Neil Young With Crazy Horse/Rhett Miller
Two American Singer-Songwriters Make Albums With Their On-and-Off Road Bands
Neil Young With Crazy Horse: Americana (Reprise)
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
Rhett Miller: The Dreamer (Maximum Sunshine)
Miller fashions his excellent tunes within such a narrow melodic compass that it always takes too long for the new ones to get sorted, and the Nashville-trad self-production on his fourth solo album doesn't sharpen their outlines much. But as usual the songs come clear eventually, starting with a Ben Kweller collab bearing the aptly ominous title "Lost Without You." It's not the winner here because the lyric could be stronger, which cannot be said of "Complicated Man" or "As Close as I Came to Being Right," not to mention the miserable "Out of Love." Consider those titles. That's why I said ominous. B PLUS
· Neil Young and several subtopics
o American or Canadian
o Negative critical reactions
o Etc. etc.
· Che’s trolling, validity of grading system, definition of intelligence
· Musical geniuses, lists thereof
· Jazz gigs in NY
· Lady Gaga’s use of the word “retarded”
· Loud concerts
· Wussy shows
· Rhett Miller’s productivity
· Prince’s significance as an artist
· Other worthy Canadians
· The Weakerthans
· Favourite concerts, disco moments, moments on public transport
· Role of artist—“creation” v. “interpretation”
· Emigration of artists & public figures (John Lennon & his resentment in England, W.H. Auden, Major Tom Eliot)
· Restrictions on student protests in Canada
· Jefferson piece re significance of Jay-Z, Kanye West & Watch the Throne
· Rhett Miller’s psyche/art
· RC’s honourable mention of the Vivian Girls
· MSN censorship troubles
· JY collector’s corner questions
· Definition of musical “meaning” in re Nirvana
· "Fifty Country Songs That Don't Suck"
· Importance of understanding lyrics (artists whose lyrics diminish their work, lyrics in foreign languages)
A couple of points I believe but cannot prove enough for more than blog informality:
The resistance to Americana shocks me because it disdains the very qualities that make the album a rock-and-roll work: its defiance of the usual routine and its bold format; its bending of tradition that is neither pandering nor mere novelty; how much it understands that it's not a matter of playing the wrong notes but the right wrong notes (sure, "Get a Job" is a technical strain for these guys, but this is an inspired cover choice and these guys connect to the material better than a hundred more precise renditions would); its general on-target goofiness, if you will.The objections sound not at all unlike the antique gripes that the Platters had no business covering "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."
Rhett Miller's "Lost Without You" is a coded disappointment-with-Obama number.
Not a particular artist, and not so much "unlikely" as "regrettable," but I've had this answer a long time: The lyrics seriously undermine Appetite for Destruction for me. Post-punk Aerosmith should be right up my alley, but the words keep it from being half as much fun as, say, Rocks. Jane’s Addiction should get a mention here too.
Joe Levy -- I always thought one of the reasons Kurt killed himself (besides bipolar disorder and heroin addiction, I mean) was because there were millions of people who liked to sing along to all his pretty songs but they "don't know what it mean." For every one person who bought that record because it hit a nerve, I'm betting there were at least ten more who bought it "just because." At least, that's how I've always thought.
On a more topical topic ... I think it will be quite tough to keep this Neil Young out of the Top 10 this year ... but yikes! I see the album only gets two stars from the Rolling Stone community, which I imagined would be an easy-peasy for Young. And there's lots of complaints floating around. So I'm getting defensive heah -- what's with all the haters?
[Note that this was outlined but not written before Joe Levy’s contribution. It overlaps with what he said, from a different angle.]
First: something I did unintentionally that you caused me to reflect on. Bob Dylan and Nirvana are conspicuous examples. Both found the meaning-creation process that they and their audience engaged in completely unbearable, leading Dylan to hide from and misdirect his audience to the greatest extent he could work out, and Cobain to kill himself. Whatever else this means, it clearly means that the artist is not in control of her/his own meanings. The artist has intention, but there’s no special reason to believe that that intention has any force, once the work is out there.
That said: meaning is made at the intersection of the text (sorry, my training is in European theory) and the society that both produces and consumes it (and in marxism).
So, in regard to Nirvana, the only example you gave. It is trivial to write a simple one or two paragraph summation of the set of meanings created out of their oeuvre: mall products as the standard of smell; the ironic demand to “entertain us”; the ironic demand to “rape me”; etc. These add up. They mean something. You can write this essay as easily as I can.
Of course it is also easy to find fault with any such one or two paragraph summation: the formula, once written down, is much less than the body of the work, much less than its full “meaning.” But such fault finding is silly and trivial, as though it wouldn’t be possible to find fault with any summary of anything. The summary is not the meaning; if it’s a good summary, it’s a useful approximation of the meaning.
The point about Prince is not that one couldn’t also summarize his work. One can and one should. The point is that once summarized, it looks sillier – and unintentionally so (since silliness is not in itself a bad thing). Whether or not this is important in a critical evaluation of the music a matter of your tastes and mine.
Highlights include the news that Neil had Crazy Horse convene every full moon to record Americana and that there's a half-hour, two-chord jam that is the basis of something else they're working on.
Oh, you mean is this somebody I might like if I didn't know the words?
Not Genesis, that's for sure, but otherwise kind of a good question -- I remember liking solo Gabriel a lot more than Bob for the first couple-three titles and thought "Sledgehammer" made perfect fodder for visuals. But it must mean something that I haven't had the urge to play him in I don't know how many years.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.