Neil Young is a weird old bugger. I recently read, and reviewed, his massively peculiar autobiography in these very pages, and so I decided the other morning that I should really give his new album a listen to. I liked the previous one Le Noise very much indeed. In it, he utilised the production skills of Daniel Lanois who made a glossy and very sophisticated job of what was basically a solo feedback guitar album. If you can imagine the Pet Shop Boys covering metal machine music then it might give you some idea of what the album sounds like. So I was awaiting the new record,
with great interest. Americana
Neil Young has always ploughed a shockingly idiosyncratic path, and it is a well-known matter of public record that back in the 1980s David Geffen who had signed our Neil to Geffen Records hoping for a whole string of 1980s versions of After the Goldrush and Harvest, sued our Neil for producing “deliberately” wayward records that had no relevance to the main body of his career. That was a very stupid thing to do, because although one can sympathise with David Geffen (during the period under question Neil presented him with a rockabilly album, a country and western album and various bits of electronica) but this has always been the case with Neil Young. There is no such thing as an “average” Neil Young album! As well as the aforementioned waxings of which David Geffen disapproved so much, he has produced blues records, soul records, folk records, country records, heavy metal records, and strange electronic soundscapes heavily influenced by the sounds his son Zak (who has cerebral palsy) made while trying to communicate using early electronic vocoders.
So what is the album like? The only answer can be, totally peculiar. I really do not know what to make of it. All the tracks bar one are classic American folk songs played with Beach Boys harmonies and massively grungy guitars by Neil’s old sparring partners Crazy Horse. Some of the tunes are vaguely recognisable whereas others – most notably Clementine (made famous by Huckleberry Hound) – being an unrecognisable but oddly gripping durge. He closes out this album of American folk classics with a remarkably reverent rendition of … wait for it … the British National Anthem. When I saw that the album, which from the beginning oozed feedback like a poison-arrow frog oozes toxins, I was expecting the closing track to be a homage of the Sex Pistols. But is it buggery? With the only note-perfect rendition in the whole record our Neil sings all the verses God Save the Queen following which a girly choir sings a few lines of the American version of the same song Sweet Land of Liberty.
This whole album makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I don’t know whether I love it, like it, find it mildly irritating or loathe it. But what I do know is that I will be listening to it on many more occasions until I find out.