Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Neil Young Broken Arrow (1996)


Back again with Crazy Horse, and not necessarily for good, so it seems. The album is nowhere near as long or thoroughly embarrassing like Dead Man, but both share one serious flaw: they’re not for the uninitiated. In the latter case, this means that, if your ear is not perfectly attuned to the kind of ragged, dirty sound that Neil is so famous for, you’ll probably not be able to distinguish between these songs at all. Same problem could be actual for his previous records that relied on the same formula (Ragged Glory and Mirror Ball), but looks like on here he finally hits rock bottom. Namely, the album begins with three lengthy epics – ‘Big Time’ (7:24), ‘Loose Change’ (9:49) and ‘Slip Away’ (8:36) – which all sound the same: the band crashes and bashes at more or less the same, rather slow, tempo, Neil mumbles some lyrics which are absolutely impossible to hear as the recording’s quality does not top the most mediocre of bootlegs, and most of the time is given to sloppy, messy, feedbacky solos.

Actually, here’s yet another link to Dead Man: quite often, these solos sound more like the kind of buzz-saw imitations Neil practiced on that soundtrack, only this time they are set to a solid rhythm section. The worst blow comes in the middle of ‘Loose Change’, when the band suddenly sticks to repeating the same simplistic riff over and over again for about four minutes (and it reappears later, too, particularly at the end of ‘Scattered’), so that at one point it begins to seem that something’s wrong with your CD.

However, as horrendously lame as that ‘artistic’ trick is, it doesn’t really conceal the fact that there’s also some solid material here. For one, the three lengthy marathons are followed by four perfectly short and perfectly melodical tracks. The overall sound is still the same – bass/drums plus a couple heavily distorted guitars – and the arrangements are about as far away from each other as a plaice’s eyes (whoah, now here’s a good fishing metaphor), but these are good, entertaining songs. ‘Changing Highways’ starts the fun with a countryish type of boogie, whatever that means; actually, I’d heavily recommend people who think that ‘country rock’ equals ‘country’ take a good listen to this song and see what real country-rock is all about.

There’s a good, quirky harmonica solo, too, and the song is almost defiantly short, just as the previous three were defiantly long. That Neil, he’s really a freaked out one… ‘Scattered’ is countryish, too, though not as joyful or fast paced, but not a clone of the Great Album Opening Mess, either, as it has a clearly defined riff and vocal melody, and some autobiographic lyrics in ‘I’m a little bit here/I’m a little bit there/I’m a little scattered everywhere’. Plus, the sloppy arrangement really does the song good – were Neil to go for a lighter, more traditional arrangement, this would certainly seem much too banal. Next comes ‘This Town’ that manages to seduce me, too, with its ‘chunka-chunka-chunka’ rhythm and an almost nursery rhyme melody. Come to think of it, most of these melodies are so simple they’d easily fit nurseries all over the world, although I’m not too sure as to whether little children would enjoy the feedback mess and all the dirt.

Finally, ‘Music Arcade’ finishes the ‘quartet’ of minor masterpieces on a quieter note: the song would have easily fit right on Harvest Moon, as it’s just Neil strumming his acoustic and humming to himself as if nobody were around. It also has his best lyrics on the record – no kidding. Funny, the melody is somewhat sad, while the lyrics seem to be optimistic, as it’s essentially the phrase ‘don’t worry be happy’ that has made its long and treacherous way through the warped corridors of Young’s wicked mind and came out as a thousand different questions and metaphors.

Of course, the song would have made a fitting and suitable ending for the album, but, of course, Neil had to go and spoil it by adding on another lengthy, never ending bore – the cover of Jimmy Reed’s ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’, arranged as a pseudo-live recording with artificial crowd noises all around it. It’s not as dirty as the three ‘suites’ that open the record, and it never pounds on your head like the last four minutes of ‘Loose Change’, but it just drags like a paralized dog, as if the band were totally stoned out and played their instrument in a half-comatose state. Neil is not heard at all, the tempo is drastically slow (as far as I know, this song is usually done faster), and the band never knows when to stop, adding one more after one more after one more… guh. I usually turn down my CD before this one comes on. Even Roger McGuinn did a more decent version on it on Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde.

A weird album, of course, but, after all, Neil Young is much too unpredictable to not release a weird album after he’d already released a weirder one. Well, like I said, there’s some really good stuff and it ain’t that long. My advice to Neil, however, would be to make his new studio release as gimmickless as possible: it’s obvious that the guy is far from spent, but if he keeps abusing his listeners’ patience like that, well, I’ll just have to stop bothering about the sucker. AT ALL.

February 25, 2013 - Posted by | Neil Young Broken Arrow |

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