Classic Rock Review

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Neil Young Life (1987)

Neil-Young-Life---sealed-416968From donignacio.com

Here’s another album that Neil Young fans seem to have avoided like the plague, but I don’t think it’s so bad! It was his final record for Geffen, which he had constantly been fighting with. But this was the end of that, and Life seems to show he was ready to start returning to the critical success that he once enjoyed all those years ago. …But the critics still hate this album. He’s still stuck in those terrible ’80s, and there are STADIUM DRUMS and KEYBOARDS on this album! Oh, for shame!

But I don’t really mind stadium drums and keyboards. They’re just fine if they’re done well. Young has reunited with Crazy Horse for this release (the first time he had done so since they recorded that novelty-rock album Re-ac-tor), and they did their ’80s pop homework. These stadium songs sound good. This is a far cry from those weirdo arrangements he came up with in Landing in Water. And Young spent some time to come up with a few catchy melodies. … Hey this album is pretty good! Why do people dislike it, again?

The album opens so well that I was beginning to suspect that Life was some sort of lost masterpiece. The first three songs are amazingly good A-level compositions; I love hearing those immensely! But then I listened to the rest of the album, and that shattered my dreams. Alas, Life is an average album, after all!

So, let’s talk about these first three songs! “Mideast Vacation” opens the festivities. It is a keyboard-led song that’s very well-polished and features a strange array of sound effects … you hear rubbery synthesizers, gun shot sounds, airplane noises, etc. Young tried similar things in a few of these ’80s albums, notably in Re-ac-tor and Landing in Water. But for once, he actually did them just right. The song sounds great! Furthermore, that melody is an utterly captivating one.

“Long Walk Home” isn’t very ’80s sounding at all apart from those synthesizers heard briefly during a bridge. It’s is a ballad sort of like Young used to do … he plays a melancholy piano, and a harmonica occasionally blares away. I do like the melody he sings—especially that chorus. “Around the World” is Young’s best attempt at trying to emulate Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA sound. It’s very loud, there’s a prominent stadium drum beat and keyboards well integrated in the background. There’s a sudden shift to a synth-pop section, which is actually a little better than the stadium part. The flow between these sections is surprisingly well-done. Young’s vocal melody is rather banal, but it’s delivered rather well. Naturally, there were some vocal enhancements to keep his voice sounding passable for such a song! It’s surprisingly likable!

Things start to go downhill once “Inca Queen” pops up. It would have been a perfectly nice four minute song, but they keep it going, on life support, through eight minutes. The instrumentation has an elevator music effect. I was willing to have let that slide, but that sterile mood just got too annoying at the end. The melody is pretty captivating, but it loses its power and I grow very bored with it. It’s not the worst song ever invented, but it sure could have used some serious pruning! “Too Lonely” is another attempt at a banal rocker except it’s not nearly as creative as “Around the World” was. Interestingly, that song obviously rips off the riff of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” which he had also ripped off when he wrote “Mr. Soul” when he was in Buffalo Springfield. Mick Jagger says “Stop it, man!” There’s also a mention of “big lips” in those lyrics. Dude!

“Prisoners of Rock N Roll” is Neil Young’s excuse for his album-making behavior in the ’80s. He bluntly states that he was purposefully making uncharacteristic albums because the record company kept trying to control him! So the rumors were right, after all! It has a fine melody, albeit it’s also banal. In this case, that was probably done on purpose! At least there’s a wicked-cool, wired-up guitar solo in that one!

The last half of the album was going just fine until “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” popped up. That’s a terrible attempt at creating a Bon-Jovi-style power ballad, and it fell flat on its face. That’s a terrible genre to begin with, and Young’s dabbling in the genre is just awful. I was nice to his ’80s stuff, but that took the cake. The melody is stupid, and those very loud MTV drums just made matters worse. There’s not even anything funny or sarcastic about the lyrics… Why did he record this? Luckily, the album ends on a much better note. “We Never Danced” is another very ’80s sounding ballad, but at least the melody is good, and the arrangements were on acid. It’s not a perfect composition, but I enjoyed it at least.

I can understand why Young’s fans have shied away from this album… After all, he tries to emulate a ’80s pop star through much of this! But if you don’t mind the ’80s in general, and if you enjoyed a lot of Young’s previous works, it might be well worth your effort to take a look at Life.

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March 4, 2013 Posted by | Neil Young Life | | Leave a comment