These are three troublesome Young albums from the '80's, released
again on vinyl in the ongoing Archives series. Troublesome because, like
so many Young albums, they are each flawed but also contain some
important material and glimpses of magic. Some of the tracks are weak,
some just dull, yet at some point you'll snap back to attention when you
recognize that spark.
Hawks & Doves was a
classic Neil move, following up one of the biggest hits of his career,
1979's Rust Never Sleeps' punkish heaviness with an acoustic,
country-ish set. It was also a hybrid, with some cuts left over from the
mid-70's, and others newly recorded. The Old Homestead was an odd duck,
a lengthy ramble that was part of the unreleased Homegrown album,
featuring Levon Helm on drums, with a naked rider, a Crazy Horse, and a
prehistoric bird. It's been 38 years and I still can't figure out.
Captain Kennedy was one of the cuts that came from the Hitchhiker
sessions of 1976 (and finally released in full last year), and fits in
with the Powderfinger/Pocahontas kind of spacey lyric. Side two of the
album saw the switch to country, featuring Rufus Thibodeaux on fiddle.
The title cut was strong, but the tracks also showed Young's blue-collar
hokey streak, trying to make sense of Red State thinking in cuts like
Union Man. The biggest sins here are the lack of focus, and lack of
Re.ac.tor was the follow-up,
at first greeted hopefully because of the return of Crazy Horse, but
then the reaction was downright hostile. Young was trying to change his
electric sound, going for a more contemporary, choppy style and even
starting to use synths (he'd go wholly that way on his next release,
Trans). The worst track was the pointless jam T-Bone, a
nonsense lyric stretched over nine minutes. The rest of the tracks
offered little excitement, until Young dropped a bomb at the end, the
epic Shots, which was more than a keeper. The moody track had the feel
of the On The Beach numbers, and certainly deserved to be played much
more over the years.
From later on, 1988,
This Note's For You, marked Young's return to the Reprise label, after
his controversial stay at Geffen Records (where they sued him for making
willfully non-commercial albums). Instead of coming back with something
more popular, instead he pulled another of his genre switches,
introducing the new band The Bluenotes (later called Ten Men Working,
because of a legal issue with the first name). It was a ten-man group,
six of them horn players, and the major cuts could fit in the blues
category. The first track, Ten Men Workin', is another of Young's cliche
cuts, where he pushes the theme of his genre exercise, in this case a
hard-working blues band, with bad lyrics: "Well we work all day/Then we
work all night." But he follows that with the brilliant This Note's For
You, his one-man stand against corporate sponsorship. Its success as a
video mocking Michael Jackson and others won him an MTV Award for the
year's best clip, and brought him renewed respectability. Frustratingly,
this excellent tune is edited to a brief 2'05" on the album. As usual
with Young's experiments, he tires quickly of the joke, and several of
the cuts here are more thoughtful, and precursors of the work on his
next album, Freedom.
Of these three
albums, This Note's For You is the best, as there was actually a lot
more than blues going on. Hawks & Doves is interesting at times, and
it's still Young, so it's never less than tolerable. Re.ac.tor is a
dud, but as it's still the only place to find Shots, whattya gonna do?
So yeah, troublesome, that Neil, and the trouble is, you have to love
his flops along with his classics.