Thursday, October 13, 2005

Neil Young / Prairie Wind / Rating 5.8

alternately gentle and strident, tender and outraged

I’m working on a day two hangover so admittedly my capacity for understanding may be slightly hindered but no matter how many times I muddle though the PFM Neil Young review in my fuzzy but sober state, there is a disconnect. Logically speaking I associate the 5.8 rating to a slightly above average record but the 5 paragraphs making up the actual review hardly reflects a matching amount of actual criticism beyond a few vague points.

PFM states: “In the last year he's (N. Young) survived an aneurysm and a greatest hits album.”

I’ve checked a few medical textbooks and nowhere is a “greatest hits album” mentioned no less considered a life threatening condition. In some cultures this “Best Of” practice is held in high regards and is technically a celebration of ones life / career as an artist.

And these are compliments, right?

“he sounds remarkably preserved…. has held up surprisingly well, gaining gritty authority with age”

“Young has made this sort of no-surprises reliability a virtue”

“but his music, whether time-capsule folk like Prairie Wind or ragged-glory rock, remains the same size, exhibiting his confidence that a small voice can address enormous issues on a personal level.

The insults?

“For such a seasoned band, though, they sound maybe a little too familiar: They tend to let the songs drag out, clocking in at five, six, or even seven minutes (the tiring title track) when three would work just fine.”

Maybe a little too familiar? I need help here. This line fails miserably to partner up with just the idea of long songs and the premise of a back up band roster of long time friends / players. Secondly, pretty much every N.Y. record has at least a couple tracks over 6 minutes long. The no-surprise reliability of Young’s habits were called a virtue by PFM just seconds before in the paragraph above it. Umm….I am so confused.

“Yet Young's music is so rooted in the past, specifically the spirit of the 60s, that his stabs at contemporary relevance sound awkward and even curmudgeonly, as on "No Wonder" when he refers to "America the Beautiful" as "that song from 9/11" and quotes Chris Rock. Prairie Wind tries to gauge the present via the past, but there's a profound disconnect.”

A friend and I emailed briefly about this last paragraph and we were both left with the same question. How many modern bands try to relive the spirit of the 60’s, no less when 85% of these people were born in the early part of the 80’s and PFM likes them just fine. Ryan Adams, Devendra Banhart, Dungen, Black Mountain, Chad VanGaalen, and Will Oldham (to just name a few) are all 60’s inspired rockers. Why is it okay for new artists to borrow the sound Neil Young helped to invent yet it’s not okay for that same founder who actually comes from the 60’s to keep some of his roots and practice it accordingly?

The PFM closing comment: “He sounds pretty frustrated, but Prairie Wind mostly is frustrating.”

Frustrating? I call a PFM review that doesn’t firmly back up its generalized theories frustrating… especially when the first half of the piece is ultimately positive. N.Y. has released over 40 solo records and instead of growing into a careless songwriter going though the songwriting motions at age 60 there is a lyrical care reaching deep into his pockets of personal experience and loss. To reflect inward and still allow others to relate to the image in the mirror is no easy task and Young does so with a masterful skill. Prairie Wind is an incredibly human record hanging memories and internal conversations out on a line for all to see. Well, hear.

It seems like PFM can’t make up its mind; they celebrate the wrinkles that distinguish Neil Young as a seasoned rock and roll veteran yet in the very same breath are looking to iron them out into something that simply isn’t (excuse the pun) Young anymore.

I give Prairie Wind a 3/4 of a full moon rating.