Monday, 9 January 2017
'The trick is trying to balance all the pleasure and the pains' or 'Check the Stills - that's when they caught me!' or 'I'm not opposed to making lots of money - but how much does it take?'
Losing one band seems like carelessness - two seems like recklessness. Back in 1971 Graham had the luxury of recorded anything he wanted in any permutation of CSN while making idiosyncratic solo albums on the side while, if he'd ever wanted to, his old band The Hollies might have welcomed him back too if he'd played his cards right. Fifteen years later CSN are disbanded with Crosby in prison, a surprise Hollies reunion in 1983 has fallen apart (Nash's quote: 'After rejoining The Hollies I realised why I'd left in the first place!') and now Graham's only shot at a solo career was to deliver a solo album that had to sell, sell, sell. The Graham Nash that appears on 'Innocent Eyes' isn't in charge of his career anymore - and it shows, with the least CSN-like of all the CSN solo albums. There's a famous tale that Nash had a lot of letters from fans the week after release complaining that the record company had printed up the wrong record in the sleeve and wouldn't accept their money back and would he please do something about it? Graham, being Graham, was thrilled that people were being able to see a different side of him and that he'd escaped the part that threatened to trap him forever - but the worst of 'Innocent Eyes' is that it doesn't sound like a future either. Instead it's a rather unremarkable collection of pop songs that sound specific to this month, maybe even this particular week, in the 1980s as for the first and last time a member of CSN delivers a record that sounds just like everyone else at the times did. Ignored by pop pickers, ridiculed by old fans, savaged by critics, 'Innocent Eyes' is one of those albums that nobody seems to have a good word to say about.
I have a few though. Not many, admittedly - even if 'Innocent Eyes' was a collection of top-notch songs (which it isn't, what with four cover songs and only six originals) this production would prevent you from hearing them in any case. However, hidden away under all that surface noise is an actually pretty open and daring confessional from an artist that's scared, lonely and depressed. In many ways it's 'This Path Tonight' part one, but with a defensive and oddly vulnerable Graham so stuck in a life that's falling apart that he can't see any paths out of here. Songs like 'Glass and Steel' (an achingly sad song about the decline of Crosby) and 'Sad Eyes' (easily Nash's best love song for wife Susan) are every bit as good as anything that came before, even more so in the case of album outtake 'Lonely Man' (released for the first time on Graham's 2009 box set 'Reflections'). However, this being 1986 - the age of money, glitz and glamour - and CSN being less fashionable than at anytime in their lengthy history, that's not what this album sounds like. Instead it sounds like every over-synthesised pop album out that year, anonymous and artificial and even this album's better moments don't have a warm enough heart to break through all that ice. In a sense it's the sister album to Stills' 'Right By You', another album that's actually a lot more thoughtful and emotional than it was ever allowed to be surrounded by synths and powerboats, but Stills being Stills he was still in charge of what went there on that album and somehow crafted a coat of sympathetic production shine over everything - sometimes, anyway, usually when the guest stars turned up to sing harmony (Nash included). Graham, always happiest dictating what goes where to others, doesn't approach this album the same way and instead directs a cast of thousands who are professional and slick but care nothing for the real heart beating away in this music. The result is an album where nothing ever engages with the listener, where we're always an overdub away from the 'real' Graham. Musically, it's 'Trans' - the robotic Neil Young album of 1982 that hid autobiography behind surface noise so you had to dig your way to the heart of it - but without the same big concept behind it. No wonder so many people actively hate this album then - the whole point of CSN, along with the politics and tales of their love lives and making us feel as if the world is going to be a better place eventually, is that warm emotional connection and those harmonies. Even when CSN are picking holes in each other and tearing them and the world to shreds, they've never been cold or calculated before and that's just what 'Innocent Eyes' is. The songs, however, deserve better - just check out the 'remix' job on 'Sad Eyes' on the 'Reflections' box to hear how great and emotional this album could surely have been.
The reason this album turned out this way is a combination of record company pressure from Atlantic who are demanding a hit if Graham wants to keep his contract with them (a far cry from the days when Ahmet Ertegun let CSNY get away with anything, including breaking up every five minutes!) and the circle of friends and pals Graham was now keeping. Hollies reunion album 'What Goes Around...', released in 1983, suffers from similar production problems - but then it's meant to. A collection of pop songs, with no actual originals, it's a band remembering when they used to be a covers band who sounded like every other outfit of the day going back to covering people's songs and sounding like they belong with the sudden influx of bands, even if very few bands from 1983 actually have anything in common with the magnificent Hollie sound. The band instead relied on a new whizz-kid named Paul Bliss who'd ever so nearly had his own career and whom the Hollies, talent pickers extraordinaire, had asked to work for them (almost all the best material on that album is by him and he provides most of the synth work too). Graham cheekily hired Paul when he left the band, asking him to work with him over in the States as a solo star and effectively stalled the careers of three people in the process - The Hollies (who now had to look elsewhere for their talent), Nash (who really didn't suit any of Bliss' songs as a solo act and in the end only recorded one) and Bliss himself, who'll end up sitting out the rest of the decade quietly before becoming third hired keyboardist with The Moody Blues (a waste of his talents, even as a big Moodies fan). As it happens the title track of 'Innocent Eyes' (Bliss' only track for the album) isn't a patch on 'Casualty' or 'Someone Else's Eyes', his better songs from the Hollies reunion project and while the video isn't quite as cringe-inducing as Stills' for 'Stranger' with the infamous power-boat, it is every bit as desperate.
CSN used to be dictating what happened in music circles, not slavishly following them and if you're sitting through these albums in chronological order (poor you!) then it's hard not to feel that watching Crosby in prison, Stills truing to look cool and Nash desperate to look trendy is some form of punishment for the amount of CSNY splits that meant that we were robbed of what music could have been. The future, dreamed of as recently as Nash on his 'Earth and Sky' album with the track 'In The '80s', should have been a world where bands got laughed at if they didn't speak from the heart, wrote about Government stupidity in all its forms and made us feel better. Instead we got the 1980s, a world where you're worth was measured through the size of your shoulder pads and how many synths you could afford. To some extent I have sympathy for both 'Innocent Eyes' and 'Right By You' - a CSN album was never gonna happen with Crosby either out of it or out the way in prison and better that the duo make something and try to engage with this new brave world, even if it's not what their true fans - then or now - really wanted to hear. The worry is that from now on this kind of thing becomes 'normal' - we're about to have a whole run of these production 'values' on reunion projects like 'American Dream' and 'Live It Up' that really didn't need to be there. 'Innocent Eyes' is easily the 1980s at its most intrusive on a record though: the first thing that hits you is the barrage of artificial tinny drums that sound like being hit over the head with a blunt object several times per song; it's quickly followed by the banks of keyboards so numerous they're in danger of being nationalised. Only then do you hear the ugly synth bass that claws aimlessly at the bottom end of the picture. With all that going on there's precious little space left and poor Graham is left shouting more often than he sings, competing not with all this extraneous noise (the drums and synths are mixed to 'win' any battle there) but extras like guitar and 'proper' keyboards. Nash actually sounds quite annoyed at some stages: 'I don't want to hear it!' he groans in the unusually angry cover of 'Keep Away From Me'. You and me both.
In fact Graham is a touch grumpy throughout. 'Innocent Eyes' is very much the album I was afraid the rather gentler and more hopeful 'This Path Tonight' be like, looking for a fight with anyone and angrily turning on 'us', the fans, for believing albums or 'bothering' our star when he wants to be left alone. Traditionally Graham is the member of CSNY always happiest at mingling with 'his' public, while Crosby is asleep, Stills is talking for hours or ignoring everyone on a whim and Young is leaping out the window to make the quickest exit (this has changed since twitter of course, where Crosby's feed beats everyone else's hollow and is a must-follow if you haven't already). But not here: if there's an album theme then it's one of running away. Nash starts off in Czecheslovakia, in a tale of spies and sex from the pen of Ritchie Zito (who helped craft Grace Slick's best solo album 'Dreams' in 1980 - and totally ruins her noisy 'Welcome To The Wrecking Ball' album the following year). Next he's demanding we keep our distance because 'I don't want to hear it!' on 'Keep Away From Me', even though he admits on the first verse trying to court our interest and attention. 'Innocent Eyes' sounds like a cute little pop song and is the lightest moment on the album, but it's another bitter tale of betrayal as Nash reads 'between the lines' about his lover having an affair (Bliss almost certainly wrote this as a 'Hollie' - it's 'Dear Eloise' sped up, especially the lines about line-reading).'Chippin' Away' was later turned into a joyous song when CSN happened to be one of the first bands on the scene as The Berlin Wall fell (they were quicker than Roger Waters, who insisted part of the wall be built up again to make his Pink Floyd concept album 'work'!) but the original is at least as much overwhelmed at the scale of a disaster as hopeful of being able to get through it. 'Over The Wall' is Nash's take on the same idea, as Graham builds a full song around Stills' favourite technique of using 'walls' as a metaphor. He still sounds as if it's too much of a challenge to cope with, though. 'Don't Listen To The Rumours' has Nash slagging off the people that are slagging him off. 'Newday' is meant to be about the bright new tomorrow, but it feels burdened with the weight of some ugly past. 'Glass and Steel' is sweeter but even more bleak than 'Into The Darkness' as a song about what Nash thinks is going to happen to Crosby, admitting he's 'sick and tired and tired of sick of playing all these games' with the sighing chorus 'It's hard' perhaps the saddest Graham ever wrote. Finally, 'We Got A Rock' is a nursery rhyme for the future when that might be all we get to sing, with the devastating consequences of a nuclear war played out to the point where what was once fought with bombs turn into rocks and nobody's learnt anything. It's not exactly 'Everybody We Love You' or 'Love Is Coming To Us All' is it?! While making a 'pop' album doesn't necessarily mean you have to be optimistic and bouncy, that is the usual par for the course if you want to make a hit pop record, so it's interesting that Nash should spend so long down in the dumps, especially as he's gone to so much trouble to make this sound like a pop record of the day.
There's an interesting under-current, though, that this isn't really the 'true' Nash - and that this isn't the 'true' humanity he sees around him in a decade spiralling out of control in favour of greed and avarice. There are lots of references to 'eyes' on this record, from the title on down. Eyes are, so they say, the 'windows of the soul' - the one part of our body we can't 'act' with, as - set further back in our heads and nearer out inner consciousnesses, they give away how we feel with a particular look or sometimes tears. That's what make their sudden use in pop songs so striking when they're used properly, because we subconsciously know everything about pop songs is an 'act' designed to make us feel something (usually happiness) and when we see somebody do something that can't be faked (or when we'd know if it was) it confuses us. This is, almost, the era of Sinead O'Connor crying a tear to 'Nothing Compares 2 U' (which she understood a lot better than its own writer Prince, who left it as a B-side) and new wave band 'Naked Eyes', who were meant to be a more 'emotional' kind of band (and would have been had they not been to the same synthesiser shop as everyone else around at the time). You could throw Stephen Stills into the mix here too, though 'Grey To Green' chickens out of his usual array of mood-swing lovers by having her change her eye colour lots; I'm still convinced this started off life as a 'deeper' song though - and Nash sings harmony on it, so it might have sat in his subconscious a little while. 'Innocent Eyes' is about the narrator realising his wife is lying because he can see it in her eyes and they say more than her denying words ever could. 'Sad Eyes' too has Nash finally giving up the pretence that he's a happy-go-lucky popstar, even if it's actually a rather beautiful song about not having to be sad anymore. And in 'Glass and Steel' it's watching Crosby's eyes glued to the TV in his prison cell, never looking Nash in the eye, that really gets to him and not the visit per se. Our eyes give us away across this album, but fittingly they're 'hidden' in this album - just as Graham's real feelings are hidden behind synthesisers and production values that make Michael Jackson look subtle.
So unloved is this record that it was, I think, the last of the pre-CD age CSN-related albums to make it into the digital world in the UK - it was one of the first to be released on CD in America, but few people had the right equipment in 1986 and even fewer were keen to buy up solo Nash oddities when they had the likes of the first CSN album and 'Déjà Vu' to buy in decent sound for the first time. The rest of the world only ever saw it in CD in 2008 when Rhino bought up the rights to a load of albums Atlantic didn't want to shift on the cheap and released them simply at a bargain £5 price. Even then the shops didn't have them long, making this a - relative - rarity nowadays. 'Innocent Eyes' desperately needs another go, especially a 'deluxe edition' this time round that strips the album back to the basics (the way 'Sad Eyes' was on the box set) and throws in superb outtake 'Lonely Man' too. Heard like that I suspect 'Innocent Eyes' would be a surprise to many fans who have never bothered playing it again after getting a headache about ten seconds into their first listen to side one.
However, we can't review that LP just the one we have here and the sad result is that 'Innocent Eyes' is one of the least likeable records in the CSN discography. A combination of that production noise, Nash's continuous shouting and some really lame songs ('We Got A Rock' is a nice idea, but in practice it just sounds like Nash is having a breakdown, while none of the cover songs are up to his own work) make 'Innocent Eyes' a tough listening experience as it exists right now. A more sympathetic listen with less innocent ears is what this album desperately needs, as Nash opens up on 'Glass and Steel' and 'Sad Eyes' in a way we haven't heard since the Joni Mitchell days. But to be honest that feel like hard work for an album that tries a little too hard to throw us off the scent and make us think that there's really nothing very much of interest here. This time there aren't any harmonies around to compensate either, with no special guests as per the recent Stills album unless you count an inaudible James Taylor on 'Sad Eyes'. Given that Nash was fighting for his career at the time - with the Hollies unlikely to invite him back and CSN apparently dead - this really wasn't the best way to go about it, with a short running album (only 34 minutes) that by Nash standards is low on ideas, low on inspiration and low on quality material. 'Trans' used it's cold alien synthesised sound to keep us at a distance so Neil could come to terms with a family illness he didn't want to reveal to the public yet; but Nash is more coy and thus less interesting for once - is he mad at Crosby, The Hollies, himself, his wife or everyone? We never find out and that's a shame, because it does feel as if there's a mystery here behind the oh so generic production values, oh so simple songs and oh so derivative sleeve (of the planet Earth in digital focus). It feels like our innocent eyes (and ears) are telling us lies and making a fool of us, but without the solution we never quite find out what the deception is really all about.
Talking of deception, 'See You In Prague' is kind of an update to 'Wild Tales', but with Nash the instigator this time, a spy travelling to Berlin with a 'vault key'. He's too busy being distracted by 'Stills' (presumably the photographic type, but it did make me wonder for a minute there!) though and gets knocked out by a female enemy agent who leaves a note saying 'better luck next time'. This happens twice more in different locations as the female spy keeps leaving clues in her notes that lead Nash to Prague where he awaits nervously., wondering about his fate. Richie Zito and Davitt Sigersen's song is certainly busy, packed with more sudden explosions and bursts of noise than the James Bond franchise it tries to ape, but somehow the song never amounts to much. The chorus line has the female spy disappearing 'into the fog' and that's pretty much what we get here, with a smokescreen of synthesisers covering all traces of emotion across this song. While Graham is clearly having fun singing a piece so far away from his usual singer-songwriter confessional mode, he's just hanging on by his fingertips to this snappy fast rocker, he doesn't inject the song with any feeling - is the spy pleased to be secretly seduced by a rival or mad as hell? Nash said in interviews of the time that this was a 'Marrakesh Express for 1986, with a few spies thrown in, but while 'Marrakesh' has a flavour of the place Nash visits (and by association a time and a place when being on the Marrakesh Express was the most perfect thing any self-respecting hippie could be doing on their holidays), this song is one of those airports built to the same model that makes every place feel the same. Noisy in other-words: this is a terribly rowdy song that's hard to get a handle on, with only Zito's own swirling guitar really catching the ear.
By the time the synth-drum heavy 'Keep Away From Me' follows you either have a headache like me or a very impermeable head. Nash was inspired to write the song after a tour promoter kept trying to get in contact and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. In a sign of how clueless the promoter was he expecting CSN to reform in 1986 (even though Crosby was in prison) and to play segregated concerts in South Africa, a clear no-no to n unprejudiced and politically minded band like the trio! It feels like Nash started this song as a comedy piece, adding some 'silly' drum patterns (like '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover') and a slight reggae lilt that sounds like a waddling duck. However somewhere along the way the song changed, perhaps because Nash was in a really foul mood the day he came to finish this track off. Suddenly the song shifts somewhere around the end of the verse, as a guitar snarl and some surprisingly tough keyboards weigh in while Nash screams over and over 'keep away from me!' Nash seems possessed by the ending, snapping 'I don't want to see you.. I don't want to hear you!' While it wasn't unheard of for Nash to start being aggressive over people he saw as making money ('Take The Money and Run' is an obvious example), this song has too much venom inside it to simply be about a tour that he didn't want to do. The lyrics too often have a personal touch - the person in the song knows Nash well enough to show him his 'family photos' and talk about his 'latest journey', which sounds like an odd thing for a tour promoter to do. So is this song closer to home? Some fans have wondered over the years if in fact this song is about somebody closer to home - and given the hurt on one of the other album tracks whether it's about Crosby. Admittedly Croz wasn't exactly getting out the family albums in prison either, but Nash sounds mortally wounded and betrayed in a way he would never be from just some silly promoter whose calls you simply ignore and CSN do have history writing about themselves. We know from both the Crosby and Nash autobiographies that, after speaking up on David's behalf at the trial, Graham largely backed away - is this a song warning an old friend who thinks old wounds are healed not to get too close? Or is that just looking at this song through the eyes of 2016 where Nash released similar songs on his angriest album 'This Pat Tonight'? (Though it's a quiet brooding anger, not the madness of this song). On the plus side at least this song has some emotion about it, unlike much of the album, and there's a singalong reggae tune in there that's rather good too. But even Nash's past rows like 'Frozen Smiles' used to be more tuneful than this and a second noisy song needs to calm down a bit.
'Innocent Eyes' doesn't pretend to be anything other than singalong pop. It's good singalong pop too, with far more of a 'Hollie' flavour than anything on the 1983 reunion album (it's clearly written for Allan Clarke to sing too, given how high Nash sings at times). Paul Bliss' song returns to his favourite theme of 'eyes' showing betrayal (see 'Someone Else's Eyes' on 'What Goes Around...') as he realises that a love of his life is over not because of what his partner says but the look that she gives him. Not so very long ago her eyes were 'innocent', but now the narrator realises the 'disguise' and she's been seeing other people on the side. That's a simple idea for a song but then, like Paul's tracks for The Hollies, this song doesn't pretend to be anything more. After The Hollies broke up Paul submitted the song to Air Supply who didn't record it either - Nash, who'd heard that Bliss had an extra batch of songs, asked to hear them for his record and chose this track. He even bought the demo that Bliss had put together, simply adding his own vocal on top alongside a harmony part by Kenny Loggins that's better than Graham's lead actually (Loggins' partner was Jim Messina, once of Buffalo Springfield so after years of working with Stills, Graham probably had a great deal of sympathy!) Nash though characteristically adds more to this track than you sense The Hollies ever would, adding more and more synths and some extra Zito guitar so that a song that's really quite simple sounds complex and elaborate. It's not unlikeable, but if he'd tried Nash could have written a better song on similar lines himself and his vocal lacks the pure hurt and raw anger of the best of this album, as if in his head he knows this is only a pop song. Even so, this song is catchier than a cold and deserved to do a lot better in the charts than it did.
'Chippin' Away' would be the album's most forgettable song if not for two things that make it kinda cute. One is the reggae rhythm which is used far better here than on 'Keep Away From Me' and which suits both Nash's rather good Bob Marley impression and the lyrics about taking away barriers between us. The second is that Nash still remembered this song well enough to urge Crosby and Stills to sing it with him in 1989 when CSN happened to be on tour in Germany when news of the Berlin Wall came through, giving the trio the perfect song to mark the occasion. This is, after all, a song about overcoming obstacles, even walls, one piece at a time 'a little bit day by day' until they're not here anymore - hence why Nash's patois (which would have been patronising on most other songs) fits in a world where we're all the same (well, ish). Unfortunately there's a few more barriers to overcome in this Tom Fedora cover, the biggest of which is the mass of ugly keyboards that shimmer rather than groove and an irritating 'tap tap tap' from the drumsticks that keeps appearing every chorus (and believe you me, that chorus comes round again a lot!) As per usual with this album there's so much going on that chippin' through it all is going to take way more than a day and it isn't always worth your time.Tom Fedora, of the band Reverbnation, probably wasn't thinking about the Berlin Wall specifically when he wrote this song - the wall is actually more symbolic in this song, the way it is in Stills' work. However...
Proof that Nash was already thinking about the Berlin Wall for the song comes with his own sequel 'Over The Wall', a song inspired by a visit to West Berlin where Graham saw the wall up close. The vibe didn't fit with his summer holidays at all - 'grey and dirty, filled with barbed wire...covered in graffiti', it was the ugliest thing Nash had seen for years. Speaking to the press about this album Nash commented 'It's a preposterous piece of architecture and an affront to human dignity and I'd like to tear it down myself, brick by brick!' This was the closest he came. In the lyrics Nash worries, typically, not so much for the people who were separated by it years ago and who have learnt to live their lives across the next forty years or so but the children who grow up around it and think that this is 'normal' and think that we always have to segregate ourselves and some are more deserving than others (the wall was, of course, particularly cruel because it was controlled by superpowers from a distance afraid of it falling into each other's hands; it's not as if half of Berlin were at war with each other and they'd already paid dearly for Germany losing World War Two). Nash worries about why some humans 'have to learn to cry before they can crawl' and in true hippie fashion imagines humanity overcoming all these petty obstacles by going 'over the wall' to freedom. There's a sly reference to 'Immigration Man' in the lyrics as 'Passport policeman' decide who goes where on a whim, though this time the song is darker and angrier - this isn't a rock-star being inconvenienced simply because of his nationality but people threatened by machine guns and dogs if they disobey a stupid instruction. Exactly the sort of thing a member of CSN should have been doing during the mid 1980s when the cold war was at its hottest, it's a shame the trio didn't sing this song at the fall of the wall in 1989 too. Then again, it's quite a complex song as this album goes, full of sudden changes of direction and the song's pace is urgent and fast, even though this time it comes from the guitar stabs rather than just the keyboards. Graham turns in one of his better vocals across the album on this one too, double-tracking it for added weight, with an extra-long note on 'walllllll' that, very aptly, sounds like a real effort for him to make. You just wish there'd been a few extra blocks in this one - like much of the album it's so busy your ears can't rest on one thing for a second, even if the song's heart is very much in the right place.
Johnny Palermo released two hard to find singles in 1978 and 1979 before disappearing as a singer, though he continued to write for other people. Goodness knows where Nash heard his song 'Don't Listen To The Rumours' as no one seems to have recorded it before him and it's not an obvious candidate for a CSN song (but then, 'Innocent Eyes' isn't a very CSN style album). Like 'Keep Away From Me' it's unusually aggressive, with Nash's usual sweet voice battle-hardened and weary as he fights yet another battle. The bank of keyboards, a whole ker-plunk set of synth-drums (scattering in all directions randomly) and even a set of panpipes all give him plenty to battle musically. However lyrically Nash said later that this song appealed to him because of all the press reports of what had happened to CSN. This was a dark and difficult time in the band's history, but it was made more so by reviewers who couldn't understand why Stills and Nash didn't just work as a duo and overdub old song's of David's, like most bands would with a member in prison. CSN, though, didn't work like most bands - they all spent time apart and without Crosby the spirit of CSN had gone in any case. Nash, though, was being grilled over Crosby's state and how it got like that (it wasn't through lack of trying on his bandmates' part), whether he'd fallen out with Stills and just how badly things had been in the Hollies camp (actually Nash had walked out at the first possible opportunity after the record and short American tour were over, while uncharacteristically trying to keep his mouth shut!) Nash was tired of responding to stories that simply weren't true and latched onto this song's impassioned plea that everyone has got their facts wrong and he's quite happy, thankyou. How much better would it have been, though, if Nash had put his feelings to work crafting one of his own songs - or borrowing a better one than this rather boring and generic song to cover? (The Who's 'It's Not True' from 1965 would have been great!)
Thankfully 'Sad Eyes' is a song that sounds much like the older Nash we know and love. It's one of his better love songs in which he manages to be as vulnerable as on 'Songs For Beginners' and as calm as 'Wild Tales', with a dash of the family life on 'Earth and Sky'. A beautiful melody is warm and rounded and the lyrics are worthy too, as Graham plucks up the courage to tell wife Susan what she mean to him - only by the time he does so he finds her fast asleep! So he tells her anyway, in song, about what she's brought to his life. She's opened his eyes, shown him warmth and kindness and allowed him to see the world differently, with the 'sad eyes' he used to have after the split with Joni Mitchell and the death of Amy Gossage now a thing of the past. Like 'Sleep Song' Graham gazes in admiration at her body, wondering how he got this lucky and how he came this far, remembering how he used to be, 'dragging myself way down' and how he feels like 'the better man I am' with the love of someone he admires. Of all the songs in the Nash catalogue, except perhaps the special case of 'Song For Susan', this is the hardest one to hear after Graham and Susan's split as their love is literally the only good thing happening to Graham on this troubled album. Unfortunately the album mix takes a simple song by a self-confessed simple man and makes it way too complex - this a pretty song that doesn't need dressing, never mind the eighteen layers of synth satin robes it's given to wear and both Graham's lovely lead and James Taylor's supportive harmony part are ducked way too low in the mix. A remix on the 'Reflections' box set shows that under all that mess is a truly lovely song and one of Graham's finest, with 'Lonely Man' (about how Susan prevented him from being lonely too) an obvious pairing that really should have been on the album.
'Newday', however, is a Nash song co-written with Craig Doerge (at this point in time more usually Crosby's writing partner) that suggests he didn't really have a lot burning in his soul to say. The most un-Nash like track on his most un-Nash like album, it sounds more like U2 or The Pet Shop Boys - irritatingly poppy in a synth kinda way with a guitar that doesn't so much play as flicker across the whole thing. There's a 'woah' chorus that's the poppiest Graham has written since the early Hollies days but only the hard-to-hear lyric sounds at all like what we're used to. 'Where will I be tomorrow?' sings Nash's restless personality. 'I hope it's where I've never been before!' Which is a better lyric than what we get in the third and final verse: 'I'm gonna look for the light, you're all I need to make it right!' Unfortunately Graham was so keen to join a 'new day' and do things differently that he seems to have rather overlooked all the things he used to do well in the past. The result is a curiously lifeless song where nobody seems to be playing or singing with the same enthusiasm heard in the words and where the synths playing this ugly melody don't really have any emotion at all but if they did it would be more reflective than this. Probably the album's weakest song.
'Glass and Steel' is, like 'Sad Eyes' a pretty and revealing song that sounds out of place here so it's been covered up with numerous synth sound effects to make it fit - even though it would have sounded much better as the 'odd one out' on the record anyway. Nash can't relate to an old friend he used to know so well. Either he or they (the verses are vague) stare sightlessly at a TV trying to block out the world around them and it's so different to the full-of-life character Nash used to know - as in fact is he now that their relationship seems broken and he feels lifeless. The title recalls John Lennon's 1974 track 'Steel and Glass', a diatribe against ex-manager Allen Klein which could just have easily have been about himself; it's about how the pair came together because of their similarities though five years on after the Beatles split Lennon felt very different to his old friend. I wonder if Nash also recognises something of himself in his friend, about how he'd allowed the years to get on top of him and drift. Especially if, as people have long assumed, this song is really about Crosby. Nash sings that it's 'hard' for his comrade locked inside a prison cell; it's hard for him too on the outside having lost many of their mutual friends who don't call round any more and reaching out for drugs too to numb the pain (note that he's sitting in front of the TV 'getting spacier'). Note too the lines about his worry for a 'rock and roll refugee' - it's the lifestyle Nash blames more than his friend, but he's not over giving sermons perhaps adding that he took as many drugs in the beginning and as the most stable member in an unstable band (relatively speaking anyway) he didn't fall into the same traps ('The trick is learning how to balance all the pleasure and the pain'). This song is kinder than 'Into The Darkness' though, which was Nash's attempt to shock Crosby back into seeing what he'd become. This song sympathises instead, adding that he wish he knew where his friend had gone and that coming down 'can't be much fun' for Crosby but that he knows his friend 'will find the strength to carry on'. I'd love to know when exactly this song was written: it could have been any time since 1982's 'Daylight Again' LP (as this track didn't exactly fit on the Hollies reunion LP). At the time of recording Crosby was a lot better, having survived the first few months without drugs. This track could have been written in 1982-1984 when Crosby was trying to escape prison - literally on one occasion when he quit a rehab clinic to flee on his yacht 'The Mayan'. But something tells me it was written soon after Crosby went inside and sounds like Nash paid his friend one last visit. He's been coy about how often he saw his old friend, telling reporters that prison was a 'scary business but music saved his ass' by giving Crosby respect inside. This suggests he did visit once. I wonder too if Crosby, who'd have been at his lowest ebb, ever even noticed or whether he simply stared at the 'tube' inside his prison cell, leaving Nash to go home upset and do exactly the same to his TV. The sound of an old friend caring about another old friend, along with 'Sad Eyes' it's sad indeed to see what has been lost since the Crosby-Nash falling out of 2016. Though the melody could have been stronger and the artificial synths could have gone on holiday on this track of all tracks there's a great and moving song here and Nash's vocal is good too when you can actually hear it, caught right in the middle between hope and hopelessness.
'Innocent Eyes' has to go out with a bang though - it's that kind of album - so instead of the perfect finale we get a final noisy track to bookend the album. 'I've Got A Rock' is, oddly, the closest any of CSN came to singing about nuclear warfare (as opposed to nuclear power). Nash wrote later that he made this song to 'strip away' war to its primal basics - a nice idea on paper, but what it means in actuality is Nash singing 'I got a rock, you got a rock, we got a rock they got a rock' over and over before moving on to try the same trick with a stick and a gun. By the end everyone involved in these humanity-long wars realise that the difference between haves and have-nots isn't worth it; that we have wives, a family, a county - and want a future. This isn't sung so much as narrated over a funky synth-bass part that sounds remarkably like the ones Eric Haydock used to play on old Hollies tracks (from 'I can't Let Go' on down). If they ever make another film about Armageddon (and please don't, that isn't a request!) then this song will be the perfect signature tune/trail what with its brittle tough lyrics about what's at stake and a feeling of powerlessness. However, as a song, there's very little to go on and it's another case of this album having a nice idea to experiment and going way too far with it. Nash seems to have been inspired by Neil Young's 'Trans' LP with his vocodered robotic voice but if so he missed the point. That album came out four years earlier when such sounds were new - everyone had done the idea to death by 1986. Plus 'Trans' was a conceptual work that wouldn't have worked without the robots there - Nash just sounds as if he's auditioning for Darth Vader in the next Star Wars film, badly (assuming they give him a Mancunian accent anyway: 'Don't mither me Luke, I'm yer dad and that can't be fettled now!') An unfortunate one-note end to an album that had sparks of genius but still begins and ends with nursery rhymes.
'Innocent Eyes' is, then, arguably Nash's weakest solo LP. It didn't manage to do what it set out to do - establish a new life away from CSN when both that band and The Hollies looked like dead-ends for the time being. It doesn't build on Nash's strengths as a songwriter too often (with only six new songs, the lowest on a Nash project by far), allow him to stretch himself as a singer and Nash plays notably little music himself across the whole album (a bit of keyboard here and there and no guitar or harmonica). The album's poor sales put an end to his time on Atlantic (a couple of future CSN reunions aside) and all but killed off Nash's songwriting momentum, with only a handful of songs on 1988 CSNY album 'American Dream' that aren't much more inspired than this album's. However what 'Innocent Eyes' does prove is that, even at his worst and most misguided, Nash always has something extra to offer. Two songs here, 'Sad Eyes' and 'Glass and Steel' (a third with 'Lonely Man' which really should have made the album!) show that Graham still had it when he was content to be himself instead of playing at being a spy, a pop singer or a glittery trivial 1980s pop artist (that Hollies album really went to his head, although it was far better than this one! Just check out that popstar grin on the back cover - Nash hasn't shown his teeth off this much since 1964!) Not many artists would put their careers on the line trying to be quite this contemporary either - though Nash always kept an eye on what was happening in the musical world he never rolled around in it quite as much as he does here (which is difficult for our modern ears to take, now the world has moved on from synths and synth-drums, but made sense in 1986). You have to applaud Graham's bravery and the better couple of songs here, but the rest? Put it down to experience and a mid-life, possibly career-ending crisis in which Nash had lost his band and his best friend all at the same time and leave it for another time when your headache's gone!