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Wednesday, May 01, 2024

REVIEWS: "Fu##n' Up" Album by Neil [Young] & The [Crazy] Horse

"Fu##n' Up" Album
Neil & the Horse
(Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse)

Yet another Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse album -  "Fu##n' Up" specifically - has been released and here are a few takes.

First up, Scotsman weighs in with his vast Neil knoweddge.

The new Neil Young and Crazy Horse live album, F**kin’ Up, has bolted from the barn. In the build-up to release day, we’ve been treated to three pre-release singles:

Over and Over was a bit messy, but had the spirit and THEN SOME.

Farmer John was a bit of fun. (For a version of this great song that’s a lot more than just a bit of fun, check out the power-packed Way Down In The Rust Bucket version.)

And Days That Used To Be, whilst again performed with spirit (and notice, too, the surprise addition of the harmonica solo from 1988 solo versions), felt like a bit of an uphill grind.

That’s partly because the song was already close to the top of Neil’s vocal range about 30 or 40 years ago; he’s now at the stage where reaching those high notes is amazingly still possible, but more challenging. And it’s partly because the deceptively “loose” grungy sound actually requires immense concentration and discipline to harness and direct.

People often speak of how the appeal of Crazy Horse is in how sloppy and “loose” they are, but I think that misses the point. Lots of bands sound sloppy, and that’s just because they’re not very good. But *sounding* loose whilst *also* performing with precision is where the real magic is. Let’s not underplay this band’s skills.

On the album F**kin’ Up, the band are playing the songs with much the same sound they created as rock ‘n’ roll “teenagers” at the height of their powers (aka in their late forties).

Here and now, Neil Young and the band are rolling back the years. And if it’s at times a struggle to get there, a struggle to find the right gear for a rocky road, then we could argue that’s part of the appeal. Battles can be more captivating to experience than easy victories.

But to retrace our steps for a second, what exactly *is* this album? The marketing of it—marketing that’s supposed to get us salivating in anticipation—seemed a bit of a muddle, and didn’t care to tell us much.

If there was enthusiasm, it wasn’t necessarily communicated. If there was a compelling story to be told, it wasn’t.

Perhaps that’s because, on the face of it, the story of releasing a live album of a 2023 private show for the billionaire boss of a big business ain’t nearly as compelling as, say, selling tickets on the door to a bar in 1996 California.

(If stories were gold, only one of these would be 24-karat; The opposite story to the one that’s more likely to pay in 24-karat.)

But instead, as with Before And After, we get barely any story at all. It’s an album of new versions of nine of the ten songs from Ragged Glory, with new titles (pffft, big deal — out of habit I’ve stuck to the original titles for the purposes of this column)… and that’s about it.

Bottom line: Keep stripping away the story, and neglect the action that goes into turning that story into a reality, and pretty soon all that will be left is the art shell. A bunch of distorted guitars aren’t worth much, by themselves. The art exists in the *context*.

(As an aside, notice how much attention the “new” lyrics to the superbly-performed version of Cortez the Killer from San Diego 2024 have been attracting. Because the lyrics are originals from the 70s, they seem even more interesting, compared to if they’d been written as an add-on in 2024. Context matters.)

From *Neil’s* point-of-view, one story of F**ckin’ Up is that is he has discovered a way of playing guitar again with less aggro from his arthritis. That’s why he particularly enjoyed this performance. And it’s up to us to decide if that has resulted in not just a less painful performance for the artist, but also a moving one for the audience.

And as with the 2023 Roxy shows, F**kin’ Up (almost) replicates the tracklist of a classic album. This time, Ragged Glory.

I’m not always a huge fan of this approach. Innovation often comes from reconstructing pieces of the past; but sticking *rigidly* to a 30-year-old blueprint doesn’t allow for this sort of forward movement. Over the years, Neil has generally stayed clear of crowd-pleasing classic album set-lists, and I think overall it’s proved to be a wise move.

As uncertain as the future may be, we need to put at least one foot assuredly forward. That doesn’t mean we can’t take the past with us.

How does F**kin’ Up (the album) stack up? I think it gathers steam as it goes. The first few tracks sound like Neil is lobbing musical grenades and, quite thrillingly, it’s not clear if they’re going to land on stage or in the audience. And then it all kicks into gear and captures the essence of Crazy Horse in full fight.

Clear highlights: Love To Burn, Mansion On The Hill, Over and Over. Love And Only Love, too — a sort of hybrid Horse/POTR version that retains the texture of the latter, without much of the excessive noodling or belly flab.

On the other hand, we might justifiably wonder if remaking Ragged Glory without Poncho Sampedro is like remaking Harvest without Ben Keith.

Poncho put the “Crazy” into Crazy Horse. The guts, too. If you like your Crazy Horse to sound like the most thrillingly dangerous rock band in the world, the Poncho line-up remains the only competitor.

He’s the Ray Winstone of Crazy Horse: the guy who brings the hard-rock edge in a way that *seems* to just be part of who he is.

Example: Just listen (go on: press play now) to the way Poncho sings the backing vocals with Ralph on the original Fuckin' Up — or the Weld version. They make it sound punchy, edgy, gleeful, devilish and possessed.

On the new version—as with almost all non-Poncho versions in the last 30 years—it sounds like the backing vocalists themselves are as comatose as the character in the song. Zzzz!

Overall, though, the new album sounds like what you’d expect:

A rough around the edges version of Ragged Glory… played by a band with a combined age of 5017… who’ve barely played three notes together in the last ten years…shaking out some cobwebs… starting to actually play some music together for an extended period…

…and quickly developing back into an elite unit, scarily close to the height of their powers.

But labelling it actively *superior* to the original (or, heaven forbid, Weld) as a complete record might inspire your doctor to prescribe a stomach-pump to get the kool aid out of your system. More pertinently, it might also inspire the ghost of David Briggs to arise and chuck you out of your own house.

The album as a whole has this thrilling and liberating “just-the-right-side-of-ramshackle” feel that makes me want to grab a guitar and join in, or perhaps go and bash some trash-can lids together down a back alley at 2:30am. It has that care-free exuberance.

And notice how songs like Over and Over take on new significance when the performers have experienced the sun rise and fall, reliable as clockwork, every day for a further 30+ years since they first performed them in 1990. It feels like a lot of shared time and lots of living, condensed into a few minutes of music.

As with 2023’s Before and After, each song flows into the next with little-or-no pause. An uncharitable view might be that it’s the equivalent of wolfing down a nine-course-meal with no time to digest each one.

And it’s an album that positively *has* to be heard in the context of 2024, not 1990. That’s perhaps where the retitling of the songs comes in. Existing outside the momentum of a full tour, some of these tracks feel like they’re just beyond the performers’ reach; not quite road-worthy, yet. And others just sound like more experienced, more interesting and more battle-hardened versions of themselves.

The songs themselves have a youthful spirit and calloused skin…. character-adding wrinkles around their eyes. That’s no criticism at all. On the contrary.

Mother Earth is the one Ragged Glory song missing from this concert. At this sort of “corporate” gig, this increasingly pertinent (and very beautiful) song makes its point not through its presence, but its absence. And it’s unclear if anybody in the room wanted to really listen to it, anyway.

And incidentally, wouldn’t the last verse of Days That Used To Be prove the perfect lead-in to an overdue live version of 2022’s Chevrolet? It would be one way of bringing one foot of the setlist out of retracing-of-steps of nostalgia, and into the world of possibility in 2024.

One foot forward.


PS: The first show of the 2024 Crazy Horse tour, which I enjoyed via the various excellent YouTube videos, grabbed me with more conviction than any of the few 2023 shows with the Horse.

Hearing the band come out onstage *firing*, well rehearsed, in-form, and with a “get down to business” attitude—and with *that* version of Cortez The Killer—practically had me jumping up and down with excitement. Bravo, fellas.

Thanks so much Scots. Not really a f* up afterall it seems. Excitement builds as the LOVE EARTH tour rolls east.

Next up, a clip from a review on Only Castles Burning titled "ragged redux":

As with Before and After, the songs are presented without much of any break between them, so the album is unrelenting. This show was one of the first times Neil had played after having some laser surgery on his hand, and he talked a bit about how much freer he felt playing guitar. Old Black is wild here! It’s one of the things I notice first. Ragged Glory is a tight album, all things considered. His guitar on that original album soars and locks in the pocket really well. By contrast, Fu##in’ Up is more like the garage band flip side, perhaps reflecting what some of the unselected takes for Ragged Glory may have sounded like.

Like they did at the Roxy shows, this is actually a five piece. Since Frank “Poncho” Sampedro retired after the Alchemy tour, the rhythm guitarist for Crazy Horse has been Nils Lofgren. However, when the Roxy shows were scheduled, Nils was supposed to be on tour with Bruce Springsteen. Bruce had to postpone some dates when he came down with COVID, so Nils was able to join the Roxy show. However, by that time, Neil had already drafted Micah Nelson*** aka Particle Kid aka Willie Nelson’s son to play second guitar. Micah had been playing with Neil as part of the Promise of the Real era, although he was a bit buried under all the noise of that big band. In Crazy Horse, he is taking a much bigger role.

This same five piece arrangement applied to the Toronto show, with Nils and Micah trading off guitar and piano throughout. Of course, Ragged Glory has no piano on it, so that’s one sonically different aspect to these songs…I wonder if that’s really why the songs have all been retitled? Oh yeah, all the songs (except “Farmer John”) have new titles based on lyrics in the songs. They also have numbers before the songs that don’t match the track order. Neil has not been forthcoming on any of these choices. The stream of conscious, but very heartfelt, note that accompanies the album does not elucidate.

Thanks so much for the "ragged redux" on  Only Castles Burning.

Last but not least, our pal Davy has his video podcast review of the latest.


Thanks Davy, and yes, Neil's ragged glory becomes even more ragged and even more glorious, if that's even possible.

More on "Fu##n' Up" album and concert reports @ “Love Earth Tour”: Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse Concert Dates (UPDATED).  

Also, see background on recording of album  "Fu##n' Up" in 2023 at a private party in Toronto for one of Canada’s richest men where almost every song from 1990’s Ragged Glory was played.

The Rivoli, Toronto on Nov. 3, 2023
Photo by Andrew Bennett
  (Click photo to enlarge) 


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At 5/02/2024 09:35:00 AM, Blogger wardo said...

I added my review of the album to my previous post about Before And After. I expect to be lambasted for my assessment.

But I did take the opportunity to look at the first Crazy Horse "solo" albums:

Thanks for all you do.


At 5/02/2024 10:20:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

thanks wardo!
no lambasting here for your assessment. we support freedom of speech. and opinions are merely forms of speech.
and thank you for all you do too! 70+ NY album reviews is an impressive run.
long may we run

At 5/02/2024 10:25:00 AM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I’m certainly not capable of the eloquence of Scotsman, nor do I disagree with any of the points that were made. What I do know, is how this live recording made me feel. I completely agree that it must be taken from a 2024 perceptive. As well as it needs to be consumed in its entirety to truly appreciate.

When I finished listening to this performance, I was overwhelmed. The experience was truly inspiring. After all these decades, they still managed to astonish me. On its own merits, this record stands as a testament to their skill, and their dedication to their craft.

Peace 🙏


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