Funhouse Album Reviews
Neil Young News
The cyberzine of degenerate pop culture
vol. 1 - no. 5; October 20, 1994
LANDING ON WATER
THIS NOTE'S FOR YOU
1984 - Geffen GHS 24068
The Wayward Wind / Get Back to the Country / Are There Any More Real
Cowboys? / Once an Angel / Misfits / California Sunset / Old Ways / My Boy /
Bound for Glory / Where Is the Highway Tonight?
by Steve Peck
You can take Neil Young out of the country (like when he tours Europe or
elsewhere), but you can't take the country out of Neil Young. After several
less definitive forays into country-and-western music (such as album sides on
American Stars 'n' Bars and Hawks and Doves), Young finally strapped on the
country harness for real on Old Ways. Backed by a full band, the
International Harvesters, replete with fiddles, pedal steel, and banjos, Neil
managed to make a very solid country record.
While it may not be one of his
very best, Old Ways turns out to be an important work nonetheless. On Old
Ways, Neil Young has grown up; he is no longer a young man finger pointing at
the establishment. There is a new found sense of responsibility showing up in
his songs. He attempts to do his part in standing up for the small guy who's
dreams are being dashed, and who is trying to maintain his / her lifestyle,
built on the basic human values of family, love, and hard work. Neil speaks
of these things from the perspective of a man who has learned these lessons.
It is a transformation for Young, and actually is easy to miss when listening
to this laid-back sounding album.
This new sensibility is also found in most
of his subsequent work. The main thematic highlights of the album are in "Are
There Any More Real Cowboys?," a song that chronicles the plight of the modern
cowboy / farmer, and "Bound For Glory," a tale of a lonely pickup-truck
driver, a hitchhiking girl, and her dog. The title cut, "Old Ways," has the
author swearing off his evil ways, although he cannot stay straight. Other
memorable moments are "California Sunset," an ode to his state of residence,
"Once An Angel," a slow country ballad with a very traditional setting, and
"My Boy," a touching song for his son. "Misfits" is one of those really weird
Neil Young numbers where you wonder what the hell he is talking about and what possessed him to write it.
The International Harvesters were a swinging band that added a lot to the
quality of the record, and this is Neil's most realized country effort to
date. One enjoyable aspect of the album is his use of Waylon Jennings for
vocal harmonies. Waylon and Neil's voices blend well together, and Jennings
is one of the best harmonizers around. Willie Nelson shows up to duet on "Are
There Any More Real Cowboys?," adding further to the record's country
credentials. This period of Neil's career is even more significant if you
look past the Old Ways album, and take into account the subsequent
International Harvesters tour, with its performances of several exceptional,
unreleased songs, "Interstate" and "Grey Riders."
Two other songs that
further defined Neil's sympathy for the modern farmer, "This Old House" (later
recorded by CSNY) and "Nothing Is Perfect" (still unreleased), fit right into
the themes of Old Ways. The Harvesters proved to be a spectacular live band,
and really shined when given the opportunity to stretch out and jam. Notable
highlights from the tour were smokin' renditions of "Southern Pacific" (with
great fiddling), and an epic version of "Down By the River" where Neil
strapped on the old electric guitar and wailed.
Although this record is
generally viewed as one of Young's weird genre pieces from the eighties, it is
actually a pretty traditional album for him, as Neil's music always had a
country edge, even when blasting away with Crazy Horse. Old Ways breaks new
ground in terms of personal expression for Mr. Young, with his acceptance of
his role as a responsible adult. It is also a nice album to listen to when
you are sitting on your porch, doing nothing.
LANDING ON WATER
1986 - Geffen GHS 24109
Weight of the World / Violent Side / Hippie Dream / Bad News Beat / Touch
the Night / People on the Street / Hard Luck Stories / I Got a Problem /
Pressure / Drifter
by Don St. John
Somewhere in the mid-eighties, Neil Young began the transition from "guy
making oddball records and being sued by his record company" to "legend and
avatar of post-punk and grunge." If you'd like to know where the changeover
started, check out Landing on Water, his 1986 release and the one Geffen
Records could never justify suing him for. Landing on Water was Neil's return
to a more rocking sound after the various experiments of Trans, Everybody's
Rockin', and Old Ways.
It has something in common with these albums; the
record features a stark, metallic sound that has more than a little in common
with the synthesizer-driven Trans. Nobody plays bass on this album; Neil and
cohorts Steve Jordan on drums and Danny Kortchmar on guitars fill the gap with
synths, leaving no bottom end, and thus no warmth to the sound. Jordan's
drums rattle like garbage cans, and Neil employs lots of brittle, feedback
guitar on Old Black, his classic Les Paul. The record's themes touch
continually on alienation ("Touch The Night," "I Got A Problem," "Drifter"),
lost visions ("Hippie Dream"), and the search for control ("Violent Side,"
Neil never sounds convinced, even on the opening track, "Weight
Of The World," that the loneliness he felt until he met his love has really
gone for good.
"What about you / How can I count on you to count on me?"
is the plaintive question of "Drifter." The listener can't count on a solid
answer. This ambiguity, and the way it presages the power of later albums
such as Freedom and Ragged Glory, makes Landing on Water the missing link in
Young's canon for most listeners. My advice: Go find it and fill the gap now.
1987 - Geffen GHS 24154
Mideast Vacation / Long Walk Home / Around the World / Inca Queen / Too
Lonely / Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll / Cryin' Eyes / When Your Lonely Heart
Breaks / We Never Danced
by Gary A. Lucero
Life is Neil's last official recording with Geffen. It was released in 1987,
with much of it recorded live during the Landing on Water tour. Although not
as reliant on keyboards for its sound as Landing on Water, Life shares a
certain feeling with its predecessor. Many of the songs, like "Mideast
Vacation," "Around the World," "Too Lonely," "Prisoners of Rock'n'Roll," and
"Cryin' Eyes," are rockers. They're fairly hard, and have some great guitar
The remaining songs, "Long Walk Home," "Inca Queen," "When Your Lonely
Heart Breaks," and "We Never Danced," are slow, melodic numbers. Most ofthe
songs are about war, the Incas, rock, or love. One interesting thing is that
the song "We Never Danced" was used as the basis for the movie "Made in
Heaven," which stars Timothy Hutton and Kelli McGillis. Neil Young has a
cameo role in the film as a truck driver. "We Never Danced" was unfortunately
not sung by Neil in "Made in Heaven," but was used to good effect none the
As with Landing on Water, Life was not appreciated very much by Neil
Young fans at the time of its release. Rolling Stone magazine said that
Freedom, which came out two years later, was more a "life" album than Life
was. I disagree; real life is love, war, hate, rock-and-roll, etc., and
that's what the album Life is about. Long may you run.
THIS NOTE'S FOR YOU
1988 - Reprise 25719
Ten Men Workin' / This Note's for You / Coupe de Ville / Life in the City /
Twilight / Married Man / Sunny Inside / Can't Believe Your Lyin' / Hey Hey /
by David G Skoglund
"My songs are all so long
And my words are all so sad"
- Neil Young
After re-signing with Reprise, Neil created another excursion into a different
musical style - big-band electric blues. During the North American tour with Crazy Horse in the summer of 1987, there was a short set of blues number
between the opening, acoustic set and the Crazy Horse electric set. The new
style began to draw Neil's interest. In November of that year Neil Young and
the Bluenotes (Crazy Horse plus a horn section) did a small tour of clubs on
the West Coast. The material ranged from newly-written songs to numbers
written back in Neil's teen years in Canada.
Shortly after the tour, the band
headed into the studio, but only after a few changes. The Crazy Horse rhythm
section of Talbot and Molina was replaced by Chad Cromwell on drums and Rick
(The Bass Player) Rojas on bass, and in the intervening time Neil had written
In April of 1988, the album This Note's For You was released.
It can be roughly divided into two styles, the up-tempo "power swing" numbers
and the atmospheric ballads. The two styles mix nicely together, much in the
manner of the acoustic / electric split of other albums. The album features
some of Neil's most technically proficient guitar playing in a long time,
especially on the slower numbers. Some of the standout tracks include "Coup
Deville," "Twilight" (both ballads), "Hey Hey," "Life In The City," and the
title track, "This Note's For You."
The title track would prove to be a point
of controversy, especially where the video was concerned. Originally banned
by MTV, the clip went on to win best video of the year - go figure. On the
album, the song appears in a heavily edited version (at little more than two
minutes long) and is almost a throw away. The live version that was later
released on Lucky Thirteen is more representative.
This period is said to be
very prolific for Neil in terms of song writing, and this was proven true when
the band hit the road in the summer of 1988 with even more new material. In
retrospect, it would have been nice if the band had recorded the album at the
end of its time together rather than the beginning, as the songs from the
summer tour have a little more fire than the ones that made it to the record.
A planned live album by the Bluenotes never materialized, but it's rumored
that the Archives project will contain a lot of Bluenotes material that never
saw release. In the eyes of many mainstream critics, this album marked the
beginning of Neil's "comeback." This opinion would be cemented by the release
of Eldorado and Freedom a year-and-a-half later.
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