Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse

  • Reactor [Reprise, 1981] B+
  • Life [Geffen, 1987] B
  • Ragged Glory [Reprise, 1990] A-
  • Weld [Reprise, 1991] A-
  • Sleeps With Angels [Reprise, 1994] A-
  • Broken Arrow [Reprise, 1996] **
  • Year of the Horse [Reprise, 1997] B+
  • Greendale [Reprise, 2003] ***
  • Live at the Fillmore East [Reprise, 2006] *
  • Americana [Reprise, 2012] A
  • Way Down in the Rust Bucket [Reprise, 2021] A-
  • Barn [Reprise, 2021] A
  • World Record [Reprise, 2022] B+

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Reactor [Reprise, 1981]
Got loads of feedback. Ain't got no takeoff. B+

Life [Geffen, 1987]
The autobiography of a loose cannon starts things off with a bang, proving once and for all that this furriner should volunteer his literary services to the Central Intelligence Agency, where surrealistic inconsistency and casual racism are hallmarks of every cover story. Then there are the reflections on liberty (war?) and fashion (terrorism?) and a heroine from that bygone epoch when dusky-skinned peoples had natural nobility going for them. After which he turns the record over to riff on "Too lonely to fall in love" and toss off some mournful tunes and get his garage band to caterwaul "That's why we don't want to be good." Make no mistake, there's plenty of life left in the son of a bitch. Which should surprise no one who believes it. B

Ragged Glory [Reprise, 1990]
"It's three o'clock in the fucking morning, will you turn that thing down? All I hear down here all night is thump-thump-thump-thump thump-thump-thump-thump--same fucking tempo, same fucking beat, on permanent repeat, you don't even have to walk over to the amplifier to start it up again, just galumph up and down in that stupid hippie pogo. Of course I love him too. I know the guitar is great. So what? This isn't the Beacon, goddamn it. It's my apartment." A-

Weld [Reprise, 1991]
File the 35 minutes of orchestrated amplifier overrun that is Arc. Snicker as 1980-88 gets schneidered. Grouse that he reprises all six songs on the rock half of the 1979 summum Live Rust, several of which he defined then and none of which he redefines now. But don't dare forget that except for Saint Jimi there's no live-er rock and roller than Mr. Time Fades Away--not because he's an ace improviser, though he can amaze you, but because his edges cut conceptually, rough where blooze and punk and garage jokers settle for ragged. And remember too that in 1979 he was half a folkie, as he will be again. This live double is all rock and roll. Anyway, repeating yourself a dozen years later is a concept in itself. A-

Sleeps With Angels [Reprise, 1994]
Although I'd love to hear him throw something together with Dave Grohl and Chris Novoselic, the Cobain connection is a ringer--dozens of young bands could scare up a Nirvana tribute more wrenching and dynamic. Instead think Johnny Rotten revisited and Rust Never Sleeps. The 14-minute "Change Your Mind" is not now and never will be "Like a Hurricane." But this caps five years of trying with lyrical will-o'-the-wisps, weird road tales, sociological crazy mirrors, rock and roll's first great middle-age anthem, and the ecology edition of "Welfare Mothers." Now let's hope he doesn't go for Hawks and Doves. A-

Broken Arrow [Reprise, 1996]
undeniable yes, irresistible no ("Music Arcade," "Big Time") **

Year of the Horse [Reprise, 1997]
Largest word on package: LIVE. A dozen songs, mostly at the usual midtempo stomp, more than half dating to the '70s (or '60s). Also three off last year's barely noticed Broken Arrow--one terrific then too, one improving as it gets (even) longer, one a permanent drag. The climax is Life's long-lost "Prisoners" (formerly "of Rock 'n' Roll"), which climaxes with the deathless "That's why we don't want to be good." Men of their word, they're great sometimes and good never. And then the CD version--on Broken Arrow, vinyl was the bonus-cut format--climaxes again with a wilder "Sedan Delivery" than the one they thrashed out on Live Rust 18 years ago. Guy never gives up, does he? That's why his completists have more fun. B+

Greendale [Reprise, 2003]
His politics have never been clearer, but they have been terser ("Leave the Driving," "Devil's Sidewalk"). ***

Live at the Fillmore East [Reprise, 2006]
Four all-too-well-remembered classics, two collectibles, bonanza guitar ("Come on Baby Let's Go Downtown," "Cowgirl in the Sand"). *

Americana [Reprise, 2012]
Crazy Horse yam what they yam. You don't like them, take a hike. For all its evocation of war-dance tom-toms, Ralph Molina's thudding beat could just as easily have inspired Young's endnote about the civilization their namesake "detested": "the footsteps of the white man stamped more and more across the land." In this they resemble, of all things, the United States of America, which has been steamrollering its own past for as long as there've been steamrollers. In vivid contrast to the sanctimonious musicianly overkill of Springsteen's Pete Seeger tribute, Young's overkill leads with its middle finger by ignoring the catchiest tune of the 19th century, the traditional melody of "Oh Susannah." But read Young's annotations and learn that this rewrite was itself concocted 50 years ago by forgotten folkie Tim Rose--and then wake up the next morning to learn that it has staying power of its own. Almost every song messes with you that way because almost every song is messed with and almost every song renewed. "This Land Is Your Land" advocates trespassing. "Get a Job" is accounted "a genuine folk song with all of the true characteristics." "God Save the Queen" rhymes "politics" and "dirty tricks." Boom, boom, boom, boom. Sha-na-na-na-na. A

Way Down in the Rust Bucket [Reprise, 2021]
To the best of my digitally enhanced recollection, this is the first electric live Young we've had since the dull 2016 Promise of the Real placeholder, and hey hey, it's "with" his signature band Crazy Horse (though 1974's Time Fades Away with the Stray Gators remains the live Neil to top: "Don't Be Denied," undeniable). The hook-concept-gimmick-rationale is that it's but an unfettered bar gig cut shortly after a revved-up Young celebrated his escape from the well-tailored embrace of David Geffen by returning to Reprise with the Pazz & Jop-topping 1990 Ragged Glory. As a result, however, it reprises more than half of Ragged Glory, and while Young's solo on the "Country Home" opener does actually improve on the studio version, it's still too bad the guys weren't feeling loose enough to pull more classics out of the boss's ratty old canvas songbag. Turns out, for instance, that "Bite the Bullet," the pick hit on 1977's American Stars 'n Bars, is more convincing sans Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson as the backup Bullets. And by the way, did you know that a clitoral vibrator is called a bullet? I sure didn't until Neil's lip-smacking live "I love to make her scream/When I bite the bullet" inspired some research. Be careful with your teeth there, fella. A-

Barn [Reprise, 2021]
In case you haven't been keeping track, I have. It's a full dozen years since the once inexhaustible Young released an album of new songs worth hearing: Fork in the Road, his eco-car statement back when his passion was a revamped Continental that got 100 miles per gallon on "domestic green fuel" and Crazy Horse could thud along like it was old times. Here Crazy Horse is quieter and gentler as the green consciousness their boss embraced as of 2003's Greendale turns ever more militant and also, unfortunately but fittingly, much darker: "Canerican" is defiantly bipatriotic, "Change Ain't Never Gonna" takes direct aim at the yahoo yokels whose side he's always tried to see, and "Today's People" blames those people for killing the planet and "the children of the fires and floods" who'll go out with it. There's relief in the credible romantic passion of "Tumblin' Through the Years" and "Don't Forget Love." But the full-bore astonishment is the penultimate 8:28 "Welcome Back": "Gonna sing an old song to you right now/One that you heard before/Might be a window to your soul I can open slowly/I've been singing this way for so long," it goes, and that's just the vocal. What convinces you he means it is the guitar, so quiet and caring it feels like love. A

World Record [Reprise, 2022]
Absolutely this is a rather generic 21st-century Neil Young album, and the auteur's wacky and indeed ecologically dubious decision to release music that would fit easily onto a single disc as a double-CD is further complicated by his decision to adjust the list price to match. Yet as a generic 21st-century Neil Young album it shares two rare and enjoyable virtues. One, in Young's hands the simple harmonic structures he's explored not to say exploited for half a century continue to generate simple yet endearing melodies whose similarities to previous Neil Young melodies I leave it to the many guys who've committed his catalogue to memory to celebrate or complain about. Two, inconsistencies regardless he cares about the fate of the planet--again and again it's what he feels compelled to sing about. B+