Monday, May 01, 2006

Review: Neil Young, Prairie Wind

Neil Young
Ok, it took an extra 7 or 8 months, but I finally got around to picking up Neil Young's 2005 release Prairie Wind. Frankly, I get a little wary whenever they start talking about Neil's latest return to his folk/country roots, which they've been doing every few years since 1972's Harvest -- see, e.g., Comes A Time (1978), Hawks & Doves (1980), Old Ways (1985), Harvest Moon (1992), Silver & Gold (2000). Nothing wrong with (most of) these, mind you, and I like acoustic Neil every bit as much as electric Neil, but there can be a sameness to some of these more rustic outings.

Fortunately, Prairie Wind turns out to be a nice surprise. I actually like it quite a bit, and it's probably the most consistently enjoyable Young album since... well, shit, can't remember the last one. Certainly more than a decade ago. Sure, I liked 2003's Greendale quite a bit -- though it was ultimately a failure as a concept album, it was much more riveting and risk-taking than much of his 90s output, and certainly a strong comeback after the abysmal Are You Passionate -- but even fans of Greendale have to admit that, unless you're in the mood to listen to the whole damned story about Grandpa yet again, it's not the first (or even 10th) Neil album you're gonna pull off the shelf (with the exception of the stellar "Bandit"). In contrast, much of Prairie Wind is classic Neil. No, nothing here is nearly as memorable as anything from his 70s heyday, and I can't say I can hum any of the tunes or quote any of the lyrics sitting here today, but the songs are pretty good. And, unlike a lot of his recent output, the songs hold up on their own, stripped away from the context of the album itself.

Sure, one can criticize the album's faults. It's a bit on the overproduced side; I can see liking many of these songs better at a live solo acoustic show than with the full complement of strings that you find on the album. And, as is often the case with Neil, some of the songs are overly familiar (a couple of 'em seem to crib melodies straight off of Greendale). But, then again, it's hard to demand otherwise from a guy who has been recording new music for 40 years, and doing it well (and, for that matter, he's repeated ideas often in the past -- just compare "Journey Through The Past" with "After the Goldrush"). On the whole, it's a strong piece of work, and an album that, unlike a lot of his output since the '70's, I can see listening through from start to finish again and keeping in regular rotation among the Neil catalog.

Now, where are the damn Archives?


At 2:08 PM, Blogger quadb said...

Yah, I finally picked this one up myself after not really buying anything by him in a while. I reviewed it on my blog also and I really like it. And the "Heart of Gold" DVD is awesome as well.


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