Sometimes it’s nice to return to the familiar and, if you’re in the business of making money, the successful. With Neil Young, Harvest, made at the age of 23 while half-crippled in a back-brace, was by far his most critically and financially successful piece of work. So much so, in fact, that Young spent a good portion of his career trying to stay the hell away from the alt-county territory he had inadvertently created. It wasn’t until 1992 Young decided that, enough with the fighting, it was time to give the people (and, perhaps, his accountants) what they wanted – Harvest Moon.
Over the past thirteen years Young’s output has been patchy although, arguably including some gems that critically many thought he was no longer capable of. Then came a brain aneurysm last year, throwing Young’s perspective into sharp focus and, with recording time in Nashville already booked, he set about creating in Prairie Wind what’s been advertised as the closing chapter in a supposed Harvest trilogy.
The real question is, after such inconsistent output, can Young return to the glories of the previous instalments? The answer, it appears is “almost, but not quite”. Prairie Wind is a good album – a good Neil Young album even – but it’s not quite on a par with either of the other two.
Part of the problem with Prairie Wind is the occasionally risible and over-wordy lyrics, something familiar to those who bought Greendale. At one point Young sings, without any hint of irony, and in reference to 9/11, “I’ll never forget what Chris Rock said”. Regardless of the intended sentiment, it’s all the listener can do to hold back a considerable cringe every time.
A lot of the content isn’t very Harvest-esque – no obligatory bombastic Jack Nitzsche number, for example (admittedly, Nitzsche died a little while back but, still…) – although the pedal-steel of “Here For You” is by far the closest. None of this would really matter, of course, were Young not purposefully playing the Harvest card for kudos and sales. Lest we forget his last album was the ill-conceived, though sporadically entertaining, Greendale concept album/movie. It might be that Young needed to forcefully invoke a little of that homespun old-school magic, albeit artificially.
But maybe I’m being a little bit harsh, the whole album is, it has to be said, something of a return to form (yes, another one) and far more immediately enjoyable, not to mention less pretentious, than Greendale. This closing chapter in the Harvest trilogy finds Young, prompted by recent serious health problems, introspective and coming to terms with both life and its fragility. Of his past and, more appositely, Prairie Wind, Young can feel proud.Powered by Sidelines