Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Well, I finally did it. I completed my pre-1983 NEIL YOUNG back catalog accumulation two weeks ago by purchasing that very first one from 1968, "Neil Young" -- the one you never hear anyone talk about; the one with the bizarre cover that has Neil looking like he's been carved into Mt. Rushmore by a drunk 10th grader; the one that sits forlornly in the priced-to-move budget racks in every record store I've seen it. Never knew if it was any good, but there it is. My take on it after a handful of listens is that it's mediocre in all regards -- for Neil -- when stacked next to the titanic releases that followed it the next six years, legend-making records like "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" , "On The Beach", "Zuma" and the rest. The tracks that bring it home the hardest are the ones I already knew from "Decade" ("The Loner", "The Old Laughing Lady") plus a top-notch closer in the winding and forlorn acoustic "Last Trip To Tulsa", which is 9 minutes of the Neil we came to know and love -- weird, mysterious and rocking hard even when flying 100% solo. The record suffers a bit from toss-away tracks, like an opening instrumental called "The Emperor of Wyoming" that's pleasant enough but a bit odd in placement, as well as the ultra-produced classical interlude "String Quartet From Whiskey Boot Hill" which is just one producer's (Jack Nitzsche's) flat-out bad idea. Almost makes you want to check out "Greendale" -- it couldn't be any more self-indulgent than this, right? Neil bounces well between folksinging-troubadour mode and hard-driving, guitarslinging outlaw mode but apparently was only months away from honing his craft to a sharpened T. He found rock and roll valhalla on the next record, the incredible "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", and was off & sprinting for a impressive run that continues off and on to this day. This one, I'm glad to have it bookending the collection, but I'd hardly want to start any Neil fixation here.