Neil Young – After the Gold Rush

After+the+Gold+Rush Alright, this can’t really be an album review, as such, mostly because even by my standards it would be unusually late for an album released back in 1970 – five years before I was even born. It’s an album I’ve listened to more than any other recently, however, so as I sit down to write something about music today it’s hard to get away from this, and eventually I just thought fuck it, why not. It’s my blog after all, and it’s not like I have advertisers to disappoint.

After the early days of leaving crisp wrappers and used coke cans in the van, bands seem to have changed their ways of late, and started leaving old tapes lying around, presumably bought in charity shops for about a pound while they were touring. The first, and still one of the most awesome, instance of this was when Jesus H. Foxx left behind a copy of Come on Feel The Lemonheads last year, and recently, after eagleowl toured in her, a copy of After the Gold Rush made an appearance.

My previous knowledge of Neil Young was practically nil. I suppose, having only really extensively listened to one album from such an extensive back catalogue you could reasonably say that it’s still pretty much nil, but at least it’s a start. My Dad is Canadian, and as a kid he introduced me to Dylan, The Band, Tom Waits and a few others. Neil Young was in there, but apart from Old Man and maybe Heart of Gold not too much really sank in back then. Even now, when one of my best friends would describe Neil Young as his favourite artist of all time, I’ve still either failed to make the effort or the connection, or maybe just a bit of both.

Still, when you drive pretty much every day, some of the tapes in your care have a habit of falling into very, very heavy rotation indeed, and this has been one of them. As albums go, and opening side of Tell Me Why, After the Gold Rush, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Southern Man and Till the Morning Comes is probably as good as I’ve heard anywhere. Tell Me Why is an odd one, too. For an album encompassing the ferocity of Southern Man and the bereft self-pity of Lonesome Me I would always be tempted to start with something either raucous or maudlin, just so you can shock people with track two, whichever way you go. Tell Me Why is an odd sort of mid-paced tune though, although I suppose given that his previous record was something of a rocker, an acoustic-guitar tune laden with harmonies is still a pretty bold statement, even if out of context it seems a bit gentle.

Like a lot of people, I knew the Saint Etienne version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart, but it was only a few years ago that I realised it was a cover at all, never mind having actually heard the original. It took me a while to adjust, I have to confess. It’s pretty hard to let go of the first version of a song that you come to love, even if you like subsequent versions as well, that first one often remains the one you secretly think of as definitive. In this case the two are too different, really, for that good, better, best comparison to really kick in, but here it’s a song of fairly tender melancholy, and it does a devious job of pulling you onto the almighty sucker punch of Southern Man.

Having worked in the States, and realised that even in New England it seems to be compulsory to play Sweet Home Alabama at least once an hour in every fucking bar you ever walk into, I always assumed that the ‘Southern man don’t need him around, anyhow’ was a comeback to a mild throwaway criticism, so gentle is the rebuke, but holy shit! Fuck me, Southern Man is blistering! I know the U.S. has some rather uncomfortable internal politics going on, and I’ve heard Phil Ochs equally searing Here’s to the State of Mississippi, but I never realised quite how much Neil Young spat this song out, or with how much rage and contempt. If I’d known that I’d have half expected Lynyrd Skynyrd to sing something more along the lines of ‘We will fucking hunt and kill you, you total bastard’.

Neil Young’s voice is rather thin, and hence he has never had quite that richness to his sound which I tend to like in acoustic music, and his louder stuff which earned him the nickname The Godfather of Grunge just passed me by altogether. So all told, some 25 years after my dad first started playing his stuff to me, this is the first time I’ve ever really sat down and properly listened to a Neil Young record, and gosh don’t I feel like a dick now.