Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
As I've previously mentioned, I'm not a Neil Young expert. I'm coming to this discography from ap lace of ignorance. I know those influenced by him more than I know why he influenced them. Yes, I'm familiar with his 70s hits, and his 90s resurgence but I had no idea who he was in the 80s.
There's a reason.
Neil Young went through some shit in the 80s. He was given a contract with "complete artistic freedom" and he took advantage of that. And his albums tanked. Most of them aren't awful, they just aren't traditional Neil Young albums. It's like if U2 went direct from Joshua Tree to Zooropa. It's jarring. So jarring that his label tried to sue him for breach of contract, claiming his 80s output was "musically uncharacteristic of (his) previous albums". They lost. They even apologized for the lawsuit, after the fact.
The albums that make up this reimagined album are Re-ac-tor, Trans, Everybody's Rockin', and Landing On Water. Apart from Everybody's Rockin', none of them are bad albums. They're just neither excellent, nor Neil Youngish. But they're creative, and each of them has at least a couple of good songs. Everybody's Rockin' has one fun song and one good song, but its Hey Remember The 50s Rockabilly Sound was stale forty years ago, and hasn't aged any better.
But there's something charming about the combination of these styles into one eclectic, hard to pin down album.
It's definitely the 80s in NeilYoungland. Check out the synth beats on People On The Street. This ain't your guitar strumming champion of the people. Oh, wait, here comes that reedy voice, and he is trying to get you to help the homeless. Ok, so this is the familiar Neil Young, and while this is the band Crazy Horse, which have played with him before, they sure do sound different. The background vocals on the chorus sound very soft rock/r&b 80s, though I couldn't name a band that they sound precisely like.
We continue with the Computer Age sound. Though this song also has Young's guitar fingerprints alongside the synth chords. I can't decide if the main vocals on this track have been hit with a little echo but the background vocals have absolutely been vocoded to the stratosphere. Why is Neil Young suddenly on vocoder? According to Young, he was having trying to reconcile the fact that his son, who has cerebal palsy, couldn't speak, and so he was toying with making his own communication more complicated.
Touch The Night hits us with some heavy guitar at the beginning before tossing in a boys' choir and synth. But then, there it is, the unmistakable Neil Young vocals that could have come from any point in his discography. This song follows the metaphoric trajectory of "Computer Age", as we've got a bunch of traffic and highways scattered throughout the lyrics of both songs. Apart from the synth touches, this absolutely could have come out of his late 70s output and not confused any of his fans, or his record label.
That's also true of the next song, Ra-pid Tran-sit, which is all guitars. He pitches his voice a bit lower for some of the vocals, and includes a stutter to the beginning of each non-chorus line but it's, otherwise, classic Neil Young, and comes before the Geffen records debacle, but it fits nicely on this album.
Most of the albums that Geffen records didn't like, I quite enjoy. They definitely aren't hits, and I prefer them as background music than albums that I'm going to give my full focus. The exception is 1983's Everybody's Rockin', which is, at its core, a terrible record. A nostalgic for the 1950s "rockabilly" album. I'm glad Young had fun recording it, and touring behind it, but it is a slog to listen to. Wonderin' is one of the two tracks on the album that I don't mind, as it really sounds more like a Neil Young song in the style of the 1950s, rather than Neil Young trying to recreate a 1950s sound. As an anomoly on this eclectic album, I think it's great.
There's a nice little clanging bell that brings us back from the 1950s to the 1970s/80s guitar rock of Southern Pacific. The lyrics, about a rail worker being let go because of his advancing age, is vintage Young.
Like An Inca is just enjoyable Neil Young guitar rock. He doesn't strain his voice up, the way he does on many of his tracks, which gives the song a much more relaxed vibe. Especially with the background vocals.
Writing the descriptions of this album, has me realizing how much I do enjoy his more traditional work to the experimental phase. A majority of the songs on this Musically Uncharacteristic Of (His) Previous Albums, really aren't that uncharacteristic. They're musically satisfying, and include alterations to the 1960s/1970s Neil Young formula, but I don't find them all that jarring. I'm surprised more of them weren't hits for him.
Ok, I know why Kinda Fonda Wanda, another of his 1950s style songs wasn't a hit, but it's a ridiculous and fun song. I've trimmed the second verse off because the lyrics are novelty-style and thematically repetetive, but I enjoy the core joke of the song. Young isn't often known for his sense of humor. But it's clearly there. This is also a nice breather, as it's about a minute and a half, while the previous song was nearly ten minutes long. Twiddly-dee!
I Got A Problem gives us heavy guitars, and a drum beat that would make Phil Collins's heart flutter. This is another song about having problems communicating. Yet the song, itself, from lyrics to the limited instrumentation, is crystal clear in its meaning.
The synth is back for Bad News Beat. So are generic love lyrics. But they're catchy, and very, very, very New Age 80s. You could definitely imagine this as a Cars song with Neil Young on vocals. It's not the same kind of fun as "Kinda Fonda Wonda" but it is light, and just sounds warm, like it could be in the background of a beach montage scene in an 80s action film. Right up until the breakdown, which is remarkably spare.
You can hear Kraftwerk's fingerprints all over We R In Control. Young's conspiracy theorist's wet dream theme song. All the lyrics are vocoded. Instead of a beach scene, this is an all-night scene where you flash across a city stopping at the inordinate amount of sinister looking, suit and sunglassed government employees, spying on the general public with no moral qualms.
We close out the album with a piano nostalgia song. Get Back On It is somewhere on the border of the Everybody's Rockin' album, and Young's 70s output. It does transition to an electric guitar ending, and will bring us into the next evolution of Young's music.