Crosby, Stills, Nash, and (sometimes) Young
Supergroups make me itch. Whenever I attempt to think of a good one, I always go through a long list of Multiple Last Named Bands and, one by one, tick them off the list as being horribly overrated and about as 'Super' as a drunken Salvation Army band full of homeless Lebanese people. Cream? Had their moments, but I always found their records rife with stupid crap mixed in with their honkin' singles. Led Zeppelin? One star, a session dude, and two unknowns don't make no supergroup, man. Same with the Jeff Beck Group, who's big names (Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood) didn't become stars until after leaving the group. Blind Faith was a flame out, The Firm and the Power Station sucked ass, the Traveling Wilburys are cute but more fun for the participants than the audience, Bad Company is, well...Bad Company, and umm...the Highwaymen? Is one of their albums any better than a Willie or Johnny Cash solo album? Man, supergroups are all about ego, and most of the time egos have a way of generating a whole bunch of forgettable crap. I'm not convinced at all that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young didn't follow the exact same road. After releasing two of the hugest-selling albums of 1969 and 1970, egos, like the plague, began to run the band. It took 7 years to finally complete a followup, and the next one took 5 more years after that. This, my friends and drinkin' buddies, is not the mark of a band that is worthy of the amount of respect they continue to receive. Now, 'cos I feel likes it, a full and comprehensive band history that may explain some of my later comments:
David Crosby and Stephen Stills had known each other since the mid-Sixties, sharing the LA club scene while David was a Byrd and Stephen was in the Buffalo Springfield. David played the star figure, had experienced popularity of near-Beatle proportions, and was generally seen as a guru of the hip culture developing in mid-60's Los Angeles, drug use (one of David's more successful 'transformation projects' had been Brian Wilson, who he introduced to weed, and later, LSD. Of course, it ended up completely destroying Brian's sanity and talent for the next 20-odd years, but that's just details.), lots of sex, and the tanned, long-haired 'golden-boy' look that colorful Bay Area hippies thought to be superficial. Crosby had recently been dropped on his ass by the Byrds in a spat involving a song about putting your peenie in two different girls' willies at the same time, and was looking for another band he could codepend with. Stills was a bit more rough-hewn, coming from redneck southern stock and the harder-rocking Springfield, who had recently blown apart when mercurial oddity Neil Young split for a solo career. They met up with little-dude nice guy Graham Nash, who was getting sick of the Hollies, his Brit-invasion pop group who seemed about 3 years behind everyone else (an album of Dylan covers! Who would've thought!?), and decided to enter the weird, party-people world that surrounded Stills and Crosby. They recorded an album of stripped down, high-harmony folk/country rock that had a tasty mix of all their personalities, and soon Crosby, Stills, and Nash was blasting from every girls' dorm in the country. The counterculture had found its first Tiger Beat pinup boys.
Stills, the sorta-kinda leader of the band, thirsted for a harder-rocking sound than what his easy-listening bandmates were able to deliver, and called up old friend and nemesis Neil Young about joining the band. Neil's solo career had started off slowly but steadily, and while he felt that he didn't 'need' CSN (and never would), and certainly wouldn't commit for longer than the project held his notoriously fickle interest (and never would), he joined up as much for wanting to play with Stills as just to see what would happen. After a massively overrated performance at Woodstock debuting both the group as a performing entity and Neil as the new member, the band recorded Déjà vu, which would sell every bit as well as the debut and further cement CSNY as superstars. Superstars of the stature that allowed them to exercise their most long-winded and indulgent natures during their live shows (as captured on the double live 4-Way Street), and create internal clashes that would plague the band for decades. Neil packed up his Legos and left the party in 1971, and the band went on solo-project hiatus until 1974, when a Neil-aborted attempt at a new solo album bit the dust and the band went on it's most massive (and massively overwrought) tour ever. Neil once again brought an end to the festivities and here leaves the picture (other than a short Stills-Young tour and album) until 1988.
During the rest of the 70's, CSN saw increasing marginalization caused by a freakish determination to stick by their folky-hippie guns, their inability to come to terms with their drug abuse, and Stills' arrogant belief that his solo career was more artistically worthy than his work with CSN. By 1977's CSN, they still had substantial marketing power as a trio, but their solo careers had faltered. They kept mostly quiet (drug-induced stupors?) until 1982's Daylight Again, for which Crosby was MIA with a crack habit, but which still generated a couple of strong hits. Throughout the mid-80's, Crosby's 'base habit and correspondingly wacky, didja-hear-what-Crosby-did-last-week-on-the-Santa-Monica-Freeway? high jinks continued until he finally got to check into the popular Sing Sing Hotel for a while. Prison cleaned his ass up, and it seemed that for the next several years CSN (and, once, Y, whose career had suffered some direct blasts in the 80's as well) were attempting another comeback every few years, but their audience was now too ossified and their music too uninspired to sell. CSN has remained in this state of oldies-circuit and PBS-special limbo ever since, with the only source of hope coming from 1999's Looking Forward, which was pretty much a Neil Young-sponsored bone thrown to his former bandmates.
CSN is nothing but a product of it's three members' personalities, a hint of macho rocker (Stills), some pointless, blurry-edged hippie idealism (Crosby), and the melodic, nice pop-guy (Nash), sometimes lent some well-needed direction and edge by Neil Young. It's often said that CSNY's massive popularity was partly based on the public's mourning of the Beatles' breakup; that they were seen as the closest thing to successors to the throne. I actually agree with this idea, but not in the way that you might expect. What the Beatles were to the Sixties teenagers, symbols of their own maturation and experimentation, CSNY were to 70's hippies - symbols of their speedy descent into self-absorbance, hedonistic lack of any form of self-control, and hypocritical ideological/financial dualism. Not to mention how the group abandoned rock music quicker than a pregnant mistress, converting their energetic folk-rock for simple adult-contemporary mush. Lite rock favorites! No shit! Unlike the Grateful Dead, who shared many of the same faults as CSN, they also seemed to lack a sense of purpose. CSN and it's myriad solo configurations have coasted on the hazy nostalgia of its aging fanbase for nearly 30 years now.
The band, though, does have its positive points: they did sing well, got some great, timely, accessible songs out of Stills and Young (and Joni Mitchell), and were melodic as hell almost all the time. They rocked at times. They admirably kept preaching the gospel of personal freedom and hippie causes like respect for the environment long after that became passé, and generally eased the transition for a lot of aging people from Woodstock 'cool' to old-fogie status. Isn't that worth something? We love our clueless parents, don't we?
Crosby, Stills, and Nash
- Atlantic 1969
You certainly can credit (bash) Crosby, Stills, and Nash for one thing: it created California rock. All that Eagles and Linda Ronstadt and Poco and whatnot all started right here. This is the In the Court Of the Crimson King of laid-back early 70's West Coast soft rock, it's very own Ramones, if you will. And 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' is its 'Rapper's Delight', if you further will. It's that debut that defines the entire scope and range of a new genre (or, well, 'sub-subgenre', since 'Cali-rock' at that time was pretty much just a subset of Country Rock) and even represents some of its best work. I really don't think CSN as a group, Stephen Stills as a writer, or Cali-rock in general ever quite beat the transcendent, sweet harmonies, tough, angular chording, the groovy Eastern-sounding guitar lines flying all about and, dammit...ambition of this multi-part audio Valentine to Stills' then-sweetheart Judy Collins. It casts a shadow of influence over the entire group's career, but Stills wisely never even attempted another song like it. I wouldn't say it's a 'Hey Jude' (or a 'Hey Bulldog'...not a 'Hey Joe', or a 'Hey Ho Let's Go' either...it is better than 'Hey Porter' and 'Hey Pocky Way', though), but it's immediately recognizable and shows that Stephen Stills had the songwriting muscle to back up his new group's status...at least for now.
What's funny is that Graham Nash's work was just as influential as Stills', but just in a completely different way. His sweet, winking 'Marrakesh Express' is the sweet that buoys the rest of the album from otherwise dropping into doldrums. It's a travelogue about going on a train to Morocco (for those of you without smack habits, the 'Marrakesh Express' is code for pretty much any drug shipment from the Middle East) and is just stupid, just memorable enough to count as a 'major' song on this album, besides being a huge hit.
Crosby's compositions continue his mushy tendencies he first introduced as a Byrd ('Guinneveeeeerrree...she had green eeeyyyyeeeesssss...' and a cammmmmeeellllll tooooooooooooe) his songs are all but unhummable, all shifting time signatures and amazing harmonies that end up doing nothing more than (possibly) setting a mood to smooch to, or fall asleep to, or whatever seems like the most applicable thing to do along to this fuzz. 'Guinnevere' is pretty, but it hardly seems to have any substance compared to Still's stuff, and sounds like it could use Nash's pop editing to bring it into shape.
This album is pretty much relegated to acoustic folk-rock, even when the songs almost sound like they'd be better served electrically (Stills' 'You Don't Have To Cry' sounds very much like a Buffalo Springfield leftover served up back-porch style. Only 'Pre Road Downs' and 'Wooden Ships' rock at all, and Nash's 'Downs' is too lightweight to impress any of these guys heavier fans.
Lyrically, we're more or less on the same goony, hippie page with each other, which means that the topics are Hey, Baby, Let's Get Mellow ('Lady of the Island', 'Guinnevere', Let's Get High and Smiley ('Pre Road Downs, 'Marrakesh Express') and Hey, Square! Doncha Wish You Were Me? ('You Don't Have To Cry', 'Long Time Gone'). It seems that only 'Wooden Ships', written by the entire band, bucks the trend. It's a pretty groovy sci-fi story about post-apocalyptic survival (eating berries, hanging out on wooden ships to escape the nasty 'silver people' on the shore) set to the only overtly 'psychedelic' music and fluid Stills' guitar soloing on the album. 'Long Time Gone', regarding Robert Kennedy's assassination, is sorta muscular, I suppose, but 'muscular' is just not what's in store on this album. It's an album of craft and vocals, not of power and madness, which strikes me as funny because it seems like Stills and Crosby, at least, have pretty good rock pedigrees. But this is the CSN sound, exactly as first mapped out here, and you really shouldn't ask for a lot more. What? They're not the Beatles, fer chrissakes. No prickly barbs underneath the plush melodic handiwork no John Lennon, just three variations on Paul McCartney and maybe a little bit of George Harrison, that's all.
Capn's Final Word: Exactly what CSN is, though not exactly why it should be that way.
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Deja Vu- Atlantic 1970.
One of the most gooily-anticipated follow-ups in rock history, Déjà vu seemed to have everything going for it: the debut had been huge, and the band's well-documented set at Woodstock cemented both their counterculture certifications (they'd wouldn't give that stuff out to just anybody, you know! You had to be able to recite all the lyrics from Bob Dylan's pre-1966 output, 'pull a bird' from 20 paces, roll a joint one handed, and personally kick Dick Nixon in the balls) and their popularity, and the addition of Neil Young seemed to be the perfect contribution of some well-needed 'grit'. Now all they needed to do was whip out the perfect, earth-shattering record, hit the Top 10 twelve times in a row, make piles of money, make Hard Days Night II and make an off-handedly offensive comment about Jesus. And though Déjà vu was, in fact, massively popular and yielded a couple of hits (both Nash's, which tells you more about what intrigued the record-buying public 1970 than all the record guides in the world), it was a false sort of glory. The record really satisfied only the fans - the individual band members all felt they'd been cheated out of a larger portion of the songwriting, the critics thought it was inconsistent, hard rockers wished they'd die in horrifyingly painful shark-bite incidents, you know how it goes. Sometimes you win and you lose, dig?
Sorry, y'all I happen to dig this record. I much prefer it to the softy soundalikes on the debut, and of course everything after this album pretty much stank, but Déjà vu is about all the CSNY I need. First thing is that everything here, with the exception of Neil Young's two throwaways on side B, is a strong example of each members' songwriting strengths and few of their weaknesses. Each song almost begs to be looked at in a separate light, away from the other tracks on the record. Probably this is the result of the advanced splintering that had already occurred in the band (tracks were recorded Abbey Road style, with band members rarely even sharing the same room at the same time). Nash's featherweight composing style has matured from the winking dorkiness of 'Marrakesh Express' to something that at least approaches substance - his well constructed odes to domesticity ('Our House' and 'Teach Your Children') may make you think that Nash lives in some sort of innocent, uncynical, Andy Griffith Show parallel universe, but they're real sweet. Idealism, you know...it wasn't uncool yet in 1970, and moreover they're as melodic and succinct as Crosby's songs are amorphous and confusing. Quite a trick, and if Nash is branded as a dork, at least he's branded as the melodic dork.
Crosby's contributions are still about as indistinct as can be imagined, but he sounds engaged (and on 'Almost Cut My Hair', where he lets his 'freak flag fly' and rants about his hair and having the flu, he sounds frantic) and put a good deal of effort into the title track. Hell, every track on here took like 6 weeks to record, so maybe the whole thing could be claimed to have taken 'a good deal of effort'. Or maybe they just couldn't get their shit together, whatever. If it took this long for Crispy Crosby to sound coherent on 'Déjà vu', that's allright with me, mama the song is vertigo-inducing in the best possible way, a perfection of the Crosby 'thing' that still lacks memorable melodies and strong vocal touchstones. Too much acid melting all the edges off, I'd say. Too much acid, indeed.
Neil's compositions as a whole should be considered disappointing, considering the whole 'Country Girl' suite is vanilla crap and the Buffalo Springfield leftover 'Everybody I Love You' a mess that should've stayed in the vaults until the 800-CD Decade II Boxed Set (I heard it'd actually get airlifted into your backyard by cargo helicopter) gets released in 2058. But 'Helpless' is exactly what we want Neil around for...a quietly strong, regretful, sincere ballad based on a maximum of three chords (one of them, under penalty of death, being D major). Neil takes us on a nostalgic and bittersweet journey through his past without the need of a goofy film or a double album soundtrack length. It's a gorgeous winner in the long history of gorgeous winners Neil's written in his time.
Still's crazy-ass, multi-part opener 'Carry On' (especially it's dropped-D acoustic guitars on the intro...'I knew, you'd soon be gone.' What, is this 'Judy' after she's dumped Stephen? hrm...) draws immediate comparisons to 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes', but this is a different animal altogether. For one thing, it sorta rocks with an edge (for these guys, a minor chord is an edge) and relies on the massive harmonies this band can generate for it's hooks, as it should. The near-funk second-half jam/choral section is as tight as a Goodyear Blimp, indicating that maybe Stills has been listening to more Family Stone than Carter Family, and the whole song is very impressive as a groovy, rockin' yang to the debut's yin. I also enjoy the folky cautionary tale '4+20' just as much, warning of spiritual exhaustion and self-loathing in the wake of Nash's smiley-face idealism. It's not as subtle as 'Helpless', but the more I hear it, the more respect I have for Stills' willingness to share a little bit of honest darkness on what could otherwise be seen as an emotionally limited record. The whole band gets wicked on a contrived-ragged cover of Joni Mitchell's 'Woodstock', which is the only time you'll actually get to hear Neil's and Stills' guitars wrangle with each other like in '67, pretty disappointing for guitar fans, I guess. I personally never figured out what all of the Buffalo Springfield guitar fuss was all about.
Déjà vu is a blowout album full of great songs by inspired people who were blowing their wad on an album for pretty much the final time (excepting Neil). None of the three principles was ever in higher form musically, varying their musical palatte to include all sorts of groovy shit, yet without leaving their bread-n-banana close harmony folk-rock strengths far behind. Is must've seemed at the time that CSNY could've gone anywhere from here, but it turns out they decided to drop dead, spending the next seven years in insular solo projects and attempting to pull Neil back into the fold. They were trying to duplicate Déjà vu, and I invite you to find out why.
Capn's Final Word: Everyone peaks at the same time except for Neil, so it sounds like everyone's on an equal footing. A Cali-country-hard-folk-rock masterpiece.
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Vladimir Mihajlovic Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: A fantastic album,the songwritting contribution from every member of the band is excellent. I don't think that Neil's songs on side b are weak. Country girl is as great as anything on this album and Everybody I love you is indeed weaker than the rest but it's fun.
I love guitar playing. especially in Almost cut my hair. such great solos from both Neil and Steve.
I also gotta point out a great still guitar by Jerry Garcia on Teach your children.
All songs are awesome,it's hard to say which are the best cuts.
Not the best live album I've ever heard, but certainly shows a lot of the sides of CSNY that don't necessarily come out on their studio discs. Like the hard-rockin side. Did you happen to know that a good half of this double record (blimey! That's one whole record!) is given over to Neil and Stephen beating the crap out of each other with endless guitar solos? Is this the 'legendary' Stills-Young guitar duelling that we've had shoved down our throats ever since the first days of the Buffalo Springfield? I suppose so, but Stills' Hendrix-lite and Neil's dentist drill quickly get tiresome, especially as they see fit to drag out 'Southern Man' and 'Carry On' to Grateful Dead lengths, except without the Grateful Dead's ability to get that fucking rocket ship to some uncharted territory already. See, CSNY at one time were seen as contemporaries to the Jefferson Airplane, not as comfortable neighbors to Air Supply and Christopher fucking Cross, which is easily forgotten considering their complete and total abandonment of rock music in the late 70's, and their lame attempts since then to re-establish Stills as a guitar god. Anyway, the whole thing comes off as a jocular, good-timey encounter with some hep, handsome dudes who bear more resemblance to early-60's surf-rock brothers than to bloodsucking demonchildren like the Rolling Stones. This was the CSNY 'thing', you see...they were safe when so many others weren't. Only Neil Young seemed like the type of cat who might end up sacrificing kittens to Beelzebub at midnight while snorting lines off a dead hooker's thigh. Funnily enough, though he had some dark times for sure, he was probably the straightest one of all these folks. Stills' endless coking and ego trips, Crosby's hilarious stint as a 350 pound fugitive who looked like he'd been attacked by a rabid hair clipper at time of arrest, and the fact that Graham Nash's probably got a murder spree or two in his past. Sick fuck.
The simple fact of this record is that there's really very little Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young going on. Oh, there's plenty of Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Neil Young (lots of Neil Young), but not a whole lot of the group operating as a band. Each person has his own little section that sounds almost nothing like anyone else's. Crosby might sing some backup on Nash's tunes, and everyone tries to screech along with 'Suite Judy Blue Eyes' and 'Carry On', but this is very much a 4-Way Street where everyone is going in different directions at once. Stills has his little section where he plays 'Love The One You're With', we finally get to hear Crosby do 'Triad', and, erm...Nash ducks his head and tries not to be decapitated by all the out-of-tune shouting going on during the places where there's supposed to be sweet, sweet harmony. Most of all, I see this thing as disjointed and jarring...if an actual CSNY concert sounded like this, wouldn't you maybe suspect that something was fucked up there, despite all the nice rancor and jokes? It takes a massive load of nuts to open a live album on the fade-out of 'Sweet Juicy Blue Balls' and still give it a track number and listing on the record jacket, and then fill the rest of the album full of stuff that you wouldn't even know if you weren't a fan of the guys' solo stuff. As a listening experience, it's interesting...as a fan document, it's a massive Fuck You letter written from the edge of breakup.
Capn's Final Word: Ragged glory, or as much glory as these individuals can muster playing four solo sets.
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CSN - Atlantic 1977.
Seven years apart from one another and this flat vanilla claptrap is all they could muster up among the three of them? Yow. This is an album of extremely similar-sounding smooth-lite-rock sonambulism where major differences between songs are judged by the fact that this one has a snazzy piano part, or that one is based on funk so slight it's almost goddamn not at fucking all funk. The first thing you'll notice on this deal-i-o is that there's not one ounce of rock n roll on here. Not a smidge. Not a whiff. This album is so laid-back Cali it's strangling from it's own stringy hair and blinded by its massive tan. The reason behind all this is easy to tell...Stills is verily and absolutely lost. He's here, but he's been transformed from the macho rocker of 1970 to this croaky Dylan voice playing rudimentary acoustic guitar runs while the Crosby/Nash juggernaut claims another rocker for the God of Mellow. No wonder this was a major smash hitbox back in 1977 (second only to Fleetwood Mac's astoundingly superior take on similar matters and style, Rumours), the year in which the United States was, once and for all, transformed into a giant shopping mall.
Crosby and Nash, however, thrive in this environment of mush...Nash makes stuff light and crisp and featherweight, and Crosby comes along and smears all the edges. If anything, CSN is the first true album collaboration involving these three. Crosby and Nash have now so totally transformed Stephen Stills to conform with their vision that the resulting album is fiercely, terrifyingly consistent. So consistent that if you hear one song, well goddamn it, I'll be motherclipped if you haven't heard 'em all. I'd say Stills' universally praised 'Dark Star' possibly has a little more atmosphere to it, and 'Just a Song Before I Go' is a great sweet Fleetwood Mac-y Nash tune if I've ever heard one, and 'Cathedral' a bizarre and oddly moving Nash tune if I've ever heard one, but the rest of these songs go by in a blur every bit as hazy as the LA skyline. Stills' 'Fair Game' is more of the kind of impotent old-rock star misogynism that old hippies did so irritatingly, and is an opportunity for the man to also indulge his silly Latin fetish. Crosby's 'Anything At All' is nothin' much, and 'Run From Tears' through to the end is a pleasant, but very nondescript passage that seems to tell us that, if nothing else, CSN is serious in its decision to never again rock 'n' roll with the abandon they showed back when Woodstock was still a recent memory. Mannerism, you see. It'll kill ya. 'Cathedral' is probably the only major stickout here, Nash's recollection of an epiphany experienced while tripping on acid and walking around an 18th century cemetery. It's all minor chords and sweet building until a near-fanatic bridge section where Graham notices that some soldier's gravestone says he was born the same day as himself. Of course it's nuttier than Jimmy Carter's back garden, but it's got a certain I don't know what.
Capn's Final Word: Music for people aging as quickly as our stars. Pleasant, slightly creative music to 'rest' by.
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Again - Atlantic 1982
The Stills-Nash show, doncha know? Crosby was near missing on this album due to his tendency to suck on a glass dick every 5 to 10 minutes or so. I've heard his usual parts were sung by the bass player (the band is Stills', like that matters). So once again our hero is Nash, who not only writes the best song on here (the ultraharmonic 'Wasted On The Way', about becoming an old fart) but also somehow forges a team with Stills that works. It's pretty uncanny that Nash seems able to write with anyone who happens to be the most useful member of the band at that moment, and make the best out of a situation that would otherwise be fucking embarrassing for everyone involved. But CN comes through and delivers an album that stinks almost as little as CSN. By 1982, of course, the profile of the band had decayed pretty low - if in 1977 the solo albums weren't selling as well as they had been, by 1982 they weren't even being released anymore. Daylight Again (forever confused in my addled and crystallized brain with After the Storm, cos it just seems more fitting that a bunch of aliens as pictured on the bugless Journey cover art would want to visit the earth after a great big storm, you know, for drama's sake, than when the sun comes out. Ah well...neither album title beats out Soul Asylum's Clam Dip and Other Delights in the symbolism department anyway.) returned the band to chart prominence ('Wasted On The Way' and Stills' 'Southern Cross' were both hits that I even remember being played on the radio), and the band's rejection of Eighties-izing their sound too deeply should be commended. This album sounds more '77 than CSN, no doinky synths or faux-drums within 6 miles of this peeper, thanks be to the hippies involved for keeping it real ('Find The Cost Of Freedom'). 'Into The Darkness' sounds like late-period ELO minus the O, Stills' 'Southern Cross' is pretty unremarkable when looked at under a microscope but has a certain sweep to it that's good 'n catchy, and the way they sing 'arowowowownd the world' is exactly what we like these old fools for. Even 'Song For Susan' has that CSN feel that works...fans will really find a lot to love on here. Hell, even Crosby, as frigged in the prig as he may have been, delivers a ballad worthy of Diana Ross or Dolly Parton ('Delta') and sings as well he ever has on 'Might As Well Have Another Pull Off My Crack Pipe'. There's just way too much listenable music on this disc to be passed off as easily as what would follow. The only missteps seem to be when they attempt to regain some blurrily-remembered rock power to the record, like on the self-consciously ragged 'Too Much Love To Hide' or the arena-cheesy 'Since I Met You', and even the filler material is pretty okay.
Capn's Final Word: CSN pull it together, patch it up, throw a bunch of makeup on it, get the lighting just right, and make a good record. Fans'll eat it up like Jaws in a baby pool.
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American Dream - Reprise 1988.
Ungh. All the mistakes they seemed to dodge on Daylight Again smush themselves right up on the windshield of American Dream. This album was super-hyped not only because of the return of David Crosby from drug-purgatory (not to mention a stint in the cooler) but also the return of Neil Young, who was just finishing eight of the least satisfying years of his career. For all of DA's heroic rejection of early-80's production crud (synths, hacky reverb, boomy drums), this album seems to revel in its very 1986-ness. This is music for people who would have liked Stephen Stills to have sung lead on all those Don Henley albums all those years - you know, the ones where the drums were so fake even Pamela Lee Anderson balked at them? Hell, Stills' hit 'Got It Made' is a good song, nice melody, Stills' voice is still soulful, he addresses his lack of success with some heart, but with all this fakey butt-rocking background all I hear is the ever-present *THWAK!* of the snare drum, the irritatingly generic 'patch 138' synthtones, and how much production-facelifting is evident on the vocal harmonies. But this is a good song, and that's pretty rare on here. Dig 'Shadowland' for production gone berserk on a bad song. Nash is still reliably Nash, and seems to save himself from the worst of the production wrath, but he's back to felling songwriting pygmies ('Don't Say Goodbye', 'Clear Blue Skies', which is singlehandedly ruined by the 'panflute' synth-line plaguing it) rather than Nigerians ('Wasted On The Way'). Crosby's material is generally poor...he seems either to be attempting to emulate Neil in his rockin' outrage or to once again sing the most generic ballad possible. Only 'Compass' has anything to it (its about, you know, his drug problem), and, while sincerely performed, is even more messy than old mush-songs like 'Guinnevere'. Stills is otherwise stuck in a generic rocker rut, and never gets his leg up on a song even close to as good as 'Got It Made'. His acceptably fluid guitar-playing is fairly prominent, though.
Young in particular fails to bring good material along with him. Granted, he's probably got a higher standard than do the other guys, considering he'd probably got a good half-dozen excellent albums already in his pocket by the time American Dream came around, but these songs are simply weak. I've heard the hook to 'Name Of Love' from Neil at least 3 or 4 times, and 'The Old House' is Neil in fierce political-outrage Farm-Aid mode that may help get donations for farmers but doesn't make for a hick-rock song I want to listen to.
Mostly, this album is FUCKING ENDLESS. Fourteen long songs, none of them too impressive, and wearing out its welcome early and often. I'm fatigued by the third or fourth song, so imagine how you might feel after 10 or 12. Good lord, just hear the evil crimes against humanity committed by 'Armies Of Peace' to hear just how low this album goes. The drums and synths just don't get any louder than this, folks! The chord sequences no more manipulative! Crosby no more frantic! Neil no less harmonic! The message no more overbearing! This is the peak, folks! When Neil pulls out his guitar for yet another one of his single-note guitar solos and the singers are howling 'NO MORE NO MORE NO MORE!!!!' It just don't get no more true than that. No more. Please.
Capn's Final Word: CSN are better of without him. He doesn't need CSN. We don't need more of this.
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Live It Up - Reprise 1990
Gross...are these guys permanently five years behind the times? I haven't heard an album sound this 1986 since 1985, and Live It Up was made in 1990, a year in which most old-fogey rockers had already reformed themselves to over-dramatic 1989 'retro' production than this plastic fantastic lover bullshit. I mean, this is unlistenable. Again, fair songs buried under so much surgical equipment and computer-generated maliciousness that I really just can't stand to listen to it on earphones, and could barely deal with having it on in the background at work. Neil is gone again, having been reborn as the Most Respected Old Fogey In Rock, while CSN just languished. 'Has your band begun to rust,' indeed. I've got about a two minute expiration date on all these tracks...two minutes of the synbass Latino crud on Stills' 'Tomboy' ('always with the wrong boy, you need a strong boy' HUH?!??) and I'm gonna expire if I don't skip ahead already. Two minutes of Crosby's cloying 'messages' on 'Yours and Mine' (pretty much all you have to say in a political song is 'son or daughter', 'soldier', and 'power' and you get some ancient Lefty to raise his rich, flabby arm and attempt to make a fist before returning it to the gearshift of his $70000 BMW) and I'm ready to leave the house. Two minutes more of Branford Marsalis' cool-jazz soprano sax (has there ever been a less appealing instrument? Or do we just blame Kenny G?) noodling and I'm bout to quit my WRC job and become a fantasy baseball freak instead. Two minutes...probably all the acceptable music on here could be condensed into just about 2 minutes. Maybe.
Nah, a minute and a half.
Capn's Final Word: Clueless in 1990, how could it have ever improved with age? I guess you get whatever production you can afford when you're a second rate rock act, and with rapidly degrading voices you get as much as you can afford.
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Forlorn Highways Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?: There are some songs here I quite like.. Two alright-ish ones by Stills and I like Crosby's 'Arrows'.. but every time that awful cold and clinical production job makes the senses skid off track. That first song, the title track.. man alive! it sounds like a Phil Collins twelve inch remix! To rub salt in the wound the cd version is clearly mastered off vinyl... there is an arse achingly long break halfway through the disc and you can hear a stylus come off the run-off groove during that break too.
(Capn's Response: Wow! That's cheap! It's a wonder they actually paid for tri-color on the cover art instead of going with the old rubber stamp treatment.)
- Polydor 1994
Certainly better than the last couple of clusterfucks, CSN's return to organic arrangements still fails to spark the spliff, though it's hard to damn the album altogether .again, if you've been able to follow the band through CSN and Daylight Again, you'll probably wanna get this album too, if only because you can find it for less than a dollar at most of your local (audio) drug dealers. The band is, if anything, even less distinctive than they've ever been, now almost totally indistinguishable from any number of lite-rock bands who use a vocal harmony or two, but also meaning that their nasty 80's tendency towards autosabotage has been circumvented. There are hooks and melodies, though, they're just about as brittle as a Pringle, though a lot less tasty. This is an album made (most likely) more out of financial necessity than any strong sense of inspiration, just another excuse to tour and grab a few more nostalgic bucks out of some old dudes who had a choice either to see CSN, the Jimmy Buffett/Doobie Brothers double bill, or Aida for the 15th time. Now, I'm not saying our guys are now bankrupt, they're not they really fill that elderly-liberal insecurity demographic better than anyone else I can name, but I don't have to relate to it. I may also resemble my father more than a high school student nowadays, but I don't have to like it. Just call me Old Man Marvel.
This record is frightfully nondescript even by Crosby, Stills, and Nash's standards. Stills seems like he's singing lead on almost all the tracks, a mixed bag of bolts if I ever did see one, since his voice is aging and darkening into 'hoarse' territory, still acceptable in the studio, but onstage yeesh. I've heard yak mating calls crack fewer times than 50-something Stephen Stills trying to sing 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' for the bazillionth time. Nash and Crosby, well, hell they're just the same. Nash stopped writing wringers back in '82, and Crosby, sheeeeiiit, Mister Rogers, has he written a good song ever? 'Camera' is fruitier than Carmen Miranda's hatrack, but at least I can say I remember what the hell it's about. Nash's tunes just whiff by like a fart in the breeze. I swear I've heard these songs before from these guys, but I just can't find enough evidence for the conviction. And anyway, what harm would the guys be doing to perform a little recycling action on their back catalog? It all sounds alike anyway, a charge I can level against them since, like, 1977, and it's not like the debut album was just a whole smorgasboard of styles. Stills has his attempts at Latin music that still most likely stink, Crosby's 'Till It Shines' is 'Almost Cut My Hair' slowed down to rocking chair speed, 'These Empty Days' is a nice CSN impression, I know I heard the riff to 'Bad Boyz' about 15 million times last week when it was called 'Voodoo Child (Slight Return)', and I think I've heard 'In My Life' somewhere on an album that got a grade about 5 times as large as this one's, but a good song is a good song, and these guys are professional enough not to make a cover/rewrite suck too badly. The ironic homeless anthem 'Street To Lean On' is more of that self-conscious political stuff, and the chorus is alternately ridiculous ('Got no Galleria, got no mall' huh? That's a bad thing? Got no Old Navy, no Victoria's Secret? No problem!) and poignant ('all we got is the street to lean on and the gutter when we fall' pretty cool, I'd say). As liberal as I am, I still cringe like a hunted rabbit whenever these guys pick some 'cause' to harp on it never really hits home, they never sound particularly like they give a fuck other than just on some bourgeois liberal-guilt level, and the fact that they've been rich since like 1965 doesn't help one bit either. Perhaps if Crosby sung more songs about drug overdoses and Stills more songs about the Southern Man I'd feel more comfortable about their level of understanding. Right now they seem pretty insincere about all this stuff.
Capn's Final Word: The quintessential 'get it out so we can get our butts back on the road' album that you can buy for less than a Big Mac
Looking Forward - Reprise 1999.
I dunno, the addition of Neil Young to this lineup tends to bring out the dull in everyone involved. This album is so easy listening it should be rated For Ages 6 mos. to 3 years (or, more accurately, 'For Ages 55+'). I feel so geriatric listening to Neil Young at his most fey, or Crosby at his most misty, or Stills at his most self-cannibalistic that I really feel my pulse rate lower and my IQ drop a dozen or so ticks ('See here, Mrs. Gump oh, is it Miss Gump? This is the normal range for a boy Forrest's age. Forrest is somewhere down here,') Neil at this point was in some super-mushy mode (he released his squishy Silver and Gold album the next year) resulting in the sort of sub-Harvest romantic tunes like the title track and 'Out Of Control' that sound melodic, but end up just being Neil pulling some old chord sequence out from amongst the dustbunnies under the bed, halfheartedly dusting it off and calling it good for a CSNY album. Which I doubt would be considered good enough for a Neil Young album. I've said it before, but I'll be goshdarned to the Land of Heck if I haven't heard the melody to 'Out Of Control' from Neil sometime before if Neil weren't such a limited songwriter (albeit a frequently good one), I may not have this creeping sensation. I mean, with Nash's songs, or with one of Stills' many Latino grooves, I know their just self-Xeroxing, but with Neil, I just suspect that he's using the chord sequence from 'Heart Of Gold' and changing one of the majors to a minor or something like that ('Slowpoke').
Umm this album is weaker than anything they've put out in their 'normal' production mode. It's almost as if they take the chance to work together as an opportunity to get lazy and contribute less than they would if they were working as a trio or as solo artists. Their last attempt as a foursome, American Dream, was so damn near unlistenable you think I was going to dig that hard in there to decide if the songwriting was worse or better than this? This album goes down somewhat smoother, but the spark, even slightly evident on After the Storm, is just gone. The wrinkled fist rises once again on Crosby's lame-ass 'Stand And Be Counted', which invokes that Chinese kid in Tiananmen Square who stood in front of the tank barrel, about 10 years late, all set to just about the least rocking mid-tempo sludge they've ever put down. 'Heartland' is similarly sssslllooowwww and preachy, with more of Neil's screamingly miscast lead guitar making everything sound gross. I'd say the only songs with any kick here are the goony country rock 'Queen Of Them All' and Nash's closing 'Sanibel', which resembles a Crosby tune as it pines for the beach and escape from reality.
Mostly, Looking Forward just makes me look forward to the end of the record. CSN have been falling off into 'just okay' territory for so long, they've finally let things sag so far as to drop the quality control altogether, hoping in vain that Neil Young would come along and contribute another 'Hopeless' to slay everyone and bring some respectability. I've heard CSN (and Y) do some fairly substantial, melodic soft-rock songs, even floating at a walking-dead mid-tempo, a pace that usually means death. On Looking Forward it's just DOA. I'm profoundly bored by this record, and disappointed that the four principles couldn't have tried a little bit harder to come up with something with a backbone. You don't wanna have to feel like I do, do you? This is a record fit for old people who have given up trying years ago
Capn's Final Word: Neil Young's worst work always seems to happen with this band, and the other guys aren't too hot neither.
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