Monday, March 12, 2007

The Neil Young Everybody Knows

Neil at his best. Sorta.

Let's not even go to the fact that it holds up better than most Beatles albums to the supersaturated tastebuds of today's pop/rock aficionados. This album retains its luster precisely because of its simplicity. Any bunch of shaggy knuckledraggers with a few guitars and a drum kit could have jammed out most of these tracks (especially if one of them had a musical saw in the garage). There's not a sophisticated or complex arrangement worrying any of the tracks on this collection. What there is is an approach to playing that melds country, folk, bluegrass, soul, and rock so effortlessly that you have no idea that you're experiencing a watershed moment in rocky folk-blues even after the last strains of "Cowgirl in the Sand" echo out of your head.

There was and remains something seamless and absolutely spot on about this album. So much so that the excursus of "When You're on the Losing End," sandwiched as it was between the delirious dark folk jamming of "Down By the River" and the palpably cosmic intentions of "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)" or "Cowgirl in the Sand," forced you to make sense of a mix that may have been at worst haphazard or at best intuitive.

This is quite simply one of the most beautifully self-contained albums that anyone in the history of rock and roll has ever produced. And it is for that reason that it remains a watershed album even 35 years after its initial release.

Many have tried, even Neil himself. But nobody can touch this album as a touchstone in the ways of adumbrating love and exorcising the demons that make love impossible. It is a young man's album. Songs produced from an urge to say that our time is about up and there's no hope of redemption (even if the "no hope" bit is more for scoring rhetorical points than scaring hell out of anyone).

That on-again-off-again urgency may also mark Everybody Knows This is Nowhere as an atomic age paean to a life otherwise better spent. Lord knows that was certainly the starting point for Neil's next album, the equally dire and oblivion-timed After the Gold Rush. Another unbelievably wonderful album, and a further testament to Neil Young's understated and chaotic genius.

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