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Monday, February 20, 2017

"Landing on Water" by Neil Young: Incredibly Underrated | Steve Hoffman Forum

Landing on Water by Neil Young, July 1986

There are some who think much of Neil Young's work is underrated.

And then there are those who think that Neil Young's 1986 album Landing on Water is incredibly underrated. From "Landing on Water by Neil Young: - incredibly underrated! | Steve Hoffman Forum by The Zodiac:
I used to generally accept the common belief that “Landing on Water” by Neil Young was a lackluster album and thus didn’t give it enough of my attention for a good portion of my life.

Then, one day about 10 years ago, I figured I’d better take the time and listen to it again to make sure the album was really as poor as I’d been lead to believe. Since the time of my reevaluation, I have found myself reaching for Landing on Water more and more. And why not? I can’t just spend the rest of my days playing “After The Goldrush”. That would become rather dull after a while. As the wise scholar Robbie Krieger sang, “Variety is the Spice of Life”. See, that’s the beauty of Neil’s body of work; when you get too tired of the popular stuff you can swim in the muddy waters of his more eccentric works, and strangely his commercial successes and critical failures are often equally enjoyable, if one were to put aside all preconceptions of right and wrong.

“Landing on Water” is no different. It has its strengths and weaknesses like all the others. But after allowing myself to let my guard down and accept the unacceptable, I can safely say that I no longer feel that “Landing on Water” is a good Neil Young album.

“Landing on Water” is a GREAT Neil Young album.

Following two albums of genre extremism (the old-school rockabilly of “Everybody’s Rockin’” and the 100% pure, unfiltered country of “Old Ways”) Geffen records were fed up with Neil and his games. They wanted more of the same, more “Rust Never Sleeps”, more “Harvest”, not this new, bizarre experimentation. They threatened to sue Neil unless he coughed up something “Neil Young-ish”. Neil threatened to counter sue and after a lot of pushing and shoving all the suits were dropped. All this ugly business took its toll on Neil. His albums weren’t selling, his fans were turning their backs on him, the record label wouldn’t give him any money to record with, Sally Kirkland was suing him over some bogus injury she sustained on the set of “Human Highway”, and, to top it all off, his son Ben had severe cerebral palsy and Neil could do nothing about it. “Landing on Water”, his 1986 release, was Neil Young’s emotional response to the mountain of troubles that was finally starting to drag him down. It's as close to a musical nervous breakdown as he'd ever get.

"Landing on Water" is a return to modern rock, and Neil’s trademark electric guitar work is found all over the album, but sometimes you have to look for it, because Neil decided he wanted the beat up front, which I suppose was the hip thing to do at the time. This decision isn’t all bad, especially when you’ve got someone like Steve Jordan absolutely tearing it up. His playing is relentless and exciting, certainly the most ferocious drummer to ever appear on a Neil Young album. While I obviously enjoy Neil when he’s playing with the Horse, they tend to have only two gears – slow and slower. The albums that really give you a kick in the *** are the ones where Neil hooks up with a high-octane drummer who sends things into overdrive. Would songs like “I’m the Ocean” or “The Restless Consumer” have as much firepower if the Horse were chugging along? Look how the Horse took the wind out of the sails of “Rockin’ in the Free World” on “Weld”. Sometimes he needs more horsepower (no pun intended) under the hood, and Steve Jordan delivers big time. But at the same time the unbalanced mix does become frustrating. You have to strain at times to hear some really good stuff that’s going on in the background. Whereas most Neil Young albums feature songs with a lot of band interaction, this time there isn’t really a band. The trio of players didn’t really interact, giving the music a very cold, isolated vibe, which I think ideally illustrates the lyrical themes of the album.

I suppose one could look down on this album because maybe Neil is compromising and trying to make something commercial to get the record company off his back, no longer pursuing his whims into country music or rockabilly. Then again, is this really what the record label wanted? Isn’t he STILL flipping them the bird?

I don’t think Neil could be accused of not taking an album seriously. Just look at these songs. They are too good to dismiss. You might not like the style or the production but you have to appreciate the substance. He obviously believed in these songs at the time, just as he believed the emphasis on drums was the correct choice.

If the production scares you off, I suggest tracking down some live recording of the “Landing on Water” songs, which puts a little more of the human element back into them. A couple of songs were played ever so briefly in early 1984 and then they enjoyed a brief run on the 1986 tour following the album’s release. The “Landing on Water” material wouldn’t be revisited again until 1997 when “Hard Luck Stories” and “Hippie Dream” were dusted off at a Crazy Horse tour warm-up show in San Francisco. The synth-less version of “Hippie Dream” is a must hear for any true Neil Young fan. It’s the kind of hard rocking performance that can make smoke rise up out of your stereo speakers. The main riff is a chugging monstrosity, sounding like pile of rusted scrap metal being dragged across the cracked pavement of a garbage strewn tennis court in some post-apocalyptic world gone mad. It’s a mother of a song, and if you can’t appreciate it in it’s original form, maybe this more recent live rendition will make you a believer. If that doesn’t work, seek medical attention. There’s something wrong with you.

So here we have an album of strong, catchy songs, with a consistent production and reoccurring themes of anger, paranoia, self-loathing and depression running through it. It’s a total package, it documents an incredibly turbulent period in Neil Young’s life, and it’s probably sitting in the cut-out bin at your local music store.

1. Weight Of The World - A terrific synthesized beat drives this strong lead off cut. Maybe it sounds cheesy now but I don't care. I’m sure some will have trouble accepting a song like this coming from Neil. I’m sure many picked the needle off the record within the first 10 seconds. But you have to see beyond the dated style. Whether it’s Neil Young or The Thomson Twins, it doesn’t matter. It’s simply a great, catchy song. The herky-jerky beat sends me into violent convulsions. I wish Neil would revisit more songs from this album on his current tours, but I suppose a song like this is next to impossible to play live, unless he goes on tour with a wall of synths or a horde of robotic percussionists.

2. Violent Side - Pure 80’s. A sampled choir of children’s voices (like something out of a ‘Mike & The Mechanics’ song) disrupts an otherwise decent composition. A very dated production, but not completely unlikable. A far superior live rendition of this was performed by The Horse in early ’84. You’d be better off looking for that version. Every single time I hear the opening line, “Here comes the night…” I expect him to follow it with a Harrisonesque “doo-doo-doo-doo”, but of course he doesn’t (that would be madness). It may be a little too formulaic to be considered a career highpoint, but the lyrics are an essential chapter in this album’s dark tale.

3. Hippie Dream - If you only need one reason to buy this album, this is it. This is Exhibit A. You wouldn’t be out of line placing this song high on the list of Neil Young’s all-time best. It might even make the top 10. If Neil had spent the past few years playing characters and hiding his own true feelings in different genres, he finally kicks open the door for this powerful, angry and disgusted dissection of the decline of the oh, so great “Peace and Love” generation. They thought they were going to change the world, but instead they got wasted and either died along the way or turned to rust.

David Crosby had fallen victim to drug addiction. Neil had tried to help him but David didn’t get the message. He was too busy being coked up and toting an arsenal of guns on his drug-filled boat in Sausalito before finally finding his crack-head *** in jail, where he somehow managed to kick both cocaine and heroin cold turkey. And he wasn’t the only 60’s superstar in decline. Many of Neil’s contemporaries had turned into sad parodies of themselves by the 80’s, spinning their wheels, touring the oldies circuit, or sinking into sick debauchery until their royalty checks dried up. They got fat and slow while Neil stayed lean and mean and continued to explore new musical frontiers instead of getting embalmed. He never took the highroad. That is why he’s still going strong today.

Leave it to Neil to cut through all the bullsh** and tell it like it is. Even the 80’s style synthetic bass driven production that hampers much of this album cannot stop this wrecking ball from picking up steam as Neil throws his anger down in a frenzy of feedback drenched guitar psychosis. And it’s a goose bump moment when Neil hauntingly repeats “Don’t Kill The Machine” over and over and over again. One of his all-time best. Definitely.

4. Bad News Beat – Neil wears his sunglasses at night, or at least it sounds that way in this Corey Hart-ish piece of lightweight pop. “Bad News Beat” is often referred to as one of Neil’s all time worst, and it’s hard to disagree. The main riff is totally unoriginal and uninspired, but the verses are salvaged by a strong vocal performance from Neil who is in great voice throughout this album. His vocal is so strong and so full of energy that you almost have to believe that there is something more to this song that meets the eye. There is a sweet spot somewhere in the middle where snarling guitars bubble to the top of the pot and show you what might have been before sinking back down behind the onslaught of percussion and synths. Neil’s strange lyric seems to attack the media and lament the loss of his girl at the same time. Not one of his best.

5. Touch The Night - another standout on the album, with a cool music video to accompany it (check Youtube). In a way, this is the “Like a Hurricane” of the 80’s. It’s all there; a relentless, hammering beat, an epic guitar solo, a dramatic chorus. The choir of voices on the chorus is reminiscent of what Neil did with the recent “Living with War” album. If only the guitars were mixed up front to add some bottom end to it, then there would be no question of this album’s greatness. But people are afraid to give it a chance. I find this to be an arresting cut. I’d love to hear Neil play it live today and see what he does with it. The version from the ‘86 tour shows the Horse breathing new life into it, with Neil’s chaotic guitar shredding being brought onto the frontline where it belongs. Cross your fingers for an appearance on the Archive set.

6. People On The Street - An almost hip-hop beat starts off this song, followed by a vomit-inducing keyboard solo. But once that passes you find yourself in another catchy-as-all-heck song on what is supposed to be a bad album. How can an album loaded with such passion be a disappointment? A scale-climbing riff in the chorus is the real treat here, worth sitting though the somewhat unimaginative verses for, even if your pleasure is taken right back from you with the arrival of a weirdly soulful bridge that sounds like it came from an entirely different album. Lyrically, again, not his best, but they can’t all be “Powderfinger”, now can they?

7. Hard Luck Stories - The dated 80’s sound and synthetic bass really weighs this song down. And it’s too bad. There’s a good upbeat pop melody here. I think as a song it’s quite pleasant, but I can understand the disappointment with long-time Neil fans. It barely resembles any of his older work. This is what the popular production standards were at the time, though.

Why was he following the crowd? To satisfy the record label? Or was he truly inspired by this new style? You can’t blame Neil. A lot of good music got lost during this period, smothered by a technology-crazed recording industry. This was the “Invisible Touch” era, when records sounded like they were made by a Commodore 64 and the humans just stood by and watched it all unfold before their eyes. This song was played in 1997 in San Francisco in a more modern and satisfying (albeit typically sluggish) style by Crazy Horse.

8. I Got A Problem - Heavy duty riffing like only Neil can play it. This is the most Neil Young sounding of all the songs. It wouldn’t be out of place on the “Eldorado” E.P. Just an angry song, full of funky hellfire. In fact, this whole album is one big meditation on anger and negative feelings. What is the problem Neil is referring to? Well, for one, Neil was backed into a corner by Geffen Records and he didn’t like it. He came out swinging. “Every time we talk about it I break out in a cold sweat”. The music illustrates the pain he’s singing about perfectly. You can really feel his anxiety and tension. Maybe his anger was affecting his home life too. It seems like he’s doing some soul searching on this album, as if he feels guilty for being angry about his situation and the pressure he’s under. Speaking of pressure….

9. Pressure - A new wave techno seizure. It’s definitely interesting to hear Neil attempt something like this, but this cut may be a little too much of a shift in style for the “Sugar Mountain” fans to handle. This song is pure cyborg. A sharp, spastic Rolling Stones-style riff slashes your ears with a rusty scalpel before the schizophrenic chorus goes Mr. Roboto all over you’re a$$. A sampled primal scream is used for a keyboard solo. Another highlight of the album, and another example of Neil Young taking risks that few of his contemporaries would ever dare.

This album is pretty unique in Neil’s catalog, not only musically but lyrically as well. I can’t think of any other album of his where Neil expresses his vulnerability or bares his naked emotions so plainly, assuming that he’s being honest with us. He’s in trouble and he knows it and he thinks he’s cracking up and he’s looking for a way out. Powerful stuff. Don’t ever take this album lightly. Neil is in a bad way on it and while it sounds like it was a painful experience to go through, we the listener can reap the rewards by savoring this incredible piece of art that was born from Neil’s terror.

10. Drifter - The chord changes and tempo are very much in the traditional Neil Young style, but the repetitive, droid-like bleating guitar riff gets on my nerves after awhile. This is another song that could be a monster if he played it live. The lyric continues to let us know what’s really going on it Neil’s world. “Don’t try to fence me in/Don’t try to slow me down….I’ll stay until you try to tie me down….Don’t try to rescue me/I like to feel the wheel….”. He’s laying it all down on the line here. It almost plays like a concept album. It’s the story of what happens when the corporate thugs try to pull the reigns on an artist who thrives on creative freedom, and watching the results of this power struggle is fascinating. It’s good versus evil, both internally and external. He’s fighting the record company suits and fighting himself at the same time to regain control of his mind and soul.

When the music’s over I’m left with a slight feeling of sadness. The whole record sounds like a desperate cry for help. I always tend to think of Neil as a tough son of a gun who does what he wants when he wants and absolutely never compromises his art or takes any crap from “The Man”. He’s like an invincible super hero who never succumbs to the forces that are going against him. To listen to him here, with his back to the wall, faced with a future of uncertainty and insecurity, is a whole new experience for the listener. This record serves as a detailed journal of Neil Young’s physical and mental anguish during a terribly difficult period of his life. How can anyone dismiss an album like this? He tries to exercise some of his personal demons and manages to do it within the confines of infectiously catchy tunes. Those who have dismissed it, ignored it, or are befuddled by it, I advise you to take another look and try to hear what Neil is trying to tell you.

The Zodiac
Thanks Zodiac! Some mighty fine writing their with some real gems like your take on "Hippie Dream”: "It’s the kind of hard rocking performance that can make smoke rise up out of your stereo speakers. The main riff is a chugging monstrosity, sounding like pile of rusted scrap metal being dragged across the cracked pavement of a garbage strewn tennis court in some post-apocalyptic world gone mad."

After all, aren't we all just trying to land on water anyway?

More on "Landing on Water by Neil Young: - incredibly underrated! | Steve Hoffman Forum.

Neil Young - Touch The Night Music | Official Music Video

Also, see life imitate art on Landing on Water in 2009 .

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At 2/20/2017 10:05:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...,,24912435-5003421,00.html (Thanks Greg M.!)

Q: One of my favourite albums was Landing on Water, a much under-appreciated album. What are your thoughts on the album now?

Neil: I haven't played any of those songs lately but it's an interesting record.

One record company president in Europe told me it was the most claustrophobic record he had ever heard and I thought that was pretty cool. He put it on in his Porsche and would turn it up real loud. He just felt like it was all over him. That's where I met (producer) Niko Bolas.

We call ourselves the Volume Dealers when we work together now, we did the last three, Living With War, Chrome Dreams II and Fork In the Road.

At 2/20/2017 01:42:00 PM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Stop this nonsense I've heard it all now of course we never play it. This is a dreadful record at the time it had no company but in the last ten years it's not so lonely.

At 2/20/2017 03:09:00 PM, Blogger Scotsfan said...

I always thought I was the only fan who liked this album Also like Like Both album have really good songs For me this is What has been missing from many recent album Lack of good tunes and interesting lyrics Too much protest Too little care In contrast live performances have been great in my humble opinion Scottish fan since 1970 but with much less knowledge or insight than many of contributors here.

At 2/21/2017 02:38:00 AM, Blogger Minke said...

Great review of a great, great record. Just great. But I see also a very, very unfair press here.
Just kidding. This is a very perceptive re-view of Landing on Water. Thanks a lot. The album is an absolute highlight of Young's '80. Proof of his ability to make minimalistic punk funk. Wish he had pursued this line more often (it is there too in certain tracks on Eldorado and Fork in the Road). Unfortunately the production is less than ideal and sounded outdated already at the time, but it has a strange, estranging attraction too. Intended, obviously. Weight of the World, Hippie Dream and People on the Streets are powerful, mood-changing songs that continue to impress and that stick for days if not weeks after giving them a hearing.
@AndyWalters stop whining in order to avoid irrelevance. Try to engage in a more constructive criticism.
Cheers to all

At 2/21/2017 08:23:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

@ Minke Tosser - I'm not whining just stating my case on what I believe is a dreaful record with only 'Hippie Dream' as a reasonable song. To avoid irrelevance? What on earth does that gobbly de gook mean? I'm being controversial to be relevant? My friend as a Neil You fan from 1970 I'm not willing accept any below par records. Neil is a great singer songwriter LOTW does his legacy no favours.

At 2/21/2017 09:27:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

I really appreciate that Thrasher's Wheat will occasionally air a minority opinion like this. I always find it refreshing when one of the more obscure, less-loved albums is highlighted. I think the original post sums that up well. It would get kinda boring if all we talked about was how much we love the same eight or ten albums ad nauseam, and it's important to be able to listen and take differing perspectives on board. Speaking for myself, there are some Neil albums I enjoy more than others, but I've never been harmed by giving any of these records another visit.

On LOW, I quoted/paraphrased Neil recently in another discussion. I believe it was in 'Shakey' that he described LOW as an "experiment", in which some songs worked better than others. He even went so far as to say that if he were to give a person one album to demonstrate his work, it wouldn't be that one. This still strikes me as the most balanced assessment of LOW I have come across. Neil seems to have no illusions that the album is the easiest to appreciate. Neither do I, but it's absolutely one of those albums I come back to now and again, at least for a few meaty songs (most especially Touch the Night, Violent Side) that work for me.

The synth-beats production does threaten to overwhelm the entire thing, but the observations about the "claustrophobic" sound it creates are true. A couple of cuts, like Violent Side and People on the Street, seem to craft a dystopian setting. I think that's the feeling of anger, fear, and confusion that the OP refers to. The whole album, by virtue of its possibly-excessive soundscape, takes place in a setting all its own. And I completely agree about that ascending chorus in People on the Street--powerful stuff. That song is challenging (partly because of its production), but also compelling to me. Ferocious background vocals from Steve Jordan and/or Danny Kortchmar, and what's more, I think the hip-hop motif completely fits with the feeling of urban life, "walking to the beat if it's not too slow". That simple rhythmic repetition hammers out some real anger and restlessness.

Then there's Hippie Dream. To this day, the line about "an ether-filled room of meat hooks" haunts me. I've always wondered exactly what it's referring to. Honestly, it sounds like a porn shoot, a slaughterhouse, or some grotesque combination of the two that doesn't bear thinking about. Definitely one of those NY lines that I'm still wrestling with, both for its emotional content and its meaning, even years after first hearing it.

At 2/21/2017 11:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil Young on Landing On Water, in a radio interview shortly after it's release: "It's a piece of crap..Let's be honest about it".

This record was made at a frustrating, unhappy time in Neil Young's life, a time when he was seriously having to consider other options in terms of an occupation. Things would get even worse in 1987, as documented by the surreal and dark "Muddy Track", before the storm started to lift the following year.

I don't listen to it much, mainly because it doesn't SOUND good; the production is poor. I don't dislike the electronic sound specifically; I think Neil is fairly good at making electronic music. It's more the uninspired song arrangements, the poor mixes etc. I agree that there are a few good songs on it, though most were written a few years earlier, left-overs.

Is it really a GREAT Neil Young album? I don't think so, unless you lower your standards somewhat. Andy makes a reasonable point above; it probably seemed worse in 1986 when there were less other poor/mediocre albums to compare it to. Compared to Le Noise and Fork In The Road, for instance, the songwriting on LOW seems pretty good. Neil's standards have dropped a little since the eighties, as have those of much of his fan base.

And his songwriting muscle was kept in better shape back then, so even the misfires had something magical about them.


At 2/21/2017 11:27:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

"Take my advice
Don't listen to me"

But, believe me when I say that Landing on Water is a good to very good to great album. I loved it when it initially came out, and it has only grown on me over the years.

I've always considered it the key central album in Neil's 80s work. It delineated and defined a significant turning point in Neil's mindset and recorded output. With it, we find Neil writing and singing catchy hook based melodic tunes while seeking public acceptance. Following the albums that came immediately before it, LOW was a solid effort finding Neil getting his feet firmly beneath him again while his head was still spinning with doubts. He was slowly escaping from his personal and professional musical mind chamber with introspective thought provoking lyrics of the time, augmented and at times dominated by overtly commercial studio synth pop production.

To me, it's the one album in Neil's career where he was truly trying to be commercial (be it seriously or as a statement of sorts). Jordan and Kootch were at the top of the 80s commercial rock/pop spectrum in '86 and they offered up the "standard" pop sound of the time, backing up and at times dominating Neil's lead.

Every song on the album has redeeming value. There are melodies, lyrics, vocals, and effects throughout that are catchy, thought provoking and curiously and endlessly interesting.

I'll never understand why people think the album is bad. It's a diverse yet cohesive work. Yes, it has a definite "dated" 80s sound to it, but again, that was largely Neil trying to be commercial, relevant and provocative, not ornery or defiant. The accompanying videos find him to be in a more sarcastic character based tone, but the album in its entirety is remarkably consistent.

Hippie Dream is an absolutely terrific song lyrically, and musically it has a boiling punch to it. But "the wooden ships--were a hippie dream, capsized in excess, if you know what I mean"...

Touch the Night combines angry screeching guitars, with a nice accompanying innocent chorus with very good vocals and matching catchy lyrics.

People on the Street, Weight of the World, Violent Side, I Got a Problem, Pressure, etc...are all engaging, fun, pleasant, thought provoking songs touching on fear, anxiety, internal and external doubt competing with an overriding humanity through some despair. The synth pop keyboard drumming dominance of the 80s is in full force, and it has always drawn me in, not away from the music.

Overall, I understand that we as fans all have our version(s) of Neil and his music that we are most closely drawn to. Clearly his 70s output is the "traditional" sound that elevated him to fame and has for the most part kept him there. His 80s work has largely been criticized and ignored, but there's value throughout, and Landing on Water is central to his "lost" decade. Neil was reaching out and finding his way back towards the mainstream, and quite successfully in my opinion.

"Take my advice
Don't listen to me"

and always remember, it's

"a victory for the heart every time the music starts
so please don't kill the machine, don't kill the machine..."

At 2/21/2017 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

To Topanga Daze, I always admire your fortitude for Neil despite some of the more strident fans here that don't accept what we call 'below par'. I'm not hear to persuade anyone here that LOW is nothing less than a sticker but you have to look back at his songs for the Springfield to hear experimental songs that now 50 years sound fresh yet LOW not only sounds horrible but the songs are weak.

At 2/21/2017 12:19:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

All of the comments above are intriguing and have valid points concerning the album Landing on Water. I actually felt the album was intentionally defiant when it came out, and from that perspective I feel it was successful. There are some great songs on this album that get lost in the 80's production style, yet I think that was intentional. To me the album is Neil giving the industry the finger, as well as cathartic anger about his own life at the time. The 80's were not a fun time for Neil, and in hindsight they weren't that great for the music industry either.

I don't play this record very often, but there are some gems on it that would benefit from a less abrasive production. I feel the production simply reflects the mood that Neil was trying to convey at the time. It's intense, angry, defiant, resentful, and intentional. Which why many found it so off putting at the time, and still do. Those emotions are unpleasant and as Neil recently sang on The Monsanto Years...." People want to hear about love."


At 2/21/2017 12:23:00 PM, Blogger Acoustic FeedBack said...

Great Record Review.

I for one, love this LP.

I like the way they made it. With the 3 musicians recording a basic track, then overdubbing with themselves playing the added instruments. Different.

I even like Bad News Beat, but remember, I think Trans is one of his best.

At 2/21/2017 12:49:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

@Andy, always appreciate your semi-strident critical viewpoint. I know you're a fan and you hold Neil to very high standards and he hasn't met those for you for a long time.

I too hold Neil to high standards, though I appreciate some of his 80s work and recent work more than others do. I was in college when Landing on Water came out, and considering what came prior to it, I found the sound and songs to be refreshing. Nothing more or less, and my opinion of it remains high to this day.

Now, regarding Neil's Springfield work, I heard it all after the fact. Based on critics and friends, I thought it would surely be great stuff. To my ears, it wasn't. It was good because it "was" Neil, but I've always found his contributions to the group recordings to be much less than Stills and somewhat less than Furay.

"Mr. Soul" is a great song. Songs like "Out of my Mind" "Expecting to Fly" "Broken Arrow" are good but over produced and lacking power to my ears.

I've come to appreciate those songs more when played live in different versions, but on record, they are only so-so to me.

Same for Neil's early work on Deja-Vu with CSNY. Funny, people say he toughened up their sound and brought rock credibility to the group, but his two songs "Helpless" and "Country Girl" are the wimpiest and over produced songs on the album. I like them, but they're isolated individually polished works lacking edge and spontaneity.

So yea, maybe I'm a little contrarian, but overall I appreciate virtually all of Neil's work on some level. His great stuff isn't as great as some think it is, but his weak stuff isn't as weak as some think it is.

Take my advice
Don't listen to me

At 2/21/2017 12:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AcousticFeedback: I thought they made this record by playing on along with solo demos of Neil (accompanied by a drum machine). Or something like that.

Is that an unusual method? Yes. Effective? I don't think so, not really.

I think Neil's experiments with electronic sounds worked MUCH better on Earth, where he artfully combined the electronic noises with something more human. It was quite beautiful (and beautifully ugly) in places. 'Earth' works because of all the overdubs and electronic sounds, whereas I think 'Landing On Water' sinks (or at least, falters) because of them.

But credit to him for trying something new in the face of adversity, and as others have noted, there are a few good songs (more than there are on Le Noise, for instance).

So the general consensus is it's certainly not as bad as it's reputation suggests. Not without merit. But a truly GREAT Neil Young album? Have you listened to On The Beach or Ragged Glory recently (for example)? Better songwriting, much better musicianship, much better production.


At 2/21/2017 01:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original comment went totally nuts with: "look how the Horse took the wind out of the sails of “Rockin’ in the Free World” on “Weld”.


Quite possibly the most bizarre comment ever made on Thrasher's blog, especially when paired with the observation Weight Of The World is a "great, catchy song".

(To explain: watch the Weld laser disc version of Free World (with the Briggs mix), and you will observe from the comfort of your living room one of the most ferocious Neil Young performances ever to be caught on tape. Neil justs completely gets off on it, goes berserk. And it's perhaps slightly more exciting to experience than Weight Of The World, to anyone with a pulse).


At 2/21/2017 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I can't think of a single Neil Young song that Crazy Horse took the "wind out of the sails". The magic of Crazy Horse is chemistry with unconscious connections. When playing with Neil they are a formidable four headed monster in the best sense, and if history has taught us nothing else, Crazy Horse with Neil Young is always profoundly intense, loose, and memorable.


At 2/21/2017 06:49:00 PM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Not sure you can compare Furay's songs with Young from the Springfield - Neil was more experimental Furay was more country. Interesting reading all this about LOW so I played it again or should I say dusted it off. Nope still clunks along for me - I have a special place for Neil's clunkers and I'm running out of space!

At 2/21/2017 07:08:00 PM, Blogger wsanjose01 said...

always liked this record. wish I still had it. had it on cassette in the ol Barracuda. I really love Weight of the World

At 2/21/2017 10:16:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Sccotsman-re: "Not as bad as reputation suggests", well said. I think it's often the case that reputation overstates, or oversimplifies these things. And that can go in either direction: we sometimes elevate the things we love to unrealistic levels (i.e. rose-tinted spectacles), while simultaneously the ones we're not so keen on are trashed to an exaggerated degree. For both of these categories, the truth is in between. Put it this way: I've never met a Neil Young album that's not worth revisiting, even if I only pick it up on the odd occasion. There are usually at least two or three songs worth holding on to.

I will also admit that I may be rather forgiving, in as much as I don't think Neil's body of work would be quite what it is without so many of the detours and back roads. Everybody's Rockin', for instance: taken for what it is (i.e. a lighthearted jaunt into rockabilly), I don't see what's so bad about it. Trans is likewise painfully neglected, and I only wish it could have been a fully realized project as Neil has spoken of.

Lastly, I think Topanga is right on in describing LOW as the beginning of Neil's return to more conventional contemporary rock, after the heavy electronica/Shocking Pinks and heavy-duty country phases. As flawed and rough-edged as it may be, with LOW (and its direct sequel, Life), Neil was growing gradually closer to the renaissance heralded by Freedom and Ragged Glory. In other words, and in spite of the unwieldy production, LOW is one of the most "Neil-like" NY records of the Geffin years, which really says more about how diverse and experimental the previous records were than how recognizable this one was. The term "Neil-like" is deceptive and artificial; one can't really pin Neil down to any one style or idea, and eccentric sidetracks are certainly part of his toolkit. But I nonetheless maintain that LOW has a little less whimsical genre exercise, and a little more songwriting, than some of its immediate predecessors.

At 2/22/2017 03:11:00 AM, Blogger Glenn said...

At one time it was his creative nadir. But compared to the last ten years, it sounds like a work of genius.

At 2/22/2017 07:03:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ian: Good stuff!

Andy: I listened to it again, too. It's really not bad. Parts of it are thrilling.

Glenn: that's probably a fair comment, actually. In the mid-eighties, despite his troubles and distractions, he was still very much "in the zone", creatively. His songwriting ability was sharp and very much in shape. It has been given a good workout over the previous 20 years! And so he unconsciously knew how to write good songs. When you can do that, even your more troubled albums are going to have a lot going for them. He no longer has that luxury.

Stranded on a desert island, I'd take Landing On Water over any of the albums between 2005 and 2011 (and some of those since). No question. Fortunately, I'm not stranded on a desert island. At least, I don't think I am.


At 2/22/2017 12:08:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Just looked at the initial Rolling Stone review from our old friend Jim Farber.
Seems pretty spot on to me (because he largely echoes my thoughts), but he has a better ear than I do and he writes much more eloquently:

September 25, 1986

After a series of musical one-night stands, Neil Young is finally getting serious again. His previous three albums were just dalliances — in electronic (Trans), rockabilly (Everybody's Rockin') and country (Old Ways) music — none of which were terribly meaningful or deeply felt. This time, however, Young has committed himself to a sound that's truly new. He's working with electronics again, but while Trans used conventional computer dance beats surrounded by thick, slick synth effects, Landing on Water keeps its electronics in the garage. Instead of using technology to go high-tech, Young creates a rinky-tink synth sound, which is set off by surprisingly sparse, crisp arrangements.

On this record, Young has axed Trans's vocoder, which made him sound like a singing microwave. There are also more of his raw, bleeding guitar leads. But what's really jarring is the sound of Steve Jordan's drums. They're mixed way up high to exhilarating effect. In "I Got a Problem," the drums are compellingly brash, and in "People on the Street," it sounds as if Jordan could kick through the speakers at any moment.

Young lightens things up with the pop touches in "Violent Side" and "Hard Luck Stories." To insure his patented irony, the happiest pop melodies are married to some of the album's direst lyrics. Young may kick off the LP on an optimistic note, casting off the "Weight of the World," but the rest hits like a hurricane. Of course, Young writes bitter songs best, but while it's nice to hear him confronting life again after the relative complacency of his last two LPs, his spare lyrics are not the album's forte. None has the flaky invention of his finest, and the most interesting seem to reduce the whole Sixties movement to a "Hippie Dream."

But what Young's lyrics lack in character, the music makes up for in freshness. True, Landing on Water doesn't have the sweep of Rust Never Sleeps or Tonight's the Night, but it's definitely his most consistent LP of the Eighties. More important, Young has found a way to give his sound a healthy new shot of neurosis.

At 2/22/2017 12:32:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Topanga, I guess the only issue I'd take with Farber's review regards his attitude toward Trans. Of course, this is also coming with the hindsight of having read about Neil's life and work during this period, but Trans was nothing if not "deeply felt". I think it's unfortunate that the album has been treated as little more than a genre exercise, when in fact Neil clearly had personal reasons for experimenting with this kind of music. And if you listen to (or read, if you can't understand all of it) the lyrics of Computer Age, Transformer Man, and Sample & Hold, I think the human struggle behind Trans comes right through.

As I've said before, I think it's possible that the impact is somewhat diminished by the decision to blend the vocoder songs with what essentially amounts to an EP's worth of material from Island in the Sun, the album that Geffin first rejected. The notion of mixing more traditional arrangements with the electronica distortion is interesting, but the way it's done on Trans feels a little haphazard. Apart from Like an Inca, the non-vocoder songs don't particularly enhance or seem to fit with the electronic parts, creating the sense of an incomplete piece of work. Or, as we later found out, two incomplete works scrunched together.

Quite honestly, Computer Age; We R in Control; Transformer Man; and Sample and Hold would make a killer EP. As it is, the project just sounds unfinished and sometimes unfocused to me. I applaud Neil's chutzpah in rerecording Mr. Soul, but does it really fit with the other vocoder songs or add to them? In spite of these reservations, Trans remains one of my favorite NY albums of the '80s and possibly the most interesting thing he did for Geffin.

At 2/22/2017 12:40:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Post-script: My New Robot, closing track of Peace Trail, comes closer in my opinion to the potent blending of traditional songwriting and electronica that Neil may have been going after. Although it's another song that I fear has the potential to be written off as a goofy misfire, it actually achieves a tension between the two musical/aesthetic components that is never fully sparked on Trans, perhaps because we actually have both elements as part of the same song here and there is clear intent to weld them together in an intentionally jarring manner. One can't know for certain, but I'm given to wonder whether MNR is partially a realization of the concepts Neil was striving toward with Trans.

When I say that MNR is a highlight of Peace Trail, I sense that I'm putting myself in somewhat of a minority, but it really does leap out at my as something fresh and interesting.

At 2/22/2017 12:51:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Wow. Such great observations for an album that so many have forgotten and disregarded.

@ TopangaD - congrats! See latest Comment of the Moment. More highs from LOW.

@ Ian - We really think you're onto something brilliant here w/ connecting the dots between TRANS, LOW and PT's ANR. Most excellent.

There's a major essay in there somewhere.

At 2/22/2017 02:33:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Ian, good thoughts re: Farber's dismissal of Trans.

Perspective is everything. I was in high school when Trans came out and the only song I could get into at that time was "Mr. Soul" because I knew it, and more importantly, I knew the words. Overall, I just couldn't get into the vocoder, and the "normal" tracks just seemed out of place, so I pretty quickly dismissed the album.

Today, I find Trans to be an interesting work, and I really like "Transformer Man" but I still find the album to be largely inaccessible, inconsistent and tedious. And funny, to some extent, I've never really believed Neil's "after the fact" comments of what it was all about. I've always looked at his rationale as justifying the end results after the fact by using a convenient story that could fit a narrative. (A very Trumpian thing to do.)

On a personal note, to this day, one of the best Neil shows I've ever seen was on the Trans tour at the Baltimore Civic Center, coincidentally exactly 34 years ago today (2/22/83). I still remember sitting in the upper deck in section 5 sipping a warm beer in public for one of the first times in my life. Leading up to the show, I cut school for the first time in my life to stand in line for tickets. A guy a few spots in front of me was blaring "Mr. Soul" from a boombox, and it was a great day all around, though a bit scary because it looked like tickets were about to sell out before I got to the front of the line. On a down note, because I was out of my daily routine and because my friends were picking me up, I left my keys at home. I only realized it when I got back home to a locked door and empty house! Mom was out shopping and I had to wait an hour outside, which at least allowed me time to think of an excuse for why I didn't have my keys or my books, but I did have a NY ticket.

The Trans show itself was mesmerizing to me. Great acoustic and electric cuts, and fun video theatrics. And, the few Trans numbers played were fun and weirdly exciting to watch live...

So, I'll always hold fond memories of the overall "Trans" time period, but the album as a whole still only holds minor appeal for me. But man, "Transformer Man" was (and still is) catchy as hell when you're open to it...

Regarding "My New Robot" from Peace Trail, I agree with you 100%, in fact, I'm pretty sure I used the word "Jarring" to describe it here on an earlier post. For me, the whole album is a solid cohesive work and "My New Robot" is surely one of the most bizarrely strangely exhilarating and confounding album closers in the history of music.

Hey, sorry for the rambling post, but this site by Thrash is a great place to go off on tangents with (and without) much thought.

"Take my advice
Don't listen to me"

At 2/23/2017 11:10:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

"Tangents with (and without) much thought" well-characterize Neil's vast and varied career.

I hope the Trans and Shocking Pinks shows get their due someday with the Archives project. I'm not entirely sure what recordings exist, but it would be great to see more video and audio from this oft-forgotten period, including the music videos created for both Everybody's Rockin' and LOW. I've always felt the period from about 1982-88 hasn't been discussed as fully as it might be, maybe because there's some effort to bury sub-par or inaccessible works. But the Geffin years are an essential chapter in Neil's artistic history, offering as they did such challenging and unpredictable works. Sure, they are flawed, but sometimes they provide a fascinating look at what the artist may have been trying to accomplish.


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