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
At one point I was very hung up on the Yoruban lyrics from King Sunny Ade because I was crazy about him and all that held me back is that his English lyrics were often no more than okay. Then I read Christopher Alan Waterman's "Juju" book and realized, whoa, even the most artful translation isn't going to get across the full impact of the Yoruban words. I would have had to grow up in the culture to understand adequately.
Jason Gubbels, I don't even sort of object. "...except in the sense that country music’s Suckage Ratio (i.e.: songs that suck vs. ones that don’t) is just as high as any other genre " strikes me as disingenuous. Not that it's wrong, but would there ever be an article called "50 Rock Songs That Don't Suck", or soul songs, or tin pan alley songs? I look forward to reading the piece, though.
Jason: Fair questions deserving fair answers. I will do my best to compose useful and concise ones . . . but not right now.
Who's the most unlikely performer I would really, really dig if there was no way I could know the (dumb/obnoxious/etc.) lyrics? Gosh, might even be Lionel Richie ... (doubtful).
As long you replace "the" with "a" above, I have no problem strolling right past said observation towards Beyoncé's next song-doctored-to-fu(k masterpiece. Or the next Death Grips album. Whichever.
(As briefly as I can, so as not to completely bore everyone)
1. I don’t have a “meaning test.” I have the historical observation that, roughly from Bob Dylan to Nirvana, mega-artists generally came with “meanings,” and the ones that didn’t tended to suffer in their critical evaluations from the lack of it. Clearly what I said is an example of this phenomenon. There’s no reason why the next critical generation needs to agree.
2. It is an interesting question how this applies to post-Nirvana acts, but the first and most important observation that would structure the question is what happens when the most mega of mega-artists just don’t move as wide an audience. Jay and Kanye’s throne is real, but the domain it oversees just isn’t as big as Bruce’s, or Michael’s, or Madonna’s, or f***ing Lionel Richie’s, and that quite likely has less to do with their artistry than with the time period.
3. The formula for the relationship between music and lyrics will differ for any given critic. I am well aware that from many points of view, my own favorites overstate the importance of the words, and I have no desire to insist that my take is “correct.” For all that, I believe as follows: (a) if the music doesn't move you, you will never bother considering the words; (b) however, if you do get to the point where you bother considering the words, they will often take on an outsized position in your thoughts; as a result, among the thousand things you like, your very favorites will tend to be those which have “meaning” for you. Also, and of additional importance, (c) hip hop in particular demands that you care about the words, universally, which is why I complain especially loudly about them.
You don’t agree? Why should you? I never expect everyone to agree with me.
I wonder who among current popular performers would pass Kenny's meaning test. I think even among great artists, the ones whose words are truly meaningful tend to be a minority. This expands dramatically though if, like with Prince, you include social impact, *musical* meaning, relationship with audience and media, influence on other performers, etc.
"if being musically innovative but having nothing terribly interesting to say was, in the 1980s, the necessary condition of having a mass fan base that crossed so many lines."
Hasn't actual lyrical content always been something that's sort of... peripheral, something you have to sneak in through the back door a little bit? Something that pop audiences will put up with as long as you really bring it musically?
Well I guess not knowing the original songs (except the Woody Guthrie one, and the British
national anthem) is an advantage here, mainly because I don't have that much to bitch about.
Americana sounds like last year's Polly Harvey album with actual melodies and louder guitars to me.
And although it's old news to everybody, I'm gonna say Marvelettes' greatest hits is magical!
I mean I liked their well-known songs, but never quite bothered to find out what a piece of hot
rock n roll "Twistin' postman" is.
Pissing contest by the bay: Mickelson, Watson, Woods at 7:33 AM PDT.
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.
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