After vowing not to record another Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album until the other three went through rehab, Young nonetheless continued to work with each one periodically; they turn up as guest vocalists in one permutation or another on most of Young's 70s albums. So I'm sure it seemed like a big deal, if not a total surprise, when the work of the Stills-Young Band surfaced. That is, until one heard the results.
The Stills-Young Band consisted of its two namesakes and a bunch of slick L.A. session pros. None of these guys were from Young's circle of regulars; presumably they were players with whom Stills had worked. Stills and Young trade off songs throughout the album, back and forth. Young's bear the distinct traces of a lack of effort, toss-offs deemed unworthy of his own albums, perhaps, while Stills's contributions border on unlistenable.
I actually hadn't listened to the album in many years before pulling it out to write this post; I remembered liking the breezy title track (Young's; it closes out Decade), thinking the Stills tracks were a bit bland, and not remembering the rest of the Young tracks. Upon further review, the album is awful, and has no clear competition as the worst album Young released during the decade. It may even rank as his worst album ever which, if you heard much of his 80s output, is really saying something.
First off, Young's songs aren't even that good to begin with, but whereas Crazy Horse can sometimes elevate less-than-stellar songwriting through passionate performance, most of these songs sound even worse being played by a bunch of soulless studio hacks. Oh sure, the guys are pros, and there's not a note out of place on the album, but is that really what you want Neil Young to sound like?
As for the Stills numbers... wow. This guy really fell off. The songs veer from faux-blues to faux-Latin and are consistently terrible. The lyrics, the vocals, the arrangements: awful. I have to imagine that Young got roped into doing this record and was contractually bound up before he had a chance to hear the new songs Stills was working on.
Out of Young's five songs, there's the aforementioned title track, which is nice, and one more halfway-decent song: "Let It Shine", which opens side two. The performance has a shambling warmth absent from most of the album; it sounds as though Young deliberately kept the band up all night in order to record them sounding tired. And the song itself is interesting as it's the only Young song I know of that flirts stylistically with gospel, a style in which, not surprisingly, the simplicity and sincerity seem to suit Young quite well.
From my deck to you: The Stills-Young Band -
"Let It Shine"