Review Summary: The definitive Neil Young record.Every week for the foreseeable future (or until I get bored of the project), I will be reviewing a handful of albums from a given year. They may be albums that I feel are overlooked; that are in need of a review; or are just something that I want to write about. This week: 1970
I resisted getting into Neil Young for years. I don't know if it was my longtime aversion to "softer rock" (never mind that Neil can rip as hard as anybody from his era), my general disinterest in lyrics (never mind that Neil could make a lazy day watching television sound vital), or just my general stubbornness (never mind that I loved the song "Old Man," which was a soft, lyrically focused song). But a few summers ago, when I was trying to overcome that last factor by listening to some essential albums, I finally gave in and spun After the Gold Rush
. I immediately kicked myself for waiting so long. While it's not my favorite Neil Young record (that would be Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
), After the Gold Rush
is the essential Neil Young album.
The album opens with three of its quieter songs, highlighted by the piano-led title track in which Young demonstrates just how perfectly he can generate melancholy with his voice. Soon after comes "Southern Man," which is Crazy Horse at their finest. This is one of the most furious, apocalyptic songs that Neil ever put out, and also one of his best. His trademark solo style is in full effect, playing off of a pounding piano line.
"Southern Man" is a brief diversion in sound, but it fits the overall tone because, like every good Neil Young song, it has something to say. And every one of these songs has something to say--or at least feels like it. Whether the instrumentation is bare or Young is using the full Crazy Horse band, every song on After the Gold Rush
feels important. It doesn't matter if Young is being introspective or socially critical, he demands that you listen to him. Nobody sounds like they've had as much life experience and wisdom as Neil Young does, even if he was only 24 when he recorded this album.
These days I still feel like I respect
Neil Young more than I enjoy him. I don't care for the country and folk music that he so obviously embraces. But it's almost impossible to listen to an album like After the Gold Rush
and not hear his genius, even if "Southern Man" and "When You Dance You Can Really Love" are the only two songs that fit my general listening habits. It's only my fifth-favorite album of 1970 and it gets the 4.0 rating that I bestow upon the majority of music that I enjoy, but in an attempt to speak objectively, After the Gold Rush
is not only at the very top of 1970, but one of the greatest albums of the decade. A mandatory listen for anyone who appreciates rock music in general.