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CD Review: Neil Young – Prairie Wind

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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.

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About Greg Smyth

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Outstanding review, Greg. Really well done. I have never been a Neil Young guy. I am still pissed that the one video VH1 showed in the past 3 years was his song “Walking to New Orleans.” That song plagued my mind for a solid fucking week after hearing it only one time. I’ve sidetracked. Like I said… never been a Young fan but I enjoyed this review. I feel like I have an idea what to expect were I to give it a spin.

    Re: The Chris Rock line… I’m embarrassed for him.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    great review greg. i really liked this record (and so in my review, which is kicking around here somewhere)

    also, i liked but didn’t love Greendale…until i saw the live show. THEN i loved it.

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Cheers for the kind words lads.

    Mark, regarding Greendale I’d say that it’s a good album if you can get over the way Young lays the sentiment on with a trowel and the occasionally cringeworthy lyrics. That said, I agree that watching the live DVD (recorded at a solo Dublin show) that came with my copy made me appreciate it that much more.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Greg, I think your assessment could stand a little work in the fact department.

    You state that Young made Harvest and then avoided “the alt-county territory he had inadvertently created” until Harvest Moon. Well, he didn’t invent it. Can’t say who did, exactly, but Bob Dylan’s 1969 Nashville Skyline, The Byrds’ 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo both predated Harvest, and the careers of Gram Parsons, Little Feat and Ry Cooder were well underway.

    Also, it’s hardly as if Young avoided the “Harvest”-mode until Harvest Moon. You can’t miss the country flavor in On the Beach, and it’s there in spades on Hawks and Doves, Comes a Time and Old Ways.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    ok, so let’s just say that he avoided records with the word “harvest” in the title.

    😉

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Rodney, we’ll have to agree to disagree.