes, this is one of the few songs they wrote 50:50). The song is perfect for a CSN sugar-coating though and this re-make is a triumph, recalling their stately but stunning arrangement on ‘Blackbird’ a quarter century earlier. I think I prefer this cover though, which is a much more natural CSN song somehow, despite being less of a ‘protest’ song. The song’s tale of how things from years gone by will always live with you and that your memories can stay even if the places around you change, it’s perfect for this album of changing times and recalls ‘Camera’ in its ability to freeze time and stop and start it again. More vulnerable than the Beatles arrangement and losing the awful mock baroque George Martin piano solo of the original (that really didn’t fit), this version is less immediate than The Beatles’ arrangement and loses out on the tempo which is quite painfully slow but wins out on the harmonies and the weary sense of loss in the vocals, plus Nash’s sweet harmonica part which is one of his best. That’s Stephen’s son Christopher - the baby on ‘To Mama From Christopher And The Old Man’ back on ‘Stills’ in 1975 – making his first recorded appearance on any CD. He’s quite a big star in his own right these days. Curse the fact that we never got to the end of the ‘covers’ project CSN were planning in 2012 before they split if it sounded anything like as good as this.
For once on a CSN album Crosby doesn’t get any ballads to sing. Instead his third and final song is another demented rocker ‘Street To Lean On’ being another of this album’s comment about modern-day living. Coming on like a slowed down ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ Crosby points to how messed up life is and how topsy turvy it seems. The first verse has a homeless ‘bag lady’ whom the police are tired of arresting for doing nothing wrong than be unfortunate and unlucky – they urge her to come along with them because she’d be better off in prison, fed and clothed and with a roof over her head. In a second verse there’s a street gang the police are afraid of catching and who know the law just enough to get away with being re-arrested ‘nineteen times this month’. A third verse has a ‘fat lady with a wig on’ moaning about the young who are hungry and desperate – they lunge for her purse containing money she would barely notice, but it would be a lifesaver to them. She’s buying antiques to look pretty in her big house, but like many CSN songs the future is the ‘children’ and they’re being treated abominably, the world no longer investing in them. A final verse then lays the finger of blame at the politician who will ‘promise you anything’ but simply pockets the money and runs in practice, with no one to hold his policies to account. They’re the one set of people who could do something about all of this injustice, but they’re too busy making the most out of the system themselves. Crosby’s wicked grin has great fun on one of his most sarcastic tracks and it’s a great foil for Stills’ oh-so-straightforward howl of pain on guitar. The song both reads and sounds wonderful, with another terrific band performance that also features a terrific guest acoustic part from Crosby friend Michael Hedges. However the song needs a better chorus, especially on a song that insists on repeating it so much: even 522 reviews in I’ve never had a song using the word ‘galleria’ (a mammoth shopping centre) before. The theme of the song is a good one though: the kids and homeless have nothing but the trust they get from each other (and ‘the gutter when they fall’), while the rich and the politically savvy can afford to be in it for themselves.
A second rocker in a row has Stills doing what Crosby has just been saying but with even more muscle and contemporary beats. ‘Bad Boyz’ is about prejudice again, the idea that the young are a bad lot who have brought their current status of unemployment and petty criminal acts on themselves. Stills, though, can see beyond the image of what people insist on telling him and can see that they’re ‘unlucky’ much more than they’re ‘bad’. ‘Has anyone ever tried to figure out just why they got so bitter and hard?’ he asks, wondering how ‘we’re gonna explain life to them’ when it’s all so fucked up and stacked against them. He again blames the news for spreading hatred, for pitting one side against another in an endless war instead of bringing people together. ‘Deserted and abandoned, they do the best they can’ is Stills’ passionate argument as he points out the hypocrisy of rich elder folks complaining when they ‘can’t speak to their neighbour’. This is, though, a song that is much more about feeling than intelligent arguments and Stills’ guitar solo is sublime, so loud and high and mighty and yet so full of pain and suffering too. Ethan Johns doubles on rhythm guitar and drums and both are superb, the whole song adding up to a glorious burst of noise. For once the only thing that doesn’t quite work are the vocals, with Crosby, Nash and (I think?) Michael Finnigan drowning out Stills on his own song. I sense this is one he might have been better keeping for a solo album where his aging vocals might have suited it rather better. It is, though, a terrific moment of clarity amidst the madness and again it’s so good to hearing someone from the baby boomer generation sticking up for ‘us’.
One of the reasons I wanted to end my run of (almost – curse you for releasing another album at the last minute Neil!) interrupted reviews with this album was title song ‘After The Storm’. It’s the perfect finale, so perfect that I have it listed as one of the songs to be played at my funeral. This is, you see, a song about what life is really about, bringing words of comfort after crisis and reasons to carry on, even after something very very sad has happened. Nash has never talked about why he wrote it and I’ve often wondered: his parents were long dead by this time – maybe he was thinking about his murdered girlfriend Amy on the twentieth anniversary of her death? Nash, though, is through mourning and is always moving on, the way humans do, old enough to realise the rollercoaster of emotions that is life and the thought that after storm clouds sunshine and rainbows will always come. And even death isn’t final: the melodies he had in his head during a relationship are ‘still lingering on’ and so are the memories. ‘So sad’ he sighs, but he has to continue living his life without the sadness getting him down and he then imagines his own death, asking to see the love in the eyes of those who loved him, not the tears. A middle eight isn’t quite as strong, returning to Nash’s age-old theme of being true to yourself and that life ‘doesn’t work if you pretend’ but even that is twisted in a golden sudden shift back to the major key that his own story is proof – he couldn’t do things alone and needed to be true for himself and his friends. Along the way this music finds room to make us feel better by telling us that pain is an inevitable part of life, but that it is so worth it – because to miss something that breaks your heart you have to have really loved it in the first place. ‘How come I have to explain?’ he asks, adding that music, people and children are ‘worth all the pain’. In a way this is the CSN theme song for their big finale on Atlantic: all those arguments, all those battles, all that in-fighting were all worth it for those three things which, more than any other three words, define what makes CSN special. The melody too is glorious, solemn and beautiful, yet fragile and ready to break. Wrapped up in a gorgeous folky arrangement that makes it sound like a traditional song, Nash’s stiff-upper-lip vocal is superb, quivering in all the right places, while once again Stills is superb behind him. The high falsetto vocal is by Stephen’s daughter Jennifer making her only appearance on any of her dad’s related recordings and its terrific, hanging in the air like a ghost and perfectly fitting for a song that’s partly about family. Don’t mourn Alan’s Album Archives (even with six months of articles still to go!) We just want to see the love in your eyes – and yes even writing 522 reviews it was well worth all the pain! This song is superb and one of my very favourite pieces of music by anybody, saying inside three and a half minutes what so many bands struggle to say in an entire career.
That song is the perfect end – but CSN never do things the traditional way and instead throw this website a curveball encore. ‘Panama’ is a song unlike any we’ve reviewed in - what - six hundred thousand songs is it now? Until Stills gets round to writing his autobiography (He’s the only member of CSNY who hasn’t yet) I’ll never know for sure just how close this song is to the ‘truth’. It ‘sounds’ real though, which is the part that matters and it would help explain an awful lot about his love of Latin American sounds. This song recalls how he lost his virginity aged fifteen to an older woman who turned him into a man in ‘Panama’ but not as tacky or as heavy-metal based as that makes it sound. My guess is that Stills was dating a lady who was originally from there in one of the many endless American states the Stills family were forever moving to. ‘I was not a child, I was not yet a man’ he recalls as the song bubbles over with lust and curiosity, his journey as a visitor to this foreign land a decent metaphor for his growing love life. He sets off into the dark and unknown and she follows him there, disguised by ‘leaves and dust’. Unsure of what to do or where to go they make love in the jungle as he falls under the ‘spell’ of this exotic land until Stills suddenly bursts into life on a yell of ‘Yo Soy Panamo’ (‘I am Panama!’) Sounding not unlike the Ricky Martin songs all my ignorant classmates were getting into but a million times better, Stills often pours his heart out the most on his ‘Spanish’ songs and so it proves here with another terrific band performance that’s full of life and energy and more than a little danger. Once again CSN feel a little adrift here on a song that might have suited Stills better alone but the guitar mix between father and son Stephen and Christopher is a thrilling last throw of the dice in the Atlantic CSN canon.
The end result is an album that’s way better than it has any right to be for a band celebrating their silver anniversary. If not quite CSN’s best or most groundbreaking record, in many ways it’s their most consistent and satisfying, absent from our original ‘core 101 albums everyone should listen to’ list more because it was already swamped with CSN records than any loss as an album. It should have been the start of a whole new era, proving in the 1960s-friendly 1990s that there was still very much a future for this band but that they understood the changes that had taken place since 1969 too – that the youngsters hadn’t failed to become hippies through lack of trying and that finding their way out of the ‘devil’s garden’ to become ‘stardust’ was ever harder as the decades went on, with even more corruption and a whole lot more brainwashing going on. CSN had never been more unified or equal, with the excellent cover logo (by Stills and Nash, developed by graphic artists Kate Nook and Rand Wetherwax) summing up this album well: every letter ‘belongs’ together, wrapping their limbs around each other in a golden hug, the bright light in the sky while the storm rages behind them. Stills, especially, is on top form for this album. He was almost always inspired when he was first in love and so it proves here, as his longest lasting marriage inspires him to provide some of his gutsiest vocals and some terrific guitar work, while Nash is uncharacteristically deep on this record and Crosby is uncharacteristically feisty. The result is an album that any band we cover would have been proud to have had in their canon in any era and it should have been a huge success. Instead Atlantic buried it, Crosby getting sick rather kyboshed the tour and the rise and rise of Neil Young in this period (with ‘Sleeps With Angels’ on the back of ‘Harvest Moon’) eclipsing this album commercially, if not necessarily critically. The band split, again, releasing no new music between them at all until Crosby’s first album with CPR four years later (and even that was only ever released in America). What a waste: they had so much more to give and indeed still do (especially in these Trump years of division – we need their blend of hope and harmony more than ever before).
After the storm has passed you and gone, though, it’s easier to tell which albums have true worth even if no one noticed them at the time. ‘After The Storm’ is exactly the sort of album Alan’s Album Archives lived and breathed for across ten years of Spice Girls, in-jokes, weird youtube videos, confusing April Fool’s Day issues (don’t worry, still one more of those to go next year!) and some truly glorious life-changing music. You may not have read it all – heck, I don’t think even I’ve read it all and I wrote it – but these billions of pages, thousands of posts and ten years of near-constant writing all pretty much add up to what this album is trying to say: that life is hard but it does get better, that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear – especially from politicians, that it is better to love than hate, that ‘time is the final currency’ and precious to quote the CPR song most like this album and that life is easier when you ‘find a dream’. ‘After The Storm’ is a microcosm of everything we ever had to tell you and everything I’ve learnt while writing this website and the thirty books that will hopefully follow it. Thankyou for being there, dear reader, through the good, the bad, the ugly and the Spice Girls jokes, my life will never be quite the same without you to write to every week. Good job I still have all the music to listen to on repeat, eh? Hopefully you do too. We’ll be back with our third essay (on Belle and Sebastian) next week and polish off our run of Neil Young articles and then be back with our annual review of the year before mopping up some extra bits and pieces in the new year. In a very real sense, though, what Alan’s Album Archives was put to do ends right here. And when I got to the end I needed a friend - and that friend was you, however many of these reviews you read across the last decade. Hopefully you’ll remember us with a song in your heart rather than the pain in your ear-drums, the smile we put on your lips as you found something new rather than the strain we caused to your eye-sight, with laughter in your voice rather than an outward groan at a really bad pun and with love in your eyes, now that Alan’s Album Archives has passed you and gone.