Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young – Prairie Wind (2005)


The gods are smiling upon me now. Neil Young’s lengthy sting of albums have been mind-numbingly unremarkable ever since 1996’s Mirrorball, and I’m thrilled to be listening to a Neil Young album that’s kind of awesome for a change. While I wouldn’t exactly call Prairie Wind remarkable, it’s at least a likable and breezy country album just like Harvest Moon.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks; Harvest Moon is my second favorite Neil Young album, and I gladly welcome any clones of it. …And when I say “clone” I actually mean it: “This Old Guitar,” for instance, is the exact same song as “Harvest Moon.” Except that song ruled, and this song is boring.

Well, not boring, but a little too uneventful for my taste. The important thing that set Harvest Moon apart from every other album in the world was its entrancing, haunting atmospheres. Unfortunately in the ’00s, Neil Young didn’t seem to be interested anymore in coming up with music that challenges our brains in any profound way. He pretty much spends this entire album muttering quietly over quieter instrumentation. Sometimes his melodies are interesting, or it has a nice, thoughtful slide guitar in the background or something. But, as a whole, I get bored over Prairie Wind.

Now, this is a respectable album. All of his albums are respectable. Even the ones in the ’80s that seemed pretty stupid were respectable. But screw it. I’m tired of respecting Neil Young. Maybe I should trash this album. Just for kicks. …OK, now I feel bad for writing that; I just read that Neil Young experienced a pretty serious brain aneurysm before recording this album, and he’s reflecting on his life here. So, I’ll excuse him for an album or two of creating unremarkable music. But just so you know, you’re hanging by a thread, old buddy old pal!

Actually, this is a pretty good album. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. The best he had done in awhile. Most of these songs are well orchestrated, and they are written with distinct verses and chorus sections. (He deserves kudos for bringing out a Vegasy horn section in “He Was the King.” That’s something fun and flashy that we don’t get from him too often.) As far as Neil Young songs have been going lately, this is a good thing! The album starts off with “The Painter,” which is a sweet and laid-back country ditty with an interesting melody and an engaging slide-guitar in the background. It’s very slow moving and boring, but I’m at least entranced enough by it to keep with it. “No Wonder” is even better since its atmosphere is more tense than most of the other songs on this album, and (whoah) it even has a pretty loud rhythm section!

But the album’s slow-moving quality starts to get the better of me mid-way through. Specifically the six-and-a-half-minute piano ballad “The Dream” seems to go on forever without doing anything interesting. While the title track is a much more memorable song than that, at seven-and-a-half minutes it still seems to overstay its welcome. …At this point in his discography, I really shouldn’t act so surprised that a Neil Young album contains overlong, repetitive songs in it. But I’ve got to keep repeating this hang-up. This goes to show why I can never be a true fan of his.

Even though I get weary of Neil Young’s muttered, castrated cowboy vocals, there is an unquestionable charm to it. He has a real knack of sounding absolutely sincere when he sings, which is a quality that comes off pretty damn well in this release. The lyrics throughout this album even seem pretty cliche compared to most of his stuff, but I’m actually able to get caught up in his words in spite of that.

If Janet Jackson, for instance, were to sing the same lyrics, I might get a little agitated by the cliches. But Neil Young sounds like he’s speaking to me. When he talks about the long, winding road of life in “The Painter,” I genuinely want to reflect on my own long, winding life… That’s cool.

Naturally, Prairie Wind is a highly recommendable album to his longtime fans; it is practically impossible for a longtime Neil Young fan to be disappointed with one of his albums, and I’m sure they’ll love Prairie Wind bits. Even casual fans might enjoy this album, particularly those who enjoyed Harvest Moon so much that they would gladly take a pale imitator of it. So, go forth and listen to Prairie Wind all ye fans.

May 15, 2010 - Posted by | Neil Young Prairie Wind |

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