Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Life

And finally, after four messy albums of genre experiments both old and new, Crazy Horse is back! The triumphant return of the Horse! Sort of.

1987's Life saw Neil Young reunited with his favourite backing band for what should have been a welcome return to form. Instead, he remained mired in trendy 80s production tricks, squandering some fine songwriting on an album filled with gated snares and extraneous synths.

I know I've been fairly charitable thus far to Young's 80s output in these posts, trying to find the good points in each of his whims no matter how misguided. The best I can come up with here is that he made an intentionally bad album and titled it Life. So, y'know, Life sucks. Get it? OK I got nothin'.

Seriously, this album stinks. It's a Crazy Horse album in name only, i.e., the backing band is all there, but this is really just another 80s Neil Young album, only this time without any attempt to mimic a particular style. Instead it's just a generic rock record with bad production. Oh, and to make matters worse, it's also a Crazy Horse album with no extended guitar workouts. The less said about it the better.

So quickly then: Lucky Thirteen includes opener "Mideast Vacation" and "Around the World". Who cares. Neither is particularly good, but both have halfway decent guitar leads, which may have been why Young decided ten years later that they were worthy of inclusion on an anthology of this era.

The two songs I've posted here are both ballads, which isn't really representative of the album as a whole, but they're both good songs. "Long Walk Home", in fact, is an excellent song, easily the album's best, but the production tries its best to ruin it. I don't even mind the cannon fire sound effects, but those synths? Give me a break. Still, a great song shines through, and this is one of the finest ones Young wrote all decade. Listen to the writing overcome the production; you just can't kill a great song.

"When Your Lonely Heart Breaks" is, similarly, a touching song marred by way too much reverb, but the lead guitar work demands some attention, especially considering the paucity of it throughout the rest of the album. The solo is nicely understated. In a way, it's so spare as to sound like nothing he'd recorded before. Beautiful.

Everybody's Rockin' and Landing On Water may have seemed more embarrassing on the surface, but to my mind the sheer generic sound of Life makes it the worst Young album of the era. Thankfully, he would sink no lower. The reconvening of Crazy Horse was, as it would later turn out, a harbinger of better times ahead. Not that you'd know it here.

Buy it... on vinyl.

From my deck to you: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - "Long Walk Home" and "When Your Lonely Heart Breaks"

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