Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Even diehard Neil Young fans would have to admit his most recent studio albums have been disappointing if not bloody awful . . . like the never-play-again rubbish A Letter Home and The Monsanto Years.
Anyone who gave The Monsanto Years a four star (or even more idiotically a five star) review -- and some did -- had mistaken right-on politics for crap songs and should be forced to listen to it right through, twice a week for a year.
In fact, if you look back through Young's studio albums, only a few this century have any merit at all.
Elsewhere would -- oddly enough -- go in to bat for the double Storytone (at least you can listen to it more than twice), the rowdy Psychedelic Pill and Le Noise but otherwise . . . Fork in the Road? Chrome Dreams?? Are You Passionate? ???
Living with War? Ah, ferchrissake!
One encounter with such nonsense is why loyalists and even passing civilians welcome him diving into the vaults for those live albums recorded back when he meant something as a musician, rather than as some totemic rock-culture touchstone.
(If you don't like Neil you don't like rock? Actually, saying "No" to Neil's shit is very rock'n'roll. You can even say that when you are like, riiiillly stoooownnn, 'bro.)
However Neil Young actually means both -- musician and cultural touchstone -- for this double-disc of 21 songs (seven unreleased) which is a reminder of how exciting he could be, even in the Eighties when he was being dismissed and lawyered.
This collection brings the best versions of songs recorded live in '88 when he was swinging out with a big horn-driven r'n'b band dealing material from his then-current (and terrific) This Note's For You album.
The Eighties was the decade when Young was sued by Geffen for making "unrepresentative" albums (Trans, Everybody's Rockin' etc) and in many ways This Note's For You was in that manner: Young up there with a 10-piece band (horn section) swinging and delivering roundhouse head-punches to those who would sell their souls (and music) for commercial purposes.
With its bitter stab at such schills ("Ain't singing for Pepsi, ain't singing for Coke, I don't sing for nobody, makes me look like a joke . . .") he stood against the corporate in-roads into rock culture . . . which might have been a battle lost by then, but he was certainly nailing the villains (and the video clip had a Michael Jackson lookalike with his hair on fire).
Ironically then -- after the Geffen litigation had been resolved -- when the album came out Harold Melvin (of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes) got litigious over the name of Young's band (the Blue Notes) and so Young toured with them as Ten Men Working (the title of one of the great songs on the album).
Who knows why, but now an excellent selection of songs recorded live on that tour are now credited to a band called the Bluenote Cafe. Maybe there's a band called Ten Men Working who have a very good lawyer?
Irregardless,as they say in The Sopranos, it's always what's in the grooves that count. And these grooves are stacked with greatness.
There's delicious B.B. King-blues (Don't Take Your Love Away From Me), lowdown boogie with penetrating horns (Soul of a Woman), garageband r'n'b (Ain't It The Truth nodding to Van Morrison's Gloria), the outstanding Bad News Comes to Town (another previously unreleased gem) . . .
Here too of course is his bitter and always timely This Note's For You, taut jazz solos by the saxophonists, midnight MOR (Twilight), Stax soul-cum-country (Hello Lonely Woman) and much more.
He closes with a 20-minute Tonight's the Night, not as bleak as the previously available version on the album of the same name but still a trip down and down and . . .
After all those awful recent studio albums this -- perhaps unfortunately, because now the recent stuff just sounds even more perfunctory and condescending towards his audience -- reminds of when Neil Young actually meant something and had head in the game.
Play this loud, be prepared to dance, think and nod in agreement.
You'll wish you'd been there.
Now -- almost three decades later -- you are.
Arguably the best album he's done this century.
Ho ho ho (but true).
There is an enormous amount of Neil Young at Elsewhere including album reviews, overviews and even attempts at interviews. Start here.