Ten years ago it was my bounden duty to name the top musicians of
the '70s, and I hope you don't think I was derelict to put Neil
Young and George Clinton on top of my list. Prolific and consistent,
both had the wit and broad appeal to defy biz convention from within.
Young would almost immediately turn arrant weirdo, and Clinton bounce
from crumbling P-Funk empire to foreshortened solo flight, but I
was rewarding achievement, not potential. Life goes on, and so does
rock and roll. Another decade has passed. So guess who just turned
in two of the prime records of its final year. You peeked.
Clinton's The Cinderalla Theory comes with the imprimatur of a prime candidate for top musician of the '80s, the eccentric omnivore Prince. Released on Paisley Park, with the new boss chipping in anonymously and Public Enemy's Chuck D. and Flavor Flav all over a key cut, it's like Dr. Funkenstein never dropped from sight. Tweakin', Serious Slamming, and Why Should I Dog You Out? tear the roof off militantly, vernacularly, raunchily, surrealistically, and electronically, and French Kiss ain't about Paris in the spring. It's about that tongue. George wants it. In his mouth.
Young's Freedom (Reprise) is an even bigger surprise because Young never stopped turning out product. Devo rips, pseudo-country, ersatz rockabilly, horny blues--he'd put half an ass into anything once, and every two or three years Warner would announce that Re-ac-tor or Old Ways or whatever marked a return to glory. Only Freedom does. Recalling 1979's top-10 Rust Never Sleeps in its scope, power, and consistency, it mixes the folkish love songs and crude rock
Note: the following also has same date, overlapping contents. Which is which?
Prolific yet selective, consistent yet unpredictable, and marketable enough to defy biz convention from within, Neil Young was my choice for artist of the decade 10 years ago--whereupon he turned into an arrant weirdo, pissing away his always precarious commercial appeal while never ceasing to turn out product. Devo rips, pseudo-country, ersatz rockabilly, horny blues--he'd half-try anything once, and every two or three years Warner would announce that Re-ac-tor or Old Ways or whatever marked a return to glory. A decade passed. And guess who just turned in one of the prime albums of its final year. You peeked.
Recalling 1979's Rust Never Sleeps, his last top-10 album, in its scope and power, Freedom (Reprise) mixes the folkish love songs and crude rock stomps that have always been his winning parlay, but not to the exclusion of horns, bells, female backup, mariachi effects, and other accoutrements. Yet it's not scattered--once you hear past its surface simplicity, you realize that this record is of all things well-produced, which in Young is utter apostasy. It's more pretty than not, yet it's his most mournful record since After the Gold Rush, his angriest since Tonight's the Night. And while his regrets and rage have their roots in familiar political and existential complaints, a new theme keeps coming up--crack, which he hates more than he ever hated heroin. I know, everybody hates crack--but just about nobody has made songs out of the feeling. There's not a bum one here.
Playboy, Oct. 1989