Wednesday, July 7, 2010

25. Neil Young - After the Goldrush

Counting down my favorite 25 albums of 1970:

Neil Young - After the Goldrush

The plaintive vocals and deliberate tempo sets a tone that's a little weary, a fitting allegory to the Woodstock generation that a few years prior believed they could change the world overnight, only to have the luster of their idealism fade as the Vietnam war continued its downward spiral, and the culture war escalated into bloody confrontations at Kent State and Jackson State. Yet Young's lyrics have a tendency to become stridently hopeful at unexpected times, as if to reiterate that it's not naive to believe you can change the world, it's only naive to think it would be easy.

This is exemplified by the albums best track and thematic core, Don't Let it Bring You Down, where Young starts by setting a squalid scene of an "old man lying by the side of the road", ignored by passersby and left to the elements, he ends up dead by morning. The initial refrain of "Don't Let it Bring You Down" at this point could be interpreted as cynical apathy, but later versus, when he sings "Blind man walking by the river at night with an answer in his hand. Come on down to the river of sight where you can really understand." reveal what (I think) is the intended interpretation: Don't lose faith, things will "turn around". He uses this formula throughout the album alternating the "bring downs" (Southern Man, Tell Me Why) with the "uplifts" (Till the Morning Comes, I Believe in You).

The consensus among rock critics (according to Acclaimed music, which compiles reviews from numerous sources and combines them) is that this is the best album of 1970. While that validates it's inclusion on my list, I think I need to explain why I don't rate it higher...

Not every track on the album works for me. The tone of the album is consistent throughout and the lesser songs don't interrupt the flow, but they certainly don't stand on their own, either. Particularly the album's highest charting single, Only Love Can Break Your Heart. I find the lyrics a little trite, and when the piano thunks out a dirge-tempo waltz with easy rhymes on the downbeat, I can't help but think of Sesame Street's Prairie Dawn playing the song for a muppet pageant. Another miss for me is another of the album's most popular songs, Southern Man. Even though I sympathize with the sentiment (the history of racial intolerance in the South is an easy target), I find the tongue clucking a tad sanctimonious.

No comments: