Around the early ’90s, it seemed an awful lot of artists were excited about the new CD format and thought they had to release albums with enough material to fill up all that extra space they had. After hearing Ragged Glory, I have to wonder if Neil Young was guilty of doing that, too. There are only 10 tracks in this album, and most of them are very good! … But about three or four of them just seem to keep going.
To fill up the time, Neil Young does nothing to change the hook, chord progressions or texture … he just gives us an extended version of one of his wonky solos on an extremely distorted guitar. Of course, he’s talented enough to keep it interesting most of the time, but other times I just want him to shut the hell up and get on with the next song. I realize how anti-Young I’m being …Well, I guess I was never a rabid fan of his to begin with… Excuse me if I don’t worship every single one of his wonks.
You could say this album is a little more effective as background music than for intense listening. But even as I was listening to it casually, a lot of it just seemed like it went well past its expiration date. “Over and Over,” for example, is just a single groove that’s *ahem* being repeated over and over. It’s a neat groove, and his ultra-distorted guitar is cool, but why is it so much to ask that he changes the textures and melodies around a little bit? …
Why are we forced to endure the same repeated ideas for eight minutes?? It’s not hypnotizing or anything. “Love to Burn” is 10-minutes long, but at least it has a more workable hook, and some more impressive guitar noodling. I only get tired of that song after, er, six minutes! It manages to generate enough momentum to keep it fun. So, I’m only complaining about it a little bit. “Love and Only Love” is also a 10-minute song… and it’s pretty indistinguishable from “Love to Burn.” I have the exact same comments and the exact same complaints. That brings me to my next point. All of these songs sound the same!
“The Days That Used to Be” is really well-written, but that’s because it’s ripped-off from Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” I do like the way he worked in that crunchy guitar riff in there. “F*!#in’ Up” might not be quite as engagingly melodic, but it has the meanest guitar riff of the whole album, so therefore it is my favorite track. That’s just a really cool song to hear. Of course the guitar is incredibly distorted there, and really does sound like he was trying to show those young grunge boys a thing or two about awesome ugliness… and succeeding to a considerable degree.
“Mansion on a Hill” is about the only song here with pop-appeal (if you want to call it that). The guitar riff is catchy, and I guess it doesn’t sound that distorted. The vocal melody is pretty good, and it’s accented by these haunting “ooooo” noises that have a tendency to stick in my mind. Nice one!
I had a lot of negative things to say about this album, but that’s not my fault. There were a lot of negative things to be said!! However, truth be told, I liked this album, and all of the songs I talked about thus far in the review have overall been good ones. The only terrible song on the album is the closing number called “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem).” It just consists of Neil Young and his back-up band singing alone with an incredibly distorted electric guitar. I mean, these lyrics were pompous already without such treatment!
The only way you’re going to fall hopelessly in love with Ragged Glory is if you love the electric guitar, and you want to listen to Neil Young play with it for 70 minutes straight. There is next-to-no musical diversity in here… the melodies are usually fine, but most of them consist of one hook that’s repeated forever. I do like listening to electric guitar solos very much, but in order to appreciate this album you have to reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally appreciate the electric guitar.
If there were one word to describe the twists and turns that have comprised Neil Young’s career, that word would have to be unapologetic. There is no other way to define the discography of a man who flouted conventional wisdom at every turn and defied commercial success for damn near a decade, simply because that was what he felt like doing.
In the 1970’s, Neil became a household name through albums like Harvest and Comes A Time, before closing out the decade with the critically-acclaimed Rust Never Sleeps. ‘80s Neil, meanwhile, dropped off the face of the earth, releasing bewildering experimental records in Vocoder technology (Trans) and rockabilly (Everybody’s Rockin’). If not for the streamlined, commercial power of “Rockin’ In The Free World,” Young would have exited the Reagan era as a footnote.
With a measure of a hit on his hands, Young re-charted course and revived his successful partnership with Crazy Horse, the backing band to end all backing band debates. Thus, Ragged Glory was born, a fitting title for a man and a group who had been through so much throughout the years. After the quirky output Young had released during the ‘80s, bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250
Ragged Glory comes as a breath of fresh air, and reminder of Young’s rocking prowess.
The highest praise I can offer this album is that one could place it anywhere amongst the finest Neil Young & Crazy Horse records of the 1970’s and it would fit in perfectly with its brethren. When Young & Co. get together, the formula rarely changes; it is just a question of how strong the material is. With this album, though, there is no doubt that Young was at the top of his game, utilizing Crazy Horse perfectly once more.
As if to directly remind people of the good ol’ days, Young saw fit to leadoff Ragged Glory with two tracks that had been performed since the early ‘70s, floating around in the ether before finally being put down on tape. “Country Home” and “White Line” are both built around incredibly catchy central riffs that continue on throughout the song while allowing, of course, the requisite time for Young and Crazy Horse to build off them. In the age of grunge, it must have been nice to hear two songs with such a timeless quality to them.
Truth be told, there are legitimate reasons why Neil Young is considered the godfather of grunge. There are the obvious Cobain connections that have been discussed to death, but when one actually listens to the heavier Young material, the similarities begin to grow. Young’s material was always more firmly planted in the classic rock era, but the relatively basic riffing and bare bones production are merely a few shades different than say, Nevermind. A track like “Fuckin’ Up” shares an attitude with the best of what grunge had to offer (which admittedly, in this reviewer’s opinion, was not much).
Ironically, despite the raw, heavy sound that Ragged Glory has to offer, there are some rather tender, sweet moments here. Lest we forget, Neil Young came to prominence in the 1960’s, and rest assured, his hippie tendencies have not dissipated over the years. You have Young reminding us that “Love and only love will endure,” while not forgetting to close out the proceedings with a genuinely beautiful ode to “Mother Earth.” It’s not Chaucer or Keats, but the sentiment is what we have come to expect from Young.
Ragged Glory would be followed by Harvest Moon, a return to a different form for Neil Young. But the combination of these two records served notice that Young was far from done being heard by the ‘90s, and would continue to keep on doing things his way. Twenty years later, that is still the case.
Taking off from where the glorious “Rockin’ In The Free World” had last left us, Neil Young reunited with old foils Crazy Horse and turned the amps up to eleven for this thrilling showcase of spontaneous, countrified hard rock. On melodic, relaxed yet rocking songs such as “Country Home” and “Mansion On The Hill” (love ’em both) Young is again the hippy dreamer, though disillusionment is (as usual) also a recurring theme. Young remains hopeful, though, urging us to “take a chance on love, you gotta let your guard down,” (“Love To Burn”) because “Love And Only Love” can break down hate.
Such sentiments might seem corny if the music wasn’t so good, and Young also nostalgically yearns for the “Days That Used To Be” and asks “why do I keep “F*!#in’ Up?,” probably the album’s best known song along with “Mansion On The Hill.” His snorting guitar, and thick, meaty chords say otherwise (all guitar players should f-up so bad), and the majority of these songs burn with a scorching immediacy rarely glimpsed in modern day rock.
Largely recorded live and forsaking technical proficiency for raw excitement (as per usual with the Horse and producer David Briggs), Ragged Glory is aptly titled, as it’s an imperfectly perfect collection; for example, Young’s voice, which has completely forsaken his upper register, repeatedly cracks. Razor-edged, feedback-fueled guitar solos are commonplace within (primarily mid-tempo) songs that extend up to ten minutes long, while catchy harmonized choruses ensure that these songs kick ass while remaining quite tuneful.
On the downside, Young’s clunky remake of the Nuggets garage rock classic “Father John” is a misfire (mostly because he comes across as a lecherous old man) and some of these songs are drawn out a bit longer than necessary. Yet when the stark, feedback-filled chants of “Mother Earth” close out the album eerily evoking an earlier guitar pioneer, Jimi Hendrix, the timelessness of Young’s music and then-current vitality are thunderously evident. As Kurt Loder memorably wrote about the album in Rolling Stone: “Ragged Glory is a great one, from one of the greats.”
It’s probably in my top 5 Neil Young albums and it’s certainly one of his greatest guitar albums, as well as his heaviest studio recording to date; long live the Horse!
I guess Neil Young is the king of rock & roll. I don’t see anybody else on the scene standing anywhere near this tall nowadays.
The title of Young’s new record aptly encapsulates its charms. Nine of the ten tracks on Ragged Glory – an instant Neil classic – were recorded at his ranch in Northern California. I paid a brief journalistic visit to this place some years back, and it’s a huge sprawl of land. At the heart of it, Neil had erected a fully equipped, open-air stage upon which he and his band buddies would clamber of an evening and crank up their amps. In the middle of a spread the size of Connecticut – and they still got complaints from the neighbors.
This album sounds like it was recorded on that stage on a really good night.
It’s loose and wild, and God knows it’s loud, and it soars gloriously from one raving cut to the next. There are no acoustic ballads. Everything – even the ecological hymn that concludes the record – is intensely electric. Young launches into “Country Home,” the opening track, with his guitar jacked up to about thirty and leaves it nailed there for the next hour. He solos all over the place – great gouts of railing crunch and squall – and he solos at length: Two of the tracks on the album (two of the best, actually, “Love to Burn” and “Love and Only Love”) clock in at more than ten minutes each. (There are also a couple of minutes’ worth of long feedback and fade-outs.) And booting him along throughout, for the first time on record in more than a decade, is Crazy Horse (guitarist Frank Sampedro, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina), maybe the last great garage band of our time and definitely Neil’s greatest group.
Ragged Glory is, in fact, a monument to the spirit of the garage – to the pursuit of passion over precision, to raw power and unvarnished soul. Neil and the boys even do a nuclear assault on an actual garage classic – the R&B chestnut “Farmer John,” rendered in the style of the Premiers’ 1964 surfer-stomp version. This is a frankly dopey song, and aware that its lumbering, bedrock-punk riff is the whole point, the band proceeds – with what might be called malicious glee – to pump it up into an awesome sonic juggernaut that’s relentless and mesmerizing.
Yes, kids, here’s a guy grizzled enough to be your own quaint, ex-hippie dad, and he and his equally antique pals are blasting out a tune called “Fuckin’ Up” that would singe the curls of any corporate-metal act currently on the charts. It really is inspiring. But Young is no arrested adolescent. The stature of his music has always derived from his ability to use the simple forms of his root influences – folk, rock, country and R&B – as a vehicle for his emotional candor. And on Ragged Glory, the emotions he probes are those of a man going on forty-five years old – a man for whom rock & roll still resonates as truly as it did in his youth, but a man with a lot of mileage on his meter as well and with memories of what now seem more shining times.
In the offhandedly exquisite “Mansion on the Hill” – a country lope buried under a truckload of overamped guitars – Young looks back on the halcyon days of the Sixties as a youthful paradise frozen in time (“Psychedelic music fills the air/ Peace and love live there still”). But he’s no sap. He knows those days are irretrievable, at least for his generation; that “possessions and concessions” change people over the years; and that – as he sings on the track that follows (a song with a melody and tone seemingly modeled in part on Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”) – “we never had to make those deals/In the days that used to be.”
Young also ponders his own latter-day political retrenchment and its appparently corrosive effect on old friendships: “Ideas that once seemed so right/Now have gotten hard to say/I wish that I could talk to you/And you could talk to me.”
And in the dark, guitar-charged “Love to Burn,” he presents a harrowing scene from a collapsing marriage: “Why’d you ruin my life?/Where you takin’ my kid?/And they hold each other, sayin’/How did it come to this?’”
The album is hardly despondent. There’s hope in the near-psychedelic “Love and Only Love” and the earthy “Over and Over” (“I love the way you open up when you let me in”) and a sense of simple contentment in the melodious “Country Home.” And the twang-fueled “White Line,” a ramblin’-man toss-off with echoes of Deja Vu-era Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, is a tribute to the eternal possibilities of a few trashy chords and a heart full of high spirits.
But Ragged Glory reaches its peak on the blistering and supremely rueful “Fuckin’ Up,” with its lacerating riff and squealing, bucketful-of-eels guitar leads and Neil – in his usual microtonally adventurous vocal style – wailing what must surely be a universal lament: “Why do I keep fuckin’ up?”
At the end of the album, Young turns to face the future with “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem),” a stark and gorgeous number recorded live at the Farm Aid IV benefit concert, in Indiana, earlier this year, with additional harmonies recorded by the band later at Young’s ranch. A straight folk-choral item in structure, this potentially dippy paean to the planet gathers grace from its stately melody and draws muscle from Young’s lone, howling guitar accompaniment –stating the theme in a Hendrix-like blare, then rumbling on below the verses to the gently cautionary conclusion: “Respect Mother Earth, and her healing ways/Or trade away our children’s days.” It’s an unexpected and stirring end to an exhilarating album of hard guitar rock. Ragged Glory is a great one, from one of the greats.
The result was a run of albums (Trans, Everybody’s Rockin’ and This Note’s For You among them) that confounded the majority of his fans. Happily, the end of the decade saw the ever-restless Ontarion retrieve his trusty ‘Old Black’ Les Paul and blast his amp stack back up to 10. This refocused period of creative energy began with Eldorado (1989) and Freedom (also 1989), before crystallising on Ragged Glory’s electrical storm of primitive guitar rock. With Crazy Horse and all their garage band grit reinstalled for the first time in 10 years, RG is an album that demands to be heard at a punishing level of volume.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Young twice over the past few years and on both occasions many of the standout tracks came from this album. None more so than the 10-minute-plus Love And Only Love, a song that begins with close-to-two-minutes of two-chord axe-grind and harmonic pinching that’s repeated in the equally dirge-y (and equally long) Love To Burn. But for every minor key thrash, there’s a pretty melody. The choruses of Over And Over, the Dylan-esque Days That Used To Be and the call-to-arms finale of Mother Earth are all driven by the Neil Young who gave us After The Gold Rush and Harvest.
Still, Ragged Glory is all about that lurking passion for full-on noise. Within a year Nirvana and Pearl Jam would be taking their own feedback-soaked albums into the Top 10 while Young would once again return to his harmonica and acoustic guitar.
He’s never rocked harder than he did here.