Monday, November 20, 2006

AMG on neil young

users of the allmusic guide, both in its earlier print and online versions, know it to be a fairly reliable and yet frequently flawed source of information. a lot depends on who's doing the reviewing of individual albums: i've come to trust thom jurek, for example, far more often than scott yanow, especially in the field of nonmainstream improvised music. additionally, the star and checkmark ranking systems -- five stars being the best, checkmarks indicating albums for the new listener to start with or standout songs on an individual album -- often seems pretty subjective or arbitrary.

take the case of neil young. the guy has like 40 albums over a career spanning roughly as many years. everyone knows the classic LPs and maybe some of the more recent standouts. but what about all those others? what is the average listener to do to get a handle on this body of work? ideally you want someone who knows all 40 albums and can help you weed it out. well ordinarily i trust stephen erlewine, but in at least this instance he's way, way off the mark.

here's how his review of the two-and-a-half-star ranked broken arrow (neil young and crazy horse, 1996) starts off:
In many ways, Broken Arrow follows the same path as Neil Young's other '90s albums with Crazy Horse. Broken Arrow floats on waves of lumbering guitars and cascading feedback, ebbing and flowing with winding solos and drifting melodies.
so how exactly is this a bad thing? isn't "waves of lumbering guitar and cascading feedback" precisely what makes some of young's greatest recordings great? erlewine continues:
In a typical display of artistic perversion, Young has front-loaded the album with three epics with a combined running time of just over 25 minutes.
would it be somehow less perverse if young had put the three longer songs at towards the end rather than the beginning? none of this makes any sense. long drawn-out jams and big, chunky guitar solos are what we love about neil young. "loose change" is the album's second track, clocking in at 9:10. after the first three-minutes, which feature a lovely two-chord melody and a three-chord chorus, young and the band move into a single-chord jam that lasts for the song's remaining six minutes -- yes, six minutes of "lumbering guitar and cascading feedback" that's freakin fantastic. upon first listening it easily made my list of fave neil young tunes. follow that up immediately with "slip away" -- one of his prettiest melodies since anything on harvest moon and yet delivered with that big power chord though marshall stack sound -- and "shattered," a mid-tempo paean to and of loneliness that i think pretty near rivals "on the beach," and i think you have in broken arrow one of neil young's better offerings from the 1990s.

but you didn't hear that from the AMG.

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