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Thursday, February 03, 2022

Comment of the Moment: Reappraising "Life" Album by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Earlier, we posted on the oft maligned Neil Young's "The Geffen Years": ~1981 - ~1988.


As a followup, here is the Comment of the Moment on reappraising Neil Young & Crazy Horse 1987 "Life" album by Tomatron:

Starting with its absurd title, the 1987 Neil Young & Crazy Horse record is over the top. 

Say what you want about Life as a whole, (most will target the objectionable production effects), but Mideast Vacation succeeds at what it set out to accomplish. The song gets under the skin with its acidic narrative and synthetic presentation. In modern parlance, it’s a banger. The originally unreleased Letter From Nam gives a glimpse of how Long Walk Home *used* to sound, but an additional decade and a half of neoliberal interference cements the American Empire reading of the song. Digitally induced bombast is absolutely required here. The digital reverb on the drums is so huge one can visualize the entire perimeter of the arena, half full and brimming with the aroma of spilled Bud Light.

Neil may hate the way Around The World turned out as an example of the supposedly botched Crazy Horse performances accompanying the metronome, but that tune is a lot of fun. They get a dumb synth punk thing going that morphs into new wave (a style honed on the previous record) and that absolutely ridiculous spoken breakdown. Around The World perfectly skewers the 80s while still being completely of its time. Some of Neil Young’s records have a timeless feel to them, but Life offers no escape from the confines of the epoch. Inca Queen is no exception, as heard in its proliferation of processed instrumentation. Nevertheless, it is just so damn epic. And I can’t think of another song where Crazy Horse do backing vocals in that particularly low chanty way again. “Inca Queen has. Inca Queen has. Inca Queen has come.” She’s here; ‘bout time!

Side B is where it starts feeling more like the Crazy Horse we know. If Mideast Vacation is the six-year sonic continuation of Shots, Too Lonely could be the long-awaited follow-up to the rest of re•ac•tor. It’s just gleefully mean and too great to be in tune. Year Of The Horse showed us how amazing tunes like Prisoners Of Rock ‘n’ Roll and When Your Lonely Heart Breaks can be when the band is given free rein. It must be conceded that those later performances are the definitive editions, but they’re not half bad here in their original incarnations. Prisoners makes clear the title of the album is a sentence rather than a celebration, yet still it revels in its rebel primitivism.

We Never Danced has ample atmosphere as the album closer. It could’ve fit right in to the Bluenotes repertoire with a horn arrangement dropped in to replace the keyboards. But the real winner of Side B is Cryin’ Eyes. It’s quick and catchy, approaching a garage-y DEVO attitude but looser. They could trot that one out at any show from ‘86 on and have us jumping in the aisles. Dig that sick guitar tone on the lead!

Briggs would bring it on home in a few years for Ragged Glory, reminding us how the Horse could drink when led to water. He was operating outside his wheelhouse this time, but you gotta credit him for giving it a go. The tunes’ production may run counter to what people expect of the band, but they’re not boring. There are plenty of NY albums I wasn’t into before and now I adore unreservedly. 

This realization brought me back to the Geffen years to find joy in Life and the weird vibes of the times!

Thanks much for reappraising Neil & The Horse's album "Life"  Tomatron! Hope we can see some more  reappraisals of the oh-so misunderstood Geffen Years releases.

For us, one of the most fascinating aspects of the album "Life" is the cover itself.

Closeup of "Life" Album Cover
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
 (Click photo to enlarge)

If you look very closely at the cover, you see Neil literally behind bars, with 4 strokes and a cross (symbolizing #5), scratched on a prison wall.  5 being the number of albums Neil Young released on Geffen Label.

So Neil headed onto the Freedom album and the rest is history. 

For more on Neil Young and "The Geffen Years", see post on Neil Young's Uncut, Never-Before-Seen Interview | 'Inventing David Geffen' | PBS American Masters Archive.

 Neil Young - November 29, 2011
Inventing David Geffen PBS | American Masters

More on Neil Young's "The Geffen Years": ~1981 - ~1988.

Also, see Album Cover of Neil Young's Life on Geffen Records and Reassessing Neil Young's Life on Geffen Records

David Geffen, Elliot Roberts, & Neil Young
Frame from 'Inventing David Geffen': American Masters
(Click photo to enlarge)

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At 2/03/2022 11:17:00 AM, Blogger wardo said...

Life has a special spot for me because it was the first new Neil album I bought after becoming fully immersed in his catalog. I still think it holds up, cheesy synths and all.

At 2/03/2022 11:59:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks wardo!

funny, how just about everyone has a problem w/ the 80's synth sounds. Maybe he should re-record w/ the 2022 Horse version? Nils could add his take on accordion where the synth was?

Now Neil has never re-recorded an album but has put out multiple versions of an album like LWW and StoryTone.

And we haven't forgotten your BARN review. We did link to it and will try and get an excerpt post as well. But that darn Neil and making global headlines keep throwing a monkey wrench into our best laid plans.

At 2/03/2022 02:19:00 PM, Blogger wardo said...

I forgot to add: thanks for all you do.

At 2/03/2022 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Dionys said...

Thanks to Tomatron for this enligthening comment on Life. I grew up in the 80's and so the synth-sound is a signature I am very familar with. Also re-connecting Life with Re*ac*tor is very plausible to me.

At 2/03/2022 11:22:00 PM, Blogger Peacelover Doc said...

I have no problem with this album. 'Prisoners' has long been a sort of Neil anthem for me.

At 2/04/2022 12:53:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Nothing to do with the synths, the songs aren't good enough - heard that before more recently ?

At 2/04/2022 05:38:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

While Landing on Water will surely not be anyone's top shakey album, it still contains one of his best ever songs with the stone cold caustic classic Hippie Dream...

At 2/04/2022 09:50:00 AM, Blogger G-Man said...

I have always liked "Life", and was probably helped by seeing the accompanying tour, where the songs really sparked to life (no pun intended).

At 2/04/2022 12:01:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Perhaps one question can make an album: "why don't we illuminate"

Great question, why not ask it again?


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