Those New Songs: Falling From Above
sittin' on the porch,
"I won't retire
but I might retread
Seems like that guy singin' this song
been doin' it for a long time
Is there anything he knows
that he ain't said?
Sing a song for freedom
sing a song for love
sing a song for depressed angels
falling from above
Over the past few months, there's been quite a bit of debate going around the internets about Neil Young's new songs.
For purposes of this discussion, the following 11 songs are considered to be new since their debut beginning on the 2008 Europe summer tour:
01 Just Singing A Song (first: Helsinki 2008/08/07, 4th song that night)
02 Sea Change (Goeteborg 2008/08/09, 15th)
03 When Worlds Collide (Coburg 2008/08/23, 17th)
04 Light A Candle (Toronto 2008/12/04, 11th)
05 Fuel Line (Auburn Hills 2008/12/07, 18th)
06 Cough Up The Bucks (Worcester 2008/12/13, 12th)
07 Hit The Road (Worcester 2008/12/13, 14th)
08 Get Behind The Wheel (Worcester 2008/12/13, 19th)
09 Off The Road (NYC, 2008/12/15, 19th)
10 Get Around/You Don't Need A Map (NYC, 2008/12/16, 15th)
11 Fork In The Road (Neil's Garage debut 1/7/09).
Thanks Sharry for research and keepin' jive alive in T.O.!
(If you haven't heard all of the new songs, Roel's Rust Radio is rotating recent stes this weekend and Johnny's Song Dog site has samples.)
So, it would seem that quite a few folks are less than enamored with the new songs -- in particular the Linc-Volt car themes. Or as Mark "spook_the_horse" characterizes the reaction on Rust : Message: New Neil & Record Company Clowns...: "a general chorus of slight consternation and no little disquiet."
The latest round on Neil's creativity was sparked by Village Voice's review of last month's NYC shows by Rob Harvilla "Let's Avoid Neil Young's Next Record: The old stuff enthralls, but the new stuff terrorizes at MSG:
"I am struggling to think of anyone who could possibly give less of a fuck about what you think of his/her new album than Neil Young does. But each song tonight creates an unpleasant binary effect: Love it if we immediately recognize it; barely tolerate it if we don't."
And many reactions have tracked along with the sentiment. Regarding the most recent song "FORK IN THE ROAD":
"The other car songs featured on tour are decidedly bad, but this 'Fork in the Road' song is so distressingly awful that it almost seems like a joke. So hideous that one almost has to laugh at the situation. Would a record company actually listen to this garbage and then agree to release it? At some point, they're going to have to take a stand - right? I'm actually rooting for the record company here."
And this comment:
"Seems to me all of Neils recent output about cars and driving around the great USA is low on melody. High energy and just churning on seem to be getting the upper hand, much like on Living with War. Do you suppose that's the price of making quick, Current Affairs Music? (On the other hand, his old current affair songs had GREAT melodies..)"
PunkDavid adds harshly with The new songs - Please tell me they get better:
"I don't think that words can really adequately describe my opinion of these songs. I'd like to think that this is how fans must have felt when they first heard Trans or Everybody's Rockin', but as strange as those two albums were, there was something new and radical in the music. There was a twist, a gimmick, an experiment that didn't quite work.
This new stuff is simply the most tired music I've ever heard from Neil. I hope it's just half-baked and needs to be reworked in the studio, or something, but I'm afraid that there's not enough substance to make the songs be anything short of below average at best.
I've been a fan for 20 years. I've bought every new Neil album immediately after release for 15 years. Even when I was listening to new albums that I knew were well below Neil's peak performances of the past, I could still find merit in them. Even Are You Passionate, which I rank as Neil's worst solo release, had sparks of brilliance amid the shlocky sentimentality of lyrics set to a musical genre that
was poorly suited to Neil's musical skills. These songs are right in Neil's comfort zone musically, but there's nothing to them. The lyrics are pedestrian, and the music I'd call pedestrian too [snip]."
And on and on. On this blog we've read the blowback and disbelief over the new songs from "Just Singing A Song Won't Change The World" to "When Worlds Collide" to "Sea Change" to "Light a Candle" to "Get behind the wheel".
The lyrics are lame. The songs have no melody. Re-hashes. Neil's Washed up. Even gripes about having to pay $100's to hear crappy new songs.
But you know that when the Dylan comparisons start to kick in as Charlie posts then trouble can't be far behind:
What I love about Neil albums like "Trans" and "Landing on Water" and even "Everybody's Rockin'" - he was exploring, trying something new. This new song is simply another along the lines of "Piece of Crap" and "Dirty Old Man" - Neil can put this stuff out in his sleep. It's not bad, but we've been there before. I'm not a big fan of "Greendale", but at least he had a vision for something and I appreciate it for that.
I'm just sayin' that Neil's more recent work, over the past decade or so, has, as a body of work, been neither of the quality of his past work nor represented a great departure from things he had done before. And as for being a lyricist, Neil perhaps isn't in the league of Bob Dylan (who hasn't been too shabby in releases lately either, all of which are at a very high caliber, too, ranking with the best of his entire oeuvre), but his older work typically was written by a craftsman - "Words", "Alabama", "Cortez", and so on. Brilliant lyrics combined with always excellent music. I just don't see the same songcraft in this latest song, or in much of his later work.
We find some of this vitriol quite amusing -- especially when we hear that Neil is just churning out songs for the sake of it and tossing them off like so many logs on the fire. Particularly since this is a guy who wrote "Down by the River", "Cinnamon Girl", and "Cowgirl in the Sand" all in a single afternoon while sick with a 103 degree temperature. Or wrote "Mr. Soul" in only five minutes.
But it really has been harshing our mellow here at Thrasher's Wheat to read day after day the blistering criticism of the new songs. But -- of course -- not everyone dislikes the new songs. Actually, many fans do seem to appreciate the new music and what Neil is trying to do.
And we think that Aaron, "That Old Country Insufferable Knowitall"'s analysis An Alternate Theory of Change (lengthy, but perhaps offensive enough to read) pretty much nails the validity of new Neil songs. TOCIKIA posts:
My argument will be this: that Neil hasn't changed nearly as much as many have supposed him to. One thing that has changed in many cases is the lens through which he is viewed. I believe that as the listener ages, they are less and less open to new forms or directions of art. In this case that means you are less likely to find new music that you like, especially if it moves in new directions, as you age. What that means, specific to Neil, is that while I agree that the nature of his work output is changing, I think few would dispute that that has been the only constant of his career.
In other words, our reaction to Neil's new songs says more about *us* than it does about Neil and his music.
One can recall what audience reactions were to the new Tonight's The Night songs in 1973. Is what we're experiencing comparable? Of course not.
A Man Needs A Car
As "M" comments on a L.A.Times interview with Van Morrison:
"Some artists, of course, make an art out of veering from the script mentality. Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen hold court atop the list of rockers who strive for liberation with every performance. Jazz as a genre also counts spontaneity among its core values, just as gospel at its most inspired seeks something higher through performance."
Peter D. from Holland posits:
Neil is in my opinion always reinventing himself, on every record or whatever he releases. You can't really say that he has done the same thing twice.
Neil's reinventions do not always please us. That's because he finds the reality of the new invention more important than the success it will or will not have. And that's why he releases it (same reason for releasing the Archives: 'just give'em everything: the good, the bad and the ugly').
Those two points are THE reasons why Neil is still alive and present and, if I may say so, why he is one of the few pop icons that really is a true artist.
Last but not least: name me one other artist of this status who delivers new output as much as Neil. The last few years we have had sometimes 2 or 3 items per year or more…I can only be in awe.
OK, so the new song lyrics may be simple and direct. So maybe Neil got tired of obfuscating lyrics since no one can even figure out Powderfinger means? Give listeners literal messages they can figure out. "Light a Candle"? What could that possibly mean? Hmm. "Singing a Song Won't Change The World". Gee. What would change the world? "Sea Change"? We always thought that was about the Obama campaign. So on.
And before the accusations of being a Neil sycophant start flying as usual, we'll leave you with our thoughts after hearing most of the new songs live during our excellent road trip adventure last month:
At this point, we're just not going to get into a debate on the merits of these 10 or 11 new songs that were worked into various combinations the setlists in Philly, Boston & NYC.
For the doubters of the new songs, we'll just say that sometimes it takes time for them to age, breathe and to come into their own. The point being, that pushing ahead into new frontiers is sometimes more inspiring then plowing the same old ground. Breaking through the wall. We like to call it taking a risk. Without risk there is no growth. I for one, would be disappointed in Neil for not trying out something new and just giving us the hits.
That being said, Neil had some heavy duty messages. We'll challenge anyone - your Dylans, Springsteens, your flavor of the month band to go out and tell it like it is. Even if it's maybe not the most elegant lyrics Neil has ever written.
So let's take "Cough Up The Bucks$" for example. Who wouldn't plunk down a few $'s to hear Neil sing @ MSG in NYC -- blocks from Wall St. -- a song about corporate welfare and reckless greed? It's like going into the lion's den with red meat. So we'll cough up the bucks to maybe hear "Cough up the Bucks" again! Afterall, it's only fuckin' money.
That's change we can believe in.
In conclusion, it would seem that some long time Neil fans have reached a fork in the road in terms of appreciating Neil's career direction. So which fork in the road will you take?
Over on Karen's blog Come In, she's running a poll on "What is your favorite song in Neil’s new batch?"
Cast your vote and come back and tell us what you think. No, what you really think. Are you taking the stay the course fork? Or are you ready to be the change?