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Friday, January 07, 2022

Comment of the Moment: Thoughts on Neil Young's BARN and Chrome Dreams II

 by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

After emerging from the hibernation of 2021 due to our "unplanned/forced sabbatical" here at Thrasher's Wheat, we've been trying to re-engage more with the Neil / RUST & TW grain communities

And after a post attempting to re-invigorate our TW comment threads, we managed to launch a good old fashioned classic comment shit storm with what we thought was an off hand observation. 

So without further ado, we reach back to 2021 for some comments on BARN by Neil Young & Crazy Horse on First Impressions: Summer Songs by Neil Young | Old Grey Cat + Rick Rubin Interview w/ Neil Young from Ian; The Metamorphic Rocker:

I'm not certain this is the ideal place, but mobile app ate previous comments I tried to post on the Barn reactions thread, and I still have a few lingering feelings. As I write, the extended coda of No Hidden Path from CDII, reminding me more than ever of the "all one song" mantra. When I make comparisons or draw parallels between Barn and previous albums or songs, it doesn't mean that Barn can't stand on its own. Neither do I hear the songs being particularly derivative.

If anything, there are "family resemblances" between (for instance) SWA, CDII, and Barn (maybe Abner will dig this particular analogy). Less fancifully, it just means that NY and CH, like many artists, probably revisit and expand on older ideas to see if they can do it even better this time. And I enjoy hearing these echoes.

It may also help, when I relate one album to another, to talk about the precise qualities I'm detecting. Here I direct attention to Dan's previous comments on the track list sequencing of Barn. In my listening experience (which I like to think is not excessively narrow), no one sequences like Neil Young. Maybe it's the old Briggs influence, but even post-Briggs albums have a special way of weaving songs together, drawing out and exploiting the tension points, the push and pull between and within numbers.

Case in point: CDII. Who the hell sequences Ordinary People at the beginning, rather than the climax, of the album? Someone who has Shining Light, Spirit Road, The Way, and No Hidden Path up their sleeve. Colorado front loads She Showed Me Love--and I think it's a bold, fantastic choice.

What I'm really hearing, and trying in my own small way to articulate, are musical and spiritual threads that run throughout all these albums. It's not that Barn requires comparison. Rather, it warrants comparison by way of appreciating the scope of an going 50+ year body of work.

I must take just a moment to address CDII. I keep talking about it elliptically and it's time to spell this out, though I'm sure some will disagree with me. Ordinary People is a landmark--however, No Hidden Path makes the album. It's the foundation, the beating heart of CDII, and, I suggest, one of NY's most important songs post-Y2K. And many of the best moments don't even have words. Just Old Black sawing away, cleaving through the forest of Neil's (and our) dreams. When I listen to this track, I hear a grunge raga. Nowhere near as complex or disciplined as the Indian classical mode, but the rawness is what makes it grungy.

All of which is to say: 1) When I liken Barn to CDII, that's not a slight on either album. And 2)If you haven't listened to CDII in a while, considering giving it a fresh try. At over an hour long, it requires time and some patience but has been, and continues to be, one of NY's most cohesive, rewarding, and--in my view--deeply significant of Neil's newer albums.

If you've gotten this far with me, many thanks and happy 2022 to all! I look forward to NYA3 and--dare I say it?--perhaps even the long-awaited appearance of Toast in the coming months. Peace and cheers!

[ps, on ATTENTION TW COMMENTERS: Thanks and A Suggestion]

We were road-tripping over New Years, so my access to TW was especially spotty... however, I'm just happy that my previous comments have resonated with and inspired a handful of people, especially insofar as folks have actually gone back and listened with fresh perspective to some of the albums or songs we've been talking about.

Nothing's quite as rewarding as knowing someone is actually "hearing" you, even if they are light years away in cyber space.

Per my responses to my recent comments, yes, CDII and other such albums are colored deeply by contributions from Ben Keith, Rick "the bass player" Rosas, Pegi Young... a roll call of absent friends. Of the older songs on CDII, I find Bluebird the most sublime fit with the "new" ones. It sets up a nature/spirituality theme that culminates with No Hidden Path.

Ralph M, of course, contributed drums and backing vox to much of that aalbum. The somewhat unusual combo of Ralph and Rick is, to say the least, effective: have you heard the drum fills on No Hidden Path or the bass on Boxcar? The reason I keep returning to CDII is probably because Barn carries such strong echoes of it. Human Race (a real grower for me) turns the raw angst of Spirit Road up to 11. Don't Forget Love definitely comes from the same family of songs as The Way--ymmv on the absence of any children's choir. And the first time I heard Tumbling Through the Years, I was struck immediately by the arrangement: an almost perfect mirror of The Believer.

For me, the piano songs (Tumbling, Shape of You, Don't Forget) are some of the most pleasant surprises, and an important counterpoint to the heavier, more urgent moments of Barn. This kind of balance marks many of Neil's best (or should I say, many of my favorite?) albums. Song of the Seasons and Welcome Back, among others, will command repeated listening. It seems NY likes to start an album strong and, if possible, end even stronger.

"If heaven had a window where the sun came shining through, like a beautiful bluebird I'd come flying back to you."

Chrome Dreams II by Neil Young: Reviews - 2007


As always, many thanks Ian! Your contributions here at TW are most welcome and enjoyed. Making a connection between BARN and Chrome Dreams II is most inspired.

 Produced by The Volume Dealers – Neil Young and Niko Bolas, the album is available on vinyl (special edition), CD, cassette and Deluxe Box set. The special edition vinyl contains 6 behind-the-scenes photographs from the Barn sessions. Available as a numbered first pressing, the Deluxe Box set contains the special edition LP, CD and Blu-ray of the film Barn.
(Watch out for The Greedy Hand, but you'll be supporting Thrasher's Wheat. Thanks!)

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At 1/07/2022 02:41:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Such thoughtful comments. I really mean it, this is a new direction for interpretation and critical discussion. Chrome Dreams II is a beast (nothing subtle from me today!).

At 1/08/2022 09:52:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

CD II is in my regular Neil rotation - I have it on DVD audio & the sound is amazing...not a weak track on the album at all...

In fact I would say it is a magical top-shelf Neil Young recording.

Excellent comparison from Ian -

Spirit Road & Human Race have the same A-minor to D-major chord change as their main riff but there are many other similarities between the two records that Ian laid out so well.

At 1/08/2022 10:17:00 AM, Blogger Hans said...

I love Barn. Human Race is Neils best song in years. I love the sound of Old Black. You hear the Godfather of Grunge at work. I let it play on our regional radio station wednesday where the item was climate change. The song sounds urgent enough!

At 1/08/2022 12:58:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 1/08/2022 01:06:00 PM, Blogger Alan said...

Shots acoustic 1978: Is this the same version on YouTube?

At 1/08/2022 08:03:00 PM, Blogger Tomatron said...

Alan, I think the one with audio from YouTube is from the previous day at Boarding House. The description under Shots on Hearse (it’s still available to watch) mentions that Neil had played it only for a couple of nights there before this performance. His singing through the harmonica mic sounds pretty good!

At 1/08/2022 11:04:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I think everyone can agree that Ian is an excellent writer…… I respect his observations and his ability to communicate his thoughts and feelings with clarity.

After reading the posts from the previous section here, I think it’s important that we can all agree on something…..

Peace 🙏

At 1/09/2022 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

@ Dan : Agreed.

@ Tomatron : Thanks. Shots Boarding House '78 is killer.

At 1/09/2022 05:10:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Thanks, thrash, for the cotm. As Dan and Alan have said, it’s exciting when we’re all agreeing on something. It’s surprising, gratifying, beyond humbling and to imagine my writing might play an instrumental part in that unity. I say this in full awareness that I’ve done my share of spur-of-the-moment, imperfectly worded passionate responses. I know one or two past comments have left me downright dispirited—these are the fractious times in which we’re living— and I haven’t always been shy about saying so, but I hope, on the whole, I’ve been open and receptive to varying views. And when I have snapped back occasionally, it wasn’t personal, insofar as we don’t know each other outside this forum, and I certainly don’t hold anyone’s views against them.

To the topic at hand, if as Abner quite flatteringly suggest I’m writing the future of Neil Young criticism, I hope there is a wider platform for this topic at some point. I know of scholars who list the Grateful Dead as one of their special areas of interest, so I’m sure it exists if I can find it. All I can really say is that I’ve taken NY’s work from the ‘90s and later “seriously”—which just means, worthy of being considered and discussed just like we would talk about anything up to Rust. My chief contention... if you want to call it that... is that these newer works (let’s say from Sleeps with Angels onward) are not only worthy of being heard alongside the classic albums, but that they amount to pieces of a broadly coherent—yet paradoxically unfinished and maybe open-ended—body of work.

Storytone... The Visitor... AYP?.... Living with War... CDII... Le Noise... and now Barn—are only a few of the relatively overlooked albums I would argue are touchstones of the long discography. I could swear I didn’t hallucinate the positive buzz around The Visitor back in 2017-18–but the general assessment now seems to be middling at best. Whereas I heard... and still hear... an artistic rejuvenation throughout that album (I almost wrote “revolution”—and I don’t think that would be massively hyperbolic).

I suspect Neil’s overtly political, topical writing has alienated some fans in recent years, yet that same outspoken passion for real problems has been extraordinarily generative, galvanizing for the Muse. It’s a bit of trade-off in terms of audience dynamics. If you don’t relate to the message, it may be harder to enjoy the medium. Albums like CDII were/are more universal.... people can project whatever image of divinity, inspiration, or love they prefer over a song like Shining Light. Some pray to Allah, some pray to the Lord. Some do their praying in the trees.

At 1/10/2022 05:41:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Ian, google neil young books or something similar and you will see academics who have written books on Neil Young. I have read excerpts from several of them. Your ideas are better, sharper, more interesting. I am not flattering you, it is just true.

At 1/11/2022 10:00:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Thanks, Abner! I consider my time on TW and similar places as front line experience--you can hear/read what people are actually saying about the music. And not just Rolling Stone or newspaper critics, either. It's a good way of finding gaps in the conversation/discourse, although I'm not sure I consciously realized that until now.

The only problem with professional criticism is that it sometimes gets stuck in its echo chamber of "officialdom"--the more clearly you can cite an idea, the more useful it is. I guess I see TW as giving some level of street cred.

At 1/11/2022 10:36:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Ian/MR - seriously, give it shot.

There always seems to room for one more book on Neil.

That said, check out "Neil Young and the Poetics of Energy" by William Echard.

Now that is some heavy academic treatment. We really tried to get thru it but found it densely impenetrable. We got what Echard was trying to do in defining the undefinable. But wow.

William Echard, an assistant professor in the Department of Music and the Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture at Carleton University in Ottawa.

From the publisher's blurb:

"Echard roots his discussion in an extensive review of writings from the rock press as well as his own engagement as a fan and critical theorist. How is it that Neil Young is both a perpetual outsider and critic of rock culture, and also one of its most central icons? And what are the unique properties that have lent his work such expressive force? Echard delves into concepts of musical persona, space, and energy, and in the process illuminates the complex interplay between experience, musical sound, social actors, genres, styles, and traditions."

Here's some TW reaction from 2005:

We think you can do much better and more accessibly for the average rustie/grainer.
go for it!

At 1/11/2022 11:04:00 AM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I’ll second that Ian !!!!!!!!

Peace 🙏

At 1/12/2022 12:15:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Just want to thank everyone again. That book recommendation looks... fascinating. Truly. Will be sure to track it down at some point. (I've been doing more e-reading lately, but still resistant for novels or longer texts as it's hard on my eyes.) I hope something can come of this at some point. It's more complicated than it might seem from the outside.

At 1/12/2022 02:25:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Ah yes, "the critical theorist." Could very well be plain old word salad. It is hard to tell what is worth reading in this sort of genre.

At 1/12/2022 04:33:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

@Abner, No one ever got fat on word salad—but seriously, I sympathize. One of my ongoing pipe dreams is to make this stuff more accessible to the average. I don’t think this would result in everyone and their cousin trying to write theory but it could expand popular discoursez.

At 1/13/2022 12:13:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

I think a work on Neil Young with the idea of a broader audience is the RIGHT idea. There is a lot to learn here from Neil's career and not simply his music. He is just as interesting a person as he is a performer: a lot of mystery in all of this that could be made accessible in various ways.

At 1/13/2022 03:04:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Ian/MR - yes, please help to expand popular discoursez!!! in all seriousness.

@ Abner - you know, funny you should frame it that way.

We somewhat fancy TW to be a place which observes and analyzes this intersection of the artist and their art.

Like all long time Neil fans, there were literally years that would go by and we would have no clue as to what he was up to. Maybe an album came out or a tour went by that we missed, but you really had literally nothing but an occasional Rolling Stone Random Notes item.

So when we started this blog back in the mid-90's, our understanding of Neil was pretty limited to just the music. We've learned a lot over the decades.

Fortunately, compared to so many rock starts, we since discovered that Neil's private life was actually quite upstanding and honorable.

we mention this tangentially given that we just posted on the 1993 tour opener Blind Melon and Shannon Hoon and that tragedy. ( )

we are so truly blessed as fans to follow someone w/ such a long legacy who is still cranking it out.

Keep on Rockin', indeed.


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