I recently read Mojo Collectors’ Series two excellent issues dedicated to the great Neil Young and I realised it was time for me to listen (again) to his complete discography, whilst trying to get a better sense of it. His classic albums and songs are amongst my favourites of all times but he released (and keeps on doing it now in his seventh (!) musical decade) so many records that this is not very easy to get it all. As a starter, I will peruse his albums from the 80’s. One will see that this was not such a doomed decade for the Canadian…
Complete review: Part I (the 60’s) – Part II (the 70’s) – Part IV (the 90’s) – Part V (the 00’s) – Part VI (the 10’s) – Part VII (the 20’s)
Neil Young – Hawks & Doves (1980): One of his most obscure records and I must admit I very rarely listened to it. This is not a bad album per se but Neil Young sounds a bit on automatic pilot on a few tracks, as is often so when he plays with excellent country musicians. The first four tracks (the A side) are made out of old numbers dating from 1974 to 1977 while the other five tracks (the B side) were especially played and released for this record. An album to (re)discover but your life will not be changed by it. Rating: 6.5/10. Key tracks: “The Old Homestead“, “Stayin’ Power” & “Comin’ Apart At Every Nail“.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Re.ac.tor (1981): Do not get too many expectations by spotting the presence of Crazy Horse in this record as it was made pretty quickly and without any real big ideas. It does not mean it is not without a few good moments though. The A-side is a bit polluted by the ‘T-Bone‘ song and its nine direction-less minutes but the final two tracks could really compete with the best of the punk-rock Neil we love. Rating: 6.5/10. Key tracks: “Get Back On It”, “Rapid Transit” & “Shots”.
Neil Young – Trans (1982): 1982 was a key year in Neil Young’s career as he he left Reprise records to join David Geffen’s recently created company. The least one could say about this album is that this is not a typical one, according to his usual expected standards. Reviews were ok and even sometimes pretty good but it sold poorly and was considered by some as one of the worst records of the 80’s. It actually aged quite gracefully and one can now understand while Neil Young was so much using the vocoder while singing. He was pretty discreet at the time but he and his wife were spending hours per day to try to communicate to their handicapped son Ben, hence the analogy through these tracks. Rating: 7.0/10. Key tracks: “Computer Age”, “Transformer Man” & “Like An Inca“.
Neil Young and the Shocking Pinks – Everybody’s Rockin’ (1983): Instructed by David Geffen to give a record which would be closer to what his fans were expecting, Neil Young came back with an actual real rock’n’roll album. Those familiar with Neil Young’s sense of humour will get the irony of it… Made out of four covers and six originals, some consider these 25 minutes of music to be the nadir of his work. I would not be that harsh as to me this record is well played and produced. It should not be considered worse than, say, John Lennon‘s “Rock’n’Roll“. It is true though that this is not the kind of record one wants to listen to on a regular basis… Rating: 5.0/10. Key tracks : “Betty Lou’s Got A New Pair Of Shoes”, “Wonderin'” & “Mystery Train”.
Neil Young – Old Ways (1985) : After being sued in 1984 by his own record company for giving them unrepresentative material (cf. the LP’s reviewed above), Neil Young came back to his country roots and released this album in 1985. He has always considered it should be called “Old Ways II” as the final product ended up quite different from the original 1983 version. What do we have here? One cover and nine originals played competently by an excellent bunch of musicians and a few prestigious names like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. However, this is too ‘country’ for my taste and one would have appreciated a bit of dissonance. Nice cover though… Rating: 5.5/10. Key tracks : “Get Back To The Country”, “Once An Angel” & “Bound For Glory”.
Neil Young – Landing On Water (1986) : Is it one of the weirdest Neil Young albums? Probably not in terms of originality but more in the sense that one could feel the Canadian was fighting and sweating to find his muse while the outcomes were not on par with expectations. A few reviewers may note a return to more traditional pop and rock music but I must admit having difficulties to name any of these tracks even after a few listens. A quite good album then, thanks in particular to the heavy drums sounding of the great Steve Jordan but one which is difficult to grab. Rating: 5.5/10. Key tracks : “Hippie Dream”, “Touch The Night” & “Hard Luck Stories”.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Life (1987) : On “Life“, the final album released on Geffen, Neil Young was back with his Crazy Horse compadres after a six-year hiatus. Seven tracks out of nine were actually recorded live to try to get the spirit and energy of his late 70’s albums. Although this album is pretty solid overall, one would lie saying it is one of his best. On the plus side, the energy was there and Neil was probably more relevant in his political views that he had been since the start of the decade. On the minus side, the songs were not really memorable and the instrumentation is still a bit 80’s sounding here and there. Not a bad effort though… . Rating: 6.0/10. Key tracks : “Inca Queen”, “Prisoners of Rock’n’Roll” & “Cryin’ Eyes”.
Neil Young & The Bluenotes – This Note’s For You (1988) : This album is actually quite important for this reviewer because it was the first I actually bought (although my father had a couple of Neil Young’s albums at home). I remember New Musical Express giving it a good rating and mentioning in their review that Neil was back. Listening to it again with fresh ears confirms this is indeed a good album although sometimes a bit stuck in the blues-with-horn-section style. The B-side is also weaker than the A-side but this was overall a nice return to form. Rating: 7.5/10. Key tracks : “Ten Men Workin'”, “This Note’s For You” & “Coupe De Ville”.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – American Dream (1988) : I must confess I listened to this album for the first time in my life while doing this review. I guess always difficult to write something that relevant… although my missing this album may have a reason. Thanks to a promise he did to David Crosby if the latter could finally get out of his drug adduction, here was Neil Young’s second album of the year and even more eventful the only second C,S,N & Y studio album. Do not get too excited though as despite a few good tracks (including David Crosby’s fantastic “Compass“), the results are quite poor. The production is also very dated as can be heard through the quite horrendous Graham Nash numbers. Why did they put so many songs by the way? Eight or ten would probably have made a decent record. Rating: 5.0/10. Key tracks : “‘Feel Your Love”, “Drivin’ Thunder” & “Compass”.
Neil Young – Freedom (1989) :…and in the end, our heroes always win. Neil Young ended the decade with the album everyone had been looking for for a long time. Based on the “Eldorado” E.P. which was only released in Australia and gathering a couple of songs from “This Note’s For You” (cf. above) and other ones which were in his vaults for years, here was an album taking all the good ideas he put in his other 80’s albums but with a real consistency that was lacking otherwise. One will find everything they like about Neil Young, from the country-influenced Linda Rondstadt duets to the experimental songs or again those in a more Crazy Horse style. One could also not forget to mention that this album ends and finishes with two different versions of “Rockin’ In The Free World“, one of the classics of our times. Rating: 9.0/10. Key tracks : “Eldorado”, “On Broadway” & “Rockin’ In The Free World (Electric)”.
So here we were for the 80’s; a average rating of 6.4/10, confirming this was not an easy decade artistic-wise for Neil Young but still a every interesting and needed one for his future endeavours. Stay tuned for the other decades; coming soon!