Friday, February 03, 2006

"What else can I say? Everyone is gay."

SLEEPS WITH ANGELS (1994) was recorded and released in the wake of Kurt Cobain's death, an event which I have absolutely no appetite to explore further in this post. In what is commonly referred to as Kurt's "suicide note", he quotes Neil Young's lyric, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." As one might imagine, Neil was taken aback by this development, as described in the New Musical Express article "Reflective Glory" (07/15/1995):

When Kurt Cobain quoted, "It's Better to
burn out, than to fade away." In his suicide note, citing Young's lyric as
artistic justification for ending his inconsolable anguish, Young was shaken to
the bone. Always an advocate of allowing the listener his or her own individual
path through a record, he was so devastated by Cobain's personal reaction to a
song that was basically written as a celebration of Punk that he was impelled to
record the "Sleeps With Angels" album in lament.Perversely, it is testament to
Young's emotive power that Cobain should choose his words as an epitaph, but it
is something Young still visibly shudders from. Once a song is out there on the
radio, the reasons, it's not anyone's responsibility anymore. "It's the machine
and the fuel. It's over now. I'm not behind the wheel at all. It's gone. It's
over."As for Cobain, he mutters: "I don't wanna talk about that. I just don't
know what to say. Obviously his interpretation should not be taken to mean
there's only two ways to go and one of them is death." He laughs a cold, dry
laugh. It's rumoured that Young was trying to contact Cobain at the time of his
suicide, that he somehow foresaw the tragedy coming. "I don't wanna talk about
it," says Young. "I really don't because I respect the fact that he's a guy who
did what he did and, y'know, he did what he had to do and I don't wanna get any
..." He falters and recomposes himself behind alarming blue shades. "I prefer to
not be involved at all. I certainly don't wanna take advantage of talking about
something like that for the interest of somebody else I've never met and selling
myself in paper in the process. I'd rather you just left it out It's just
distasteful to me."

I'll leave it at that. I'll also note that SLEEPS WITH ANGELS marks the last production credit for David Briggs (see previous post on Neil's BROKEN ARROW album), and features Crazy Horse (Frank Sampedro, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina).

Neil opens with "My Heart", on which he is credited with playing "Tack piano", which more or less sounds like a child's toy piano, and gives a feeling of "make-believe". Neil sings, "It's not too late/It's not too late," but one doesn't believe him. When he goes on to sing, "When dreams come crashing down like trees/I don't know what love can do/When life is hanging in the breeze/I don't know what love can do," his true despair is revealed.

"Prime of Life" is next, and Frank Sampedro plays a flute part that sounds oddly familiar. Someone please investigate, because damn if that flute doesn't sound like the intro to "Reach Out, I'll Be There" by the Four Tops. Acoustic guitar (Young) and piano (Sampedro) propel "Driveby", a little ditty about the random, collateral damage of gang violence.

The fourth song in is the title track, which is the one everyone says is dedicated to Cobain (Although I'm not aware that Neil has ever confirmed or denied this, it seems a safe bet). The almost impossibly crunchy, feedback-laden guitar line, and haunting vocal delivery make this a stand-out, and a latter-day Neil classic. This is followed by the slightly country-rock-tinged "Western Hero".

Song #6 is "Change Your Mind". Some have dismissed this song, or objected to its incredible 14:40 length. Those people are idiots. This is vintage Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Some complain that the guitar solos are slow, which somehow reflects that Neil is just "going through the motions". Those people are emotionally-stunted dweebs. The soloing on this song, though admittedly not Neil's most pyrotechnic, is still pretty f-cking emotive. It's as if Neil is baring his soul, but against his will. The tighter he squeezes his fist to try to hold in the sand, the more it slips through his fingers. He tries to smother it, but it still manages to escape and gasp for air. You want metaphors? I'll give you metaphors. Seriously, what's wrong with these complainers? Are they in a hurry? They're so damned important that they don't have 15 minutes for Neil (f-cking) Young?!? The empty-headed, no-sack-havin'-assholes had better mail order themselves some balls, because it's obvious they've been slighted in that department. Sure, I'd usually rather listen to "Down By the River" or "Like a Hurricane", too. That's like saying if the Cubs finally win a World Series in my lifetime, I might still complain if they didn't sweep like the 1908 team did. Give me a f-cking break.

Writing credit for "Blue Eden" goes to all four musicians (Young, Sampedro, Talbot, Molina). Slow and feedback-driven guitars pervade. There are few lyrics here, mostly borrowed from "Change Your Mind" ("Convincing you" etc.) or "Driveby" ("You feel invincible/It's just a part of life").

"Safeway Cart" is bleak ("Like a Safeway cart/Rolling down the street/Like a sandal mark/On the Savior's feet/Just keep rolling on/It's a ghetto dawn"). "Train of Love" (written in 1993) is pretty, which is to say, basically out of place. However, about 2/3 of the way through, Neil adds some distorted guitar to help bring it into the fold. "Trans Am" is an odd song lyrically, with menacing guitar sounds.

"Piece of Crap" is a consumer anthem, and should be instantly endearing to anyone who has ever felt swindled in the purchase of an item. Almost elegant in its simplicity, chalk up another one to the legend that is Neil Young.

On "A Dream that Can Last", Neil hauls the "Tack piano" back out to provide some symmetry, closing with a sound similar to "My Heart".

Bottom line: Some of the songs included here will challenge the listener by veering in unexpected directions and utilizing odd instruments. However, that's Neil, isn't it? And, the good ones are damned good ("Sleeps with Angels" as an example). Some have even called this the modern TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT. Plus, I'll still argue in favor of "Change Your Mind", dammit!!!


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6:45 AM, March 30, 2006  

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