Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young Year Of The Horse (1997)


You know, I really didn’t expect to like this live album. It has a reputation of being done in the same style as Broken Arrow, which I found rather tedious, and what’s more this is a double album. But, call me crazy, I actually like this. It seems to me that Year of the Horse is exactly what Broken Arrow wanted to be; it is a slow but thoughtful album where Neil plays his grungy guitar a lot and sings as though he’s an old coot about to fall asleep. As I mentioned in the Broken Arrow review, this is not necessarily a bad sound for him!

The important thing that sets Year of the Horse apart from Broken Arrow is simply the songs on it. Broken Arrow was not Neil’s finest example of songwriting; he seemed to repeat himself endlessly in a sort of weird, possibly unintentional attempt to grungify Philip Glass. Year of the Horse, on the other hand, is a live album where he gets to pull out songs from his extensive and impressive back catalog. So, he actually gives me songs that can and do hypnotize me. Thus, I extend my royalest of honors to thee, Neil.

If you listen not-that-closely at the beginning of the album’s opening track, “When You Dance,” you can hear an audience member screaming “They all sound the same!” to which Neil replies “It’s all the same song!” …So there you go; this is the whole purpose of the album. Just to be one long, mid-tempo blur. But that’s alright with me if he continues to pull out songs like the excellent “When You Dance!” That had a much better chance of actually taking me in its hazy mid-tempo trance than anything from Broken Arrow since it actually has a great melody, and those guitars don’t get too grungy and ugly. “Barstool Blues,” similarly, was an excellent selection from way back in Zuma. It takes him 10 freaking minutes to finally resolve the thing, but I don’t find myself itching for it to be over with as much as I would have thought. That song has a good melody, also, and the band finds quite a solid groove to keep it going without ever sounding like they were running out of steam.

Things start to get a little more tedious when he pulls out a version of that wannabe ’80s power-ballad “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks.” (Holy moly, that guy is really reaching for some obscure stuff!) Of course it’s better than the original, since that bass guitar is grittier and Neil comes in with a few noodles by the end, but it’s not particularly more exciting than the original. I like this version of “Mr. Soul,” even though he performs it mostly the same way he did in his previous live album, Unplugged. It’s a pleasurable song to listen to at least. He also happened to do a version of “Pocahontas” in Unplugged. Great song, but does he think nobody bought Unplugged, or something? How about a version of “Cinnamon Girl” or “Tonight’s the Night?” Or was Neil afraid that people might actually want to hear these songs?

Since this album was done right after Broken Arrow, you can expect a fair amount of songs from there. There are three, and they sound exactly like the originals. Luckily, he spares us from some of that album’s worst moments! “Slip Away” was quite a good song, and “Big Time” never makes a bad listen. Best of all, he brings us “Scattered,” which continues to have a killer riff! Another cool moment is the end when he resurrects “Sedan Delivery” from Rust Never Sleeps. That’s the one song on here that rocks the most, so treasure the moment!!

Maybe I just like Year of the Horse, because Crazy Horse was finally beginning to lay off all those outlandishly freaky grunge guitar tones. I know I mention this in pretty much every review, but I still get a little bit nuts before listening to a new Neil Young grunge album considering that Arc raped my brain about a year ago. (Have I ever told you that listening to Arc is never a good idea?) Up until the very end, the insanely distorted guitar is kept mostly thrust into the background, which actually helps some of these songs keep their groove going for so long. So, Year of the Horse, I think, has that grunge sound just about right.

Would I recommend this to you? If you are a casual Young fan, probably not. You’re going to have to assess how much you think you’ll enjoy a double album’s worth of mid-tempo songs featuring Neil’s endless noodles. Granted, he’s a kung-fu noodler, but I also understand that only a select population of music nuts actually go for that sort of thing.

May 16, 2010 - Posted by | Neil Young Year Of The Horse |

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