Monday, October 27, 2014

"After the Gold Rush" by Neil Young (August, 1970)

Brad's Take:

After the Gold Rush is Neil Young's third solo album and it features a very creepy album cover of what seems to be an old lady walking through a cloak-wearing ghost. It turns out though that the ghost is actually Neil Young himself. The original photo was too blurry so the artist decided to polarize Young's face so you wouldn't be able to tell. It just looks scary to me though. Also, the words on the cover are impossible to read. I don't approve. Now, on to the music since that's why we're actually here.

This is a very mellow album. It feels very safe and very average to me. Lyrically, it's really good, but other than that, it doesn't really go anywhere. Maybe that was the point. It sounds like a band playing music on a family farm or something, playing just for themselves. It feels like they're just relaxing, playing music to pass time until dinner's ready. If that's the point, they nailed it. And if that was Neil's original concept, then I hope he also was hoping people would be able to fall asleep to these songs too. 

It's not until track 9 ("When You Dance I Can Really Love") when the band finally gets some energy. This song has a punchy bass rhythm and matching piano part that steadily bounces throughout the song that you can't help but tap your foot to. This track made me think the album might be making a different route. A late one, but a necessary change in scenery. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It was just a fluke because the last two songs are just as sleepy as the rest of the album is.

I know pumping out up-tempo rock jams isn't generally Neil Young's thing, but this album really just bored me. Maybe in a few years I'll change my opinion, just like Rolling Stone Magazine did after they initially called the record "dull" but now refer to it as a "masterpiece."

Dad's Take:

After the Gold Rush is a folk rock classic, channeling Young's work with Buffalo Springfield and CSNY into a solo album that highlights his messages. It includes "Southern Man," one of the greatest Civil Rights songs by a white guy, and a no-doubt-about-it classic song with a rock jam Brad must have somehow overlooked. He didn't even mention it, so he must have been distracted while it played. This is a flat-out Great Song with capital letters, a work of genius. Plus it pissed off southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd.

This album also features the title song, among Neil's best, a great song about the environment and the unrest of the time. "After the Gold Rush" lays bare Young's feelings about the time, and a sense that he just wants to escape it, to get high and get away.

If the album stopped with those two songs, it would be enough for me to justify its inclusion in our list. But it doesn't stop there.

"Only Love Can Break Your Heart," is a beautiful song about pain, set in waltz time.

Following the magnum opus that is "Southern Man," it's only natural that "Till the Morning Comes" feels lightweight and fragmentary. But it's an interesting little piece of music, from the Brian Wilson school of "You're Welcome." Plus, well, you kind of need something lighter to decompress following the wailing rage of "Southern Man."

"Don't Let It Bring You Down" is classic Neil Young, with a bluesy flavor to his folk rock. After a couple relatively weak tracks, it was nice to hear that classic first line of this one. I like "Birds" too. This short song might not be one of his better-known songs, but it has some things in common with my favorite Neil Young ballad, "Long May You Run" from a different album. And then there's "When You Dance I Can Really Love," which reminds me of some of his work with Buffalo Springfield.

This album bridges the gap between sixties folk rock and seventies singer-songwriters. It was highly influential, but unlike many albums that were influential in their time, it still sounds great today, with timeless messages delivered in a deceptively gentle package that carries an awfully strong bite. Neil Young is one of those songwriters who, at his best, strips off all filters and barriers and lays his feelings naked for the listener.

Like many of these kinds of records, multiple listens are necessary to really get a grasp of what Young is saying because there's so much here. The album is pure brilliance that shines too brightly to be watered down by his previous musical partnerships. I encourage The Boy to listen again, to see beyond the mellow feel and understand how heavy and sharp so many of Young's messages, both in words and music, can be. This is not my favorite Neil Young album. Like Brad, I would have enjoyed a couple more tracks from Young's rockin' side. It also doesn't have the strongest ending. But it is an excellent album with at least one truly great song, and is definitely worthy of our classic albums list.

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