Neil Young & Crazy Horse -- Sleeps with Angels


Published in Kade Magazine September 8, 1994

Neil Young is on a roll. Ever since 1989's Freedom coincided with a reinterest of the noisy melodism of his best 70's work, his name has been dropped above all others--even Lou Reed & Keith Richards--as a icon of rock 'n' roll integrity. Someone to look up to if you want to grow old in a what's still considered a young person's music. Neil responded to this attention with two brilliant albums and tours. Ragged Glory and the tour and album which followed were primal Neil, showing how idolization can sometimes lead to revitalization; the acoustic Harvest Moon was even better: he even got away by closing it with a 10-minute slow song because he'd come up with (maybe) the prettiest chorus he'd ever written.

Then at the Dylan tribute ( Bobfest! ) he hooked up with Booker T & the MGs and their consummate musicianship and professionalism provided an amazing counterpoint to Neil's screaming guitar. He was so enthused with how they helped him through "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "All Along The Watchtower" he immediately hired them for his 1993 tour. If you come across bootlegs of that tour, grab 'em.

Meanwhile, the long-announced mondo retrospective CD box-set Neil's been promising since the start of this decade gets pushed back for yet another album. And why not? When you're on a roll, you need to take it as far as you can. Hence Sleeps with Angels, which by my count (including Decade, Eldorado & Lucky 13 , but not Buffalo Springfield or anything w/ C, S or N), is Neil's 30th record since he went solo in the late 60's

At first I didn't think this was a great Neil Young album like, oh I dunno, After the Goldrush, Rust Never Sleeps, On The Beach, Harvest Moon , or Tonight's the Night, whose half- dead sound and requiems for dead addicts this recalls formally. Besides, despite the & Crazy Horse billing,Sleeps With Angels is as far from Ragged Glory or Re.act.or as it gets. It's bookended by piano ballads and features only a couple uptempo hard-rockers. In fact, at first, it doesn't seem to make sense that he needed Crazy Horse. Except he wasn't looking for musicianship, he was looking for, er, ragged misery.

Which he gets. Real studio musicians would have added too much gloss, made the backing vocals too pretty, taken the edge out of a songs like "Driveby" or "Safeway Cart." As it is, Crazy Horse's bare-bones approach--really the only way they know--lend authenticity and directness to the dark atmosphere Neil's going for this time. And that overall atmosphere--the way the songs compliment each other both musically and verbally--is the reason Sleeps With Angels eventually kicks in.

That and "Change Your Mind," which is simultaneously his first serious attempt at a hit single in some time (listen to the double-tracked "pretty" vocals & the jangly guitar under the chorus), and at 14-plus minutes, a true successor to "Down By The River," "Like A Hurricane," or "Over and Over." That Neil can still get away with this sort of thing after 25 years signifies his kind of genius.

But what defines his kind of genius is quite simple actually: he can have it both ways. Neil writes songs which work equally well as howling electric feedback frenzies or just him and his acoustic. That's all. Songs for wracked guitar and/or wrecked voice. Which is what Sleeps With Angels is full of. And also why its a great Neil Young album.

--Jim Connelly

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This document last modified 09 August, 1995.
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