Looking at Neil Young’s songwriting with the country-rock pioneers, Buffalo Springfield
, it’s surprising that his eponymous debut not being so strong. Throughout Springfield’s lifespan of less than three years, there has been a lot of rockiness. Members coming back and leaving, marijuana busts by the fuzz, and bad vibrations in the studio amidst the band, the folk-rockers were a typical dysfunctional musical family. Throughout all the tomfoolery, and rebel rousing, young Neil always had the most consistently strong writing. 40 years later, Mr. Young still dishes out the most amount of talent. Alas, not everything he did was great, such as the techno and rockabilly albums he made that got him sued for making “unrepresentative music” (and I thought the RIAA had lame reasons for suing!) Neil Young
doesn’t really fall in the crowd of those 80s follies, as he was still growing as a songwriter. Nevertheless, it remains known as one of his less impressive works.
is a somewhat clumsily strung together set of eclectic songs. With the more rock-oriented songs that inhabit the first half of the record, it’s not necessarily that they’re eclectic; it’s the instruments that are bunched together that make things interesting. Most notably, it’s the oddly abrasive guitar fuzz that accompanies the relatively timid mood of I’ve Been Waiting for You
, like a watered down Neutral Milk Hotel
song. This song would be much better if the guitar fuzz was abandoned, and the more appealing instruments (for the song, at least) were brought to the top of the mix. The fuzzy noise works better in The Loner
(one of the few songs of this album that Neil still acknowledges,) as it’s the most in-your-face song, and one of the few points in the album where Young actually sounds charismatic.
Yes, Neil’s voice is a low point in the album. He sounds soft where he needs to, but not interesting. And when he needs to man his voice up, he rarely does. This is an especially brutal blow on the album’s closer, The Last Trip to Tulsa
. It’s a nine and half minute song consisting of just Neil, and the tepid, understated strums of a guitar. Neither the vocals, nor the guitar are appealing enough to hold one’s attention for that long, with the song remaining at the same tedious pace until around the five minute mark. This is especially unfortunate, considering how intriguing and cryptic the lyrics are: “I used to be asleep you know, with blankets on my head. I stayed there for a while ‘til they discovered I was dead.”
The result sounds like Bob Dylan
’s Desolation Row
if it were performed by a man recovering from heart surgery.
The country-rock of Buffalo Springfield stills remains as a strong influence on a lot of the songs. The opener The Emperor of Wyoming
and String Quarter From Whiskey Boot Hill
are two country-tinged instrumentals arranged by Jack Nitzsche, an orchestrator who helped out insane producer Phil Spector shape the “Wall of Sound” on certain songs, are just pointless instrumentals, that quickly zip by amidst Young’s work. The remaining songs are mostly points that lie in between the rocking The Loner
, and the dark, acoustic The Last Trip to Tulsa
, that feature slight changes in style, such as the Motown-tinged ballad I’ve Loved Her So Long
makes a fair debut, with enough examples of good songs that foreshadowed Young’s later, and greater work. At this point, though, Young’s voice is nearly always too withdrawn, making it harder to keep one’s attention on the song. Making matters worse for poor Neil’s voice, is how lushly produced the album is, something rare for Neil Young albums. The unevenness (one moment a verdant ballad, the next a stripped down nine minute rambling,) and the fact that it is considered an extension of his work with Buffalo Springfield, has made this low-key introduction album get mixed opinions among Neil Young fans. Despite denounced by the man himself, Neil Young
is worth checking out by Neil Young fans, even if it were just for the strange lyrics to the album’s ender, or The Loner
. The album cover is worth looking at too, never has a man looked so stark in such a psychedelic world.