Neil Young Album Reviews from FUNHOUSE#4

The Rust@Death Mail List Evaluates the Neil Young Catalog

Funhouse Album Reviews

Neil Young News

The cyberzine of degenerate pop culture
vol. 1 - no. 5; October 20, 1994

1980 - Reprise HS 2297
Little Wing / The Old Homestead / Lost in Space / Captain Kennedy / Stayin'
Power / Coastline / Union Man / Comin' Apart at Every Nail / Hawks and Doves

by Jeff Connelly

Of his popular hit "Heart of Gold," Neil Young wrote, "This song put me in
the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for
the ditch; a rougher ride, but I saw more interesting people there." The
same can be said for Hawks and Doves, Neil Young's first album following his
phenomenally successful Rust tour. He heads straight for the metaphoric
ditch, following his muse rather than striving for commercial success. This
album is the first in his string of eclectic, experimental (self-indulgent?
- you be the judge) eighties records.

Side one has a spare, at times eerie
sound. Unusual for a Neil Young album, the first track, "Little Wing," is
practically a throwaway; perhaps it leads off so the album doesn't start
overly dark. (Yeah, I know, you've got three words for me: Tonight's the
Night). "The Old Homestead" dates back to 1974. Neil will often hold onto
a song until he feels the time is right to release it, and it is the only
track on the side with instruments other than Neil's guitar and harmonica.
The song has a ghostly, Band-like feel to it, helped by the presence of Band
drummer Levon Helm.

The darkness of "Homestead" is countered by the
relative whimsy of "Lost in Space" (featuring a guest vocal by a Marine
Munchkin). The side ends with "Captain Kennedy," which lyrically would fit
on a Tom Waits album, and both lyrically and musically evokes an image of
Neil singing in a candlelit room with people lying about, smoking grass, and
staring up at the flickering ceiling. Side two, in contrast, has a bright,
country flavor and a full band. The omnipresent fiddle player would
later tour with Neil in the International Harvesters. Most importantly,
Neil sounds like he's having a lot of fun. Lyrically, the songs are much
more direct - "Stayin' Power" and "Coastline" are love songs, while "Union
Man" and "Comin' Apart at Every Nail" are more political, though the most
pressing matter at the meeting in "Union Man" is the issuance of "Live Music
Is Better" bumper stickers. Hey, first things first. The album ends with
Hawks and Doves, which today Neil probably couldn't sing without making it
ironic. (We'll ignore for the moment that he is originally from Canada).

It's a burst of hey-we're-in-the-greatest-country-in-the world patriotism,
right in tune with the beginning of the Reagan Era. Though I'm not a
patriot in the classic sense (I prefer to think of myself as a Biafran
neo-patriot), the song never fails to pick me up and make me smile. Had it
been issued as a single and successful, it probably would stand today as a
popular patriotic country anthem for those who find Lee Greenwood boring.

1981 - Reprise HS 2304
Opera Star / Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze / T-Bone / Get Back on It /
Southern Pacific / Motor City / Rapid Transit / Shots
by Jack "Shakey" Mullins

In 1979, Neil Young released Rust Never Sleeps, and side two of that album
proved that he could dish out punk with the best of them. Then after an odd
(but good) 1980 album Hawks and Doves, Neil followed up his punk effort with
even rougher rock-and-roll. The outcome was Re*Ac*Tor. This 1981 album, with
Crazy Horse, features some of the finest and rawest (not to mention
overlooked) music of Neil Young's career; this album is a prerequisite to
Grunge 101.

Side one opens with "Opera Star," and reveals what would be in
the future musically, with synthesizers quite up-front in the mix. It's
uncompromising nonetheless, and the lyrics sting: "So you stay out all night
getting fucked-up in that rock-and-roll bar," Neil sings. Following this,
"Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze," might remind one, thematically, of a heavier
version of Three Dog Night's (or Randy Newman's -JF) "Mama Told Me Not to Come." The next song wasn't even meant to be recorded, apparently, but wound
up so because Neil and the Horse still felt like playing after they recorded
the album. Nine-plus minutes of Neil playing wildly falanged guitar solos and
repeating "Got mashed Potatoes, ain't got no T-Bone." This would be a show
stopper if Neil ever took this song on tour!

The side closes with "Get Back
On It," a very jumpy tune, like "Are You Ready for the Country" with no steel
and a grunge backbeat. It has a tough spot on the LP following the first
three songs! Side two begins with what is probably the most accessible song
on the album, "Southern Pacific," a rolling three-chord rocker about forced
retirement - just like a Springsteen song, only with balls. The pretty hokey
(but amusing) "Motor City" follows, and demonstrates how varied a Neil Young
album can be from song to song.

"Rapid Transit," along with the first three
songs, would create the most perfect album side of all time - a very crunchy
trip through power-chords, and Neil's stammering, which would offend some
people. It's classic Neil, and almost a one note guitar solo again as well!
"Shots" closes the album, and it takes on a completely different form than
when Neil presented it in concert three years before, much as how the electric
version of "Cowgirl in the Sand" compares to the Four Way Street version. But
this song is much more sloppy and rough than "Cowgirl," which in fact sounds
tame by comparison.

Listening to one song at a time does not do justice here,
folks. The album on a whole is a classic, and sadly it's a very underrated
one. The forthcoming CD release of Re*Ac*Tor will hopefully give it another
chance to be noticed, and I think it will be well received by people hearing
it for the first time, since the roots of grunge show so clearly.

UPDATE - Here's a translation of the Latin inscription on the back of the Re*ac*tor album cover:

-- attributed to Francis of Assisi

1982 - Geffen GHS 2018
Little Thing Called Love / If You Got Love / Computer Age / We R in Control /
Transformer Man / Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher) / Hold on to Your Love /
Sample and Hold / Mr. Soul / Like an Inca
by Jeff Dove

As either a description of the transformation to a techno-Orwellian society or
as a method of communication with a special child, Trans could not be created
from the traditional approaches of solo, acoustic rock (Comes a Time, Rust
Never Sleeps, Hawks and Doves) or fuzzed out, dueling guitar, electric rock
(Rust Never Sleeps, Re-ac-tor) that Neil Young worked with over the previous
four years.

Trans required a new methodology. The core of this record
features Neil contributing synthesized rhythms through the use of a
Synclavier, and distorting his voice through a device called a Vocoder, to
create a distant, metallic, robotic sound. It has been reported that the use
of this gadgetry was borne from Young's attempts to reach his cerebral palsy
afflicted son, but what emerged is a bit of negative science fiction about
society's transistion to the computer age.

The five central tracks, "Computer
Age," "We R in Control," "Transformer Man," "Computer Cowboy (aka
Syscrusher)," and "Sample and Hold," tell of a cold and mechanical society.
"Computer Age" is a plea for warmth and humanity, while "We R in Control"
spells out a technological anti-Utopia:
"We control The data banks /
We control The think tanks / We control The flow of air"
As its title suggests, "Computer Cowboy (aka Syscrusher)" updates the
mythology of the old west maverick to a modern electronic rebel. "Sample and
Hold" describes a commercial venture that can provide a "unit" for a wanting
man, made completely to the height, weight, skin and eye color, and other
specifications of his desire. The song's protagonist, through Neil's vocals,
requests not "the angry one" or "the lonely one" but "a new design - new
design." "Transformer Man" is the key song, as it takes the idea of new
technologies directly to the inspiration for this record, as the transformer
man is Young's son:
"Direct the action with the push of a button..."
"Let us throw off the chains that / Hold you down"

The overall message is one of the mechanization of mankind, and this is
symbolized by the cover art. On the front a hippie with bongos thumbs a ride
into the horizon (and into the album itself) from a convertible Chevy on a
tree-lined road, while his counterpart on the other side of the street is an
automaton making the return trip by hitching a space car traveling through the
brave new world.

The transition from one state to the next is described
within the record, which is the unseen point in the distance. The back cover
sums up the state of this future with a drawing of a human heart peeled open
to reveal its transistor and microchip interior. The album is not completely
techno, however, and these theme songs back their synthesized sounds with real
guitars, bass, and drums - the beat is there.

"Computer Cowboy (aka
Syscrusher)" has a pretty raw guitar lead running through it, and "Sample and
Hold" straight-out rocks through all of its weirdness. These five tracks
weren't enough for an album, and thus Trans is filled out with two interesting
pairs of songs. "Hold on to Your Love" and "Mr. Soul" maintain the sonic
effect described above, although the former drops the Vocoder and presents an
older, simple love song with the new style of music.

"Mr. Soul" is the
classic, given the complete futuristic treatment with distorted vocals and
all. "Little Thing Called Love" and "Like an Inca" have a traditional sound
to them. Each has none of the Kraftwerkesque effects, but are still somewhat
unique when stacked up against the whole of Young's work. They seem to be the
products of the same session, as each has a similar make-up. Though they
employ a full rock band, the subtle electric lead guitar, strumming acoustic
rhythm guitar, understated bass and drums, and calm singing don't sound like a
lot else of what Neil does when he goes electric. They begin and end Trans,
and I suspect that they had been in the can, not really fitting on previous

With the need for more material for this record and a desire
(however unsuccessful) not to completely alienate the new label (Geffen),
Trans was seen as a good place to pull them out. "If You Got Love" is a
phantom track (at least on my LP). It's listed on the jacket and the sleeve
(with lyrics) but isn't on the disk.
That Trans is Neil Young's first release for Geffen is also of interest. It
is doubtful that he was intentionally trying to deliver uncommercial product,
but likely that the record is just the result what he felt at the time.

Dedicated Neil fans know that this is not unprecedented - just look back to
Journey Through the Past. Geffen, however, wanted a big payoff from their new
artist and probably were hoping for Harvest II. There have been several
accounts of the label's initial rejection of Trans and the subsequent struggle to get it out. In 1994, we are well aware of the strange turns Neil's music
can take, with Everybody's Rockin', Landing on Water, This Note's for You, and
even Trans behind us.

However, in 1982 the listening public wasn't prepared
for these sounds, at a time when "new-wave and punk sucks" was the mantra of
the FM rock stations who were fighting with everything they had to dismiss
rock-and-rollers like the Ramones and the Clash as worthless.

If you can
accept the mechanical vocals you'll find some great, solid rock sounds behind
them. All of Crazy Horse are involved (they are probably the band on "Little
Thing Called Love" and "Like an Inca," although the liner notes don't break
down musicians by song), as well as Nils Lofgren, and regular Young
contributors Ben Keith and Bruce Palmer. Trans doesn't seem intended as a
swipe at Geffen, but the bad blood between artist and label started with it,
and led to the giant FU that is the next record, Everybody's Rockin'.

At a time (1983) when the fad was a rockabilly revival (with the fluff of the Stray
Cats leading the way), Neil probably wanted to put Geffen off and show the
youngsters how it's done at the same time. How else can you explain an album
that is just over twenty minutes long and is completely detached in style from
any of his recorded work that came before?

The tour that followed Trans was
also an interesting experience. It was mostly a solo acoustic event, with
Neil shifting between upright piano, grand piano, and acoustic guitar, until
the encore. At that point in the show he emerged, complete with futuristic
shades, behind his synth and with Vocoder in place to deliver a trio of songs
from the record, including "Transformer Man" and "Mr. Soul."

1983 - Geffen GHS 4013
Betty Lou's Got a New Pair of Shoes / Rainin' In My Heart / Payola Blues /
Wonderin' / Kinda Fonda Wanda / Jellyroll Man / Bright Lights, Big City /
Cry, Cry, Cry / Mystery Train / Everybody's Rockin'
by Jyrki Kimmel

As much has been said about Neil Young and his relationship with Geffen in the
1980's, this review focuses only on the record Everybody's Rockin'. A history
of listening to Neil Young, however, brings a personal bias to the article.

The album consists of five rock-and-roll standards as well as five songs by
Young (two of them with co-authors). In all, the tone is that of great
nostalgia, and the standards are recorded with care and original spirit. At
the same time, humor is not forgotten, as is shown in the opening "Betty Lou's
Got a New Pair of Shoes," a childish play on rhymes, and "Kinda Fonda Wanda,"
as in its lyric:
"...'cause Wanda always wanna wanna wanna..."

Another play on words, or rather imagery, is "Jellyroll Man," with obvious
references to sex:
"I gotta have it right now "
But maybe I just see it that way. The album-ending title song is also a
seemingly meaningless rock-and-roll tune, in the vein of "Shakin' All Over,"
"Let's Twist Again," "At the Hop," or any other song proclaiming the birth of a new way to dance, but with the added topical notion of Ronnie and Nancy,
"rocking in the White House all night long."

A more serious effort is "Payola
Blues," a lament of record company payoffs and of radio DJs. "Rainin' In My
Heart" and "Cry, Cry, Cry" go beyond the usual in rock and roll tear-jerker
ballads, and Neil's renditions are superbly true to that spirit in both songs.
The most noteworthy songs, when taken out of context on the album, are
"Wonderin'," a tune Neil wrote and had performed on stage in the seventies,
and covers of "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Mystery Train," both great hits
from their era.

"Wonderin'" would be a rocker in any arrangement, and this
version is just perfect. "Bright Lights, Big City" is sang as if Neil
personally is relating a story of a girlfriend lost in metropolitan splendor.
"Mystery Train" also has a personal, emotional feel, and it does not have its
roots in Neil's model railroad hobby.

The album clocks in at 24 minutes, over
which the very essence of fifties rock is laid out, turned over, and emptied.
Undoubtedly this is the music Neil grew up with (with the obvious exception of
the personally penned songs), and as such, Everybody's Rockin' is a great
tribute to the roots of rock-and-roll in a time when artists of a "Younger"
generation are crafting tribute albums to the Godfather of Grunge himself.

Funhouse Album Reviews of Neil Young

Neil Young Album Reviews

Thrasher's Home Page - Neil Young