Friday, February 17, 2006

Museum of Natural History: I Love the '80s Exhibit?

LANDING ON WATER (1986) was the fourth of five albums (not including compilations) that Neil made for Geffen Records. It featured a new and different musical line-up: Neil Young (Lead guitar, synthesizer, vocals), Steve Jordan (Drums, synthesizer, vocals), and Danny Kortchmar (Guitar, synthesizer, vocals). Even the San Francisco Boys Chorus appears on two songs (“Violent Side” and “Touch The Night”)! What, no one on Bass? I guess the synthesizers take care of that well enough.

All the songs were written by Neil Young:

Weight Of The World (3:40)
Violent Side (4:22)
Hippie Dream (4:11)
Bad News Beat (3:18)
Touch The Night (4:30)
People On The Street (4:33)
Hard Luck Stories (4:06)
I Got A Problem (3:16)
Pressure (2:46)
Drifter (5:05)

Neil was hailed in a 1986 Rolling Stone review for having “committed himself to a sound that's truly new.” The reviewer wrote about this album’s use of technology being superior to that of TRANS (1982), in that it’s mixed in with Neil’s “garage” sound, whereas TRANS tried “to go high tech.” Of course, he also described TRANS, EVERYBODY’S ROCKIN’(1983), and OLD WAYS (1985) as “just dalliances,” while openly embracing LANDING ON WATER. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. So, I’ll just say that this album feels, twenty years later, every bit as much like a museum piece as any of those other three. If anything, LANDING ON WATER, and its follow-up, LIFE (1987) sound more like “dalliances” now than OLD WAYS at least. Much of Neil’s subsequent work is more descended from country music than from any technology (“garage” or otherwise). And, his '90s work with Crazy Horse seemed to build from LIVE RUST and RE*AC*TOR, bypassing LANDING ON WATER and LIFE altogether. Or, maybe it’s just me.

Having said all that, I enjoy a trip to the museum at least as much as the average guy. Accordingly, LANDING ON WATER is a fun listen for me…occasionally. The fun begins with “Weight Of The World”. This song sounds like it could’ve drawn some influence from “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” (or some other damn song Yes recorded on their “90125” album). Except for here, Neil has met the girl who’s allowed him to drop “the weight of the world” (hence, no more lonely heart for him). “Violent Side” is next, where Neil fights to “control the violent side” (OK, the song is a bit more lyrically inventive than I’ve just indicated). His guitar soloing is fairly cool here. But, some day, I’d like to find out the true story behind the decision to have the SF Boys Chorus sing in the background. A creepy synthesizer sound effect would’ve done the trick.

“Hippie Dream” is a song I like, particularly because I like to interpret the line “But the wooden ships/Were just a hippie dream” as a verbal slap at David Crosby and Stephen Stills (co-authors of the song “Wooden Ships”). And, I like the lyrics “And the wooden ships/Are a hippie dream/Capsized in excess/If you know what I mean” as a lampooning of Crosby’s inordinately huge ass (R.I.P.).

“Bad News Beat” might be the catchiest tune on the album. At the same time, lyrically, it’s all about losing a woman to another man, then having to hear about it from everyone (“I’ve got an eye in the sky/Taking pictures that I don’t want to see”). “Touch The Night” is the only song I have even a vague recollection of getting any airplay at the time. It’s somewhat danceable, in a heavy, plodding, '80s, white-boy way (yes, I know Steve Jordan isn’t white).

“People On The Street” is in the basic musical mold of “Touch The Night”, but with an attempt at socially-conscious lyrics (“From the alley scene/Comes a muffled scream/And the siren wails/While the system fails”). It’s no “Rockin’ In The Free World”, or even “Life In The City”. So, does it anticipate those songs? Or, does it just highlight how much better a song Neil could’ve made this had he cared too? I suppose each listener must judge for him/herself.

Now, the opening chunk-chunk-chunk of “Hard Luck Stories” seems as if it could, with a quick chord change, morph into “Rockin’ In The Free World”. But, alas, it fades into synth sound. The drums are still pounding, but perhaps not quite as in-your-face as most of the other songs. Neil’s vocal delivery is a pseudo-rap in places. The chorus of “Don’t tell me hard luck stories/And I won’t tell you mine” is as inane as any he’s ever written & sung. This song is not my favorite, in case I’m being unclear.

“I Got A Problem” features a drumbeat that feels like an assault. Neil sings “Me and my shadow are so in despair/’Cause we keep hurtin’ someone who cares” and wails away on stinging guitar, especially towards the very end. “Pressure” features more AK-47 drumming, and lyrics about the oppressiveness of daily life, with a reference to “Max Headroom”. Finally, “Drifter” feels like an attempt at a quasi-futuristic re-make of “The Loner”, but with mixed results at best (for example, Neil’s guitar soloing is cool, but the synth overlaying it leaves a bit to be desired).

When Neil compiled LUCKY THIRTEEN (1993), he included two songs from this album: “Hippie Dream” and “Pressure”. I suppose that would give you the flavor. I’ve read where someone described this album as “Neil imitates The Cars”. Personally, I’m more reminded of '80s “Yes”, but only in places. I’ve also read where this album has been labeled as one of Neil’s “least essential,” and I can’t disagree.

Bottom line: Am I glad I have it? Sure. How often will I ever listen to it again? It’s hard to say…maybe I’ll grab it the next time I feel like going to the museum.


Blogger Thrasher said...

hey haahnster!

Great review of LOW. There are so many under-rated works in the eil canon that it's always nice when folks pick up onit.

Keep on rockin' , bro.

Great blog!


10:11 AM, February 17, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

Thanks for the compliment.

I still have not come across an album by Neil Young that wasn't at least worth a listen. Certainly, I like some more than others. But, they are ALL interesting in one way or another.

I've got SILVER & GOLD playing in my computer right now, and I was just watching the bonus DVD from PRAIRIE WIND last night. (I still haven't posted on either of these albums yet, by the way.) Neil is an amazing artist, and I'm just hoping to spread the word a bit!!!

10:54 AM, February 17, 2006  

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