Neil Young has reunited the greatest garage band in the world for this latest weird masterpiece. Crazy Horse has always traded in the raw side of rock and roll. This time, however, calling this “ragged” or “off the cuff” is actually drastically underselling the organic quality of this album: its sounds completely spontaneous, like the band were just messing around and happened to stumble across some songs. Like all of their great work together, it’s that quality that makes it sing.
Not that these tunes bear any resemblance to the shopworn versions that we all heard as toddlers. Neil uses American folk as a launching point for yet another journey into the dark side of American history. Every song is melodically and rhythmically reworked into a vehicle for the Horse to jam and for Neil to work out his cultural demons. Seriously, I had no idea that “Clementine” was such a dark and spooky tune; I was completely brainwashed by the stereotypical arrangement and cartoonish ways in which this song is normally used. Tonally, it reminds me of the Bert Jansch version of “Jack Orion”- the song is surrounded in death and sadness and creepiness.
In the most wonderfully Young-ian way, Neil has thrown a few curveballs within this curveball of an album, showing that he has taken the idea “American folk songs” very liberally. The first is a hilarious and relatively faithfull version of The Silhouettes 1957 doo-wop hit “Get A Job” (hey, I said “relatively faithfull”). Surely this was done as some kind of smirking comment on the American economy. The other song is almost certainly meant as a nod to the motherland and a stinging reminder to the Americans. That’s right, on a record called “Americana”, Neil has done a garage-rock cover of “God Save The Queen”. It’s the most brilliant head-scratcher of this whole project, and it serves to remind the Yanks of where they actually came from, much as their own history would attest otherwise. Neil has said that part of the point of this project was to shine a light on the “forgotten” verses of these songs. Like “Clementine”, “God Save the Queen” has a damn scary stanza that we were never taught at summer camp:
O Lord, and God, arise,
Scatter the evil lies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save the Queen.
Beseeching God to rise up and smite their enemies! How scary is that?!
Just to drive the point home, Neil throwns in a few verses of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, the old Yankee patriot song that stole the melody of the British national anthem. It’s like Neil is saying: “Listen guys, actually we all come from over there, more or less…”
If you feel like you don’t understand the brilliance of all this bitterness and sarcasm, then you should probably stay away from this record. It won’t mean anything to you unless you’ve followed all the weird detours of Neil’s career, and are familiar with his politics and artistic sense of humour. However, if you do understand the trick that the old man has pulled off, then this record is another masterpeice, and a beautifully bizarre way to bring back his most beloved band.
Long live the Horse! Long live Neil Young!