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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Comment of the Moment: Neil Young's New Album EARTH - The Artist and The Audience

Neil Young - "Defiant Yet Vulnerable"

Lots of engaging comments of late on Neil Young's new upcoming album EARTH.

And in the ensuing chatter, invariably Neil's musical direction collides with his other projects, such as PONO or LincVolt.

The Comment of the Moment is from TopangaDaze summarizing the situation of The Artist and The Audience:
In a press release, Mr. Young reiterated that he's continuing his life long journey of making music while pursuing his varied interests. Paraphrasing, he said he will continue to do what he wants to, when he wants to, how he wants to, where he wants to and why he wants to.

It may make sense to him, it may not; It may make sense to the critics, it may not; It may make sense to his fans, it may not.

At the age of 70, Mr. Young is still searching and questioning. His questions and answers sometimes resonate, other times he walks on a lonely road.

He understands the primary commodity that no one can possess is unlimited time. He will continue to treat each day as if it's a life and death struggle, because it is. Yesterday's gone and tomorrow's a dream. He's fighting for his music, for his planet, for his right to speak out and for his need to create. He often strikes the wrong chord but it's in search of that unreachable note. That perfect feeling when time just slips away...

Regarding PONO, Mr. Young has said he hears and feels the difference; Others may or may not.

One thing is clear to this observer: For over 50 years, Mr. Young has tapped into something unseen and unheard by others. He's in touch with a source and he is a source. We are all welcome to listen and we are all welcome to move on if we choose.

Mr. Young wrote "Just think of me as one you never figured" back in the 70s. Those words were true then and remain true today.

He also wrote:

Take my advice
don't listen to me

which may or may not be applicable to the way many feel about PONO. As for me, I just hope Mr. Young is happy and healthy and that he still feels the pull.
TopangaD we have to agree with where you're coming from here.

Actually, the funny logic of figuring out Neil Young is the fundamental understanding of his unpredictability and whimsy.

Once upon a time, we blogged about The Message Trilogy
The initial consensus around Neil Young's Greendale and Living With War was that they were flawed and misguided. Our opinion was that Fork in the Road seemed to be falling right into the same mindset. But we maintain that the three works together actually constitute a cohesive trilogy that may just validate Neil's early 21st century work.

There's an intriguing arc between the three albums. With Greendale , Neil sounds the alarm that something has gone terribly wrong on a number of fronts. Living With War was a direct confrontation of the need for a call to action. Fork in the Road -- the 3rd installment of the trilogy -- reveals Neil coming to grips with the fact that first you recognize a problem, then you call out the need to address it, and finally you do something about it.
All 3 albums were recorded very quickly without heavy production and stylistically cohesive. Raw Neil. We like it that way. Keeping it real.

And so it continues. Americana - a Crazy Horse album of covers. A Letter Home - lo-fi recording in a booth. Storytone - full symphony and choir. EARTH - live recording with overdubbed "sounds of nature".

That's just the last 3 years of "unconventional" releases.

Such is The Unbearable Lightness of Being Neil Young ...

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At 5/20/2016 12:37:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

The initial consensus around Neil Young's Greendale and Living With War was that they were flawed and misguided. Our opinion was that Fork in the Road seemed to be falling right into the same mindset. But we maintain that the three works together actually constitute a cohesive trilogy that may just validate Neil's early 21st century work.

Really? I'm not a fan of any of these below par records. For me they are over long lyrically weak and there's not a classic Neil song in there the songs have been sacrificed for a hotch potch message about the environment which are poorly put together...It's Nature's Way and Fresh Garbage did it better 45 years ago in songs that held together a strong lyrical message.

At 5/20/2016 01:22:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

I'll defend both Greendale and Living with War quite vigorously.

"Greendale" was a well executed (both live and recorded) cohesive story. "Carmichael" "Bandit" "Falling from Above" "Grandpa's Interview" and "Double E" are good songs, as are others. There's really not a true dud on the album, though I don't like the official version of "Be the Rain" nearly as much as I did in concert. Sure, there's not a "classic" or "hit" on the album, but again, it's consistent throughout musically and lyrically.

"Living with War" is another consistent album. The weakest song on the album "Let's Impeach the President" is unfortunately the one that got the most attention. But songs like "Shock and Awe" "Families" "Flags of Freedom" "Roger and Out" and others are strong songs.

As Forest Gump said, that's all I want to say about that (at least for now)..

Take my advice
don't listen to me

At 5/20/2016 05:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Greendale is a top 5 album.

It's better than some of the seventies albums. It's mainly just a dream-like expression of what's going on in Neil's mind. The environmental side of it is just a part of that, which is why it works so well. It doesn't self-consciously dominate in a way that restricts a more natural flow of imagery and ideas and feelings.

So many of Neil's best songs are story-based and cinematic in nature, so really it's no surprise this album was a huge artistic success. The trick is to ignore the film and just enjoy the album (let your mind create its own film). Or watch the Inside Greendale sessions DVD, which is also tastefully done and great fun. Either way, this record comes close to representing Neil Young at his most creative, most nuanced and most compelling. You can really get your teeth into this one.

In comparison, Living With War and Fork In The Road are....just okay. I prefer Fork In The Road of the two. There are some good songs on both, but not many.

I don't think many criticise those albums for being "misguided". It's more the fact that overall they feel like Neil Young Lite, watered down. Like eating a pie that you forgot to put in the oven first. There's some substance and quality to them, but not nearly enough to get particularly worked up about.


At 5/20/2016 05:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

....Sorry, I meant to say "I prefer Living With War of the two".


At 5/20/2016 05:59:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Scotsman I respect your comments but you're putting Greendale in the top 5 Neil records ? I'd love to know number 6!

At 5/20/2016 06:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andy: Obviously choosing just 5 records is hard, and very subjective. But to me, Greendale is classic Neil Young. It's hugely creative and artistic and expressive. Even the slightly dodgy lead guitar playing adds to its charm.

Ignore the environmental aspect of it and just take it as a Neil Young record, telling a story. I'm cofident this album is worth a re-evaluation.

I could needlessly write for hours about this record. I won't, fortunately. But just listen to the way he sings on opener Falling From Above. It sounds like he's just woken up from a dream, a slight rasp to his voice, the morning sun pouring through the window. It fits the song perfectly.

"Feel like that guy singing this song, been doing it for a long there anything he knows that he ain't said?". The whole album is full of little nuggets like this, Neil Young expressing himself through these characters, dropping in wry asides and spot-on observations about life. There's so much here to relate to. This is an album about us, not just Neil Young. We can see ourselves and our relatives and our lives in these characters. They feel real. We can learn something. I urge you to give it another go.


At 5/20/2016 09:31:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I never get tired of Greendale. Scotsman described it perfectly. And the live show/play was overlooked and under rated. It was executed brilliantly! Such enthusiasm by those involved and seeing Ben up there at the end too, it was just a special, unique evening. Performance art that clicked and was true. Inspiring. And then the Crazy Horse mini set at the end. Such a cool night. I remember the jerks behind me at the end of Greendale saying "now we get the REAL Neil Young". Man, some people are so clueless.

At 5/20/2016 09:50:00 AM, Blogger Tom said...

I love Greendale, it's probably my favourite Neil Young album. I really like the fact that he toured it totally acoustic and then full band with actors - it worked well both ways. Living With War is also a great album, great melodies, great instrumentation - the trumpet works really well as does the choir pitching in to accentuate the vocals. I'm a mechanical engineer and I love the idea of LincVolt, I also think that LincVolt is awesome - "Fork in the Road" not so much.
But that's ok, it's good to be a fan of an artist where you can say "Two out of three ain't bad." That means that at least 40 of the over 60 recorded works of Neil Young that I've got are, in my opinion, pretty great.
I'm also a huge Guns 'n Roses fan, I wish I could say I've got 40 great Guns 'n Roses albums. Same thing for other bands of the same vintage as Neil Young, I don't have 40 great Who albums, or 40 great Pink Floyd albums.
So if one you don't like, or one you consider bad comes out - no big deal - go listen to Zuma for a couple months, chances are another one will be out by then and you can go decide for yourself all over again.

At 5/20/2016 11:56:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

In many ways, Greendale is Neil's most fully realized and executed concept. He was fully committed and the various pieces of it either taken separately or as a whole are relatable and telling. I think the worst anyone could say about it is that it's a little slow and plodding, but for me it works well as smooth easy pacing.

As good or better is Living with War. It's another fully realized concept album speaking Neil's truth. The musical arrangements are varied and interesting, and most of the lyrics work well within the framework. I really think people are just turned off by the political directness and straight forward nature of most of the songs, but I really think it's borderline great stuff.

Shock and Awe:
"Thousands of children scarred for life
Millions of tears for a soldier's wife
Both sides are losing now
Heaven takes them in
Thousands of children scarred for life

We had a chance to change our mind
But somehow wisdom was hard to find"

Moving lyrics while Neil's guitar swiftly plays, backed up softly by a live choir as a clarion trumpet call periodically emphasizes the action. It's all very immediate and powerful. PEOPLE, WAKE UP!!!

Then there's Flags of Freedom, then Families, etc.. These are great songs with important messages about life and war and country and our human nature. PEOPLE, WAKE UP!!!

"I feel you in the air today
Roger and out good buddy"

At 5/20/2016 03:23:00 PM, Blogger Thos said...

I never listen to Fork in the Road, it is hugely lightweight, and a complete waste of the incredible band who recorded Spirit Road and No Hidden Path etc.

And Storytone is an embarrassment, I literally cannot hear it without cringing. The lyrics are appalling, Neil's voice sounds lost amongst the symphony orchestra, the arrangements are Hollywood schmaltz (similar to the cheesy crap Phil Spector ruined The Long And Winding Road with), and that bit when some session guitarist tries to play a solo on a Neil Young song... words fail me, what was Neil thinking? He could have played better if he was locked in a box with the guitar locked inside a different box. Many posters here seem to admire it for its honesty, but really I don't hear it. Unless he's using the orchestra as a metaphor for feeling uncomfortable (with the divorce etc), in a similar way to vocoders on Trans? Still, for me it's unlistenable.

In terms of recent albums, I absolutely love Le Noise, particularly the DVD, where you see just how much care went into crafting the sounds on those customised guitars, not to mention the interesting and innovative production behind the scenes.

I have high hopes for Earth, hoping it is good enough to be the final part in a Rust Never Sleeps/Weld-Arc/Earth trilogy. Of course, I would always welcome a fourth instalment!

Incidentally, and I know I say this every year or so, but I'm still waiting for releases of: Trunk Show (filmed 2009), Toast (announced 2008), Time Fades Away II (announced 2009), Chrome Dreams, Oceanside-Countryside, Homegrown, Odeon-Budokan (All announced 2010). I would rather not know that these things existed, than to read a press release and get excited about it, only for nothing to be released FOR YEARS AND YEARS!

Anyway, not wanting to be too negative - bring on the UK tour and the new LP; am very excited!

At 5/20/2016 04:48:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Thanks to all for such passion. Each of us has our favorites and our less favorite Neil albums, and thankfully we are all free to express our thoughts here on Thrasher.

As to the list above of not yet released films and albums, I must say that I too am frustrated with the as of yet unfulfilled promises of these projects becoming available. Each of them contain important pieces to the Neil Young story, and as a fan I keep hoping I live long enough to hear and see at least some of them before I die.

At 5/20/2016 04:52:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

As for these ideas of a earth trilogy, I'm on the fence. Isn't it all one song?

At 5/20/2016 06:34:00 PM, Blogger mrtew said...

I love Greendale and I love the film that I've seen other criticize here. I think it's fantastic and really adds to the album that I loved for years before I ever saw it. I hope his new album is good!

At 5/20/2016 06:59:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think Greendale is Neil's best album since Sleeps With Angels.

Living With War was a minor step down, but still had some great Neil. "Families" and "Roger And Out" are both fantastic.

Fork In The Road? Ehhhh, that one never did much for me, but it could still grow on me after some more listens.

At 5/20/2016 07:44:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Hey RichieCruz, don't forget "Flags of Freedom" which never fails to move me:

Have you seen the flags of freedom?
What color are they now?
Do you think that you believe in yours
More than they do theirs somehow?
When you see the flags of freedom flyin'

Today's the day our younger son
Is goin' off to war
Fightin' in the age old battle
We've sometimes won before
Flags that line old main street
Are blowin' in the wind
These must be the flags of freedom flyin'

Maybe, just maybe we won't need flags someday...

Take my advice
don't listen to me

At 5/20/2016 11:01:00 PM, Blogger smalltownbob said...

Been listening to Neil since the early 70's. I find it pointless to make top 5 or 10 or 20 lists. The connection any one album or song makes to my life changes over time, because time changes me and my circumstances. I know I find myself going back to Greendale pretty damn often. Musically, Neil and the Horse are in great form, and they drive it home. Neil is so great at capturing big emotion in simple phrases. I work in a hospital, and I can't tell you how many times I have heard variations of "Carmichael, you asshole." These kinds of emotional snapshots can be found all over his work, and Greendale has a LOT of them. Others can "rank" it if they must, but I think it's a great album. Almost as good as Don't Be Denied.

At 5/21/2016 03:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bob, I said it was "top 5" to emphasise the point that I think it is very good indeed.

"Others can rank it if they must...".

Well, that's very kind of you. Thanks.

"...but I think it's a great album"



At 5/21/2016 04:19:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

My .02
Living With War, In The Beginning. Stripped down. No Spit Shine 'N Polish. Stellar.
Greendale. Particularly, The Live DVD accompaniment, "Inside Greendale". Stellar.

Fork In The Road? Not so much. This "Fork" leads to a ditch. AND A Wreck.

Earth is more of the same: "Buy Archives 1 on Blu ray for the Blu Ray Live Content" OR "Buy A Pono Player To FEEL the music in HI RES as the Blue Light Shines". OR "A Letter Home", recorded in a low res, voice-o-graph booth, released in HIGH RES for "PONO"

At 5/21/2016 04:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Living With War has some good tracks, it's an okay album. But overall I don't think there is anything particularly awe-inspiring about it. It came quite late in the day. The musical arrangements are often run-of-the-mill, the lyrics rarely have any great depth or substance to them. The same creative genius who dreamed up Greendale resorts here to songwriting-by-the-numbers.

Living With War and Restless Consumer have great arrangements and powerful lyrics, and the guitar tone on "Shock And Awe" and "Looking For A Leader" is gorgeous. Neil overdubs a choir to compensate for the fragility in his own voice, and then a few months later, unusually changes his mind and releases a raw version.

Others have done this style of music so much better, which is a rare obsevation to make about a Neil Young album. Neil's "I was waiting for someone else (to make this album)" doesn't stand up to scutiny. Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts Now by Steve Earle blow this album out of the water, for instance. And that's without mentioning Bob Dylan, who gets a mention in Flags Of Freedom (a direct descendant of Bob's own Chimes Of Freedom, which is a much better song).

I think it would have made more of a powerful statement as an EP.



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