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A newly discovered classic (for me, anyway),
This review is from: Rust Never Sleeps (Audio CD)
I'm not that big of a Neil Young fan (or Crazy Horse, for that matter). The only other Neil Young song I heard was "Old Man," which was featured in the "Wonder Boys" soundtrack (the underappreciated 2000 "dramedy" starring Michael Douglas). That song was brilliant, but it didn't exactly show why Neil Young is hailed as the "Godfather of Grunge." Upon finally listening to "Rust Never Sleeps" on my parents' old record player, I think I have an idea why. But what I was more surprised is how much I ended up loving the album. "Grunge" isn't important here now. What's more important is the album content, such as the state of rock music (at the time), American history (Native American mostly), death, the need to get away, or just a very cool story about space.
He presents all material from folk-sounding melodies, to punk rock, to all out hard rock... perhaps even a hint of "grunge." There's not one other band/artist that can have an album that presents their material in different song styles... well, there's the Clash... and Bob Dylan... and what's-his-face... and whozits... and that guy, the one who always wears a shirt. Okay, so there are others, but Neil Young is the only one I feel that did it perfectly without slipping up or sounding weird or out of place.
The first side is nothing but folky and acoustic songs. Starting off with "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," the most famous line, "It's better to burn out than to rust," grabbed my attention right away. Naturally it would since I listen to a lot of Nirvana stuff and read some bios on Kurt Cobain (Kurt writing in his suicide note, "It's better to burn out than to fade away.") But the song's main topic is rock. During the '70s, it seemed as if rock was dying... or was already dead. The '70s was mainly disco and punk, from the Clash or Village People. And even rock and punk seemed to have incorporated disco into their music (eg: Pink Floyd's "The Wall" or the Clash's "London Calling"). Distant memories of "Dark Side of the Moon," Jimi Hendrix, or any Beatles stuff were fading because everyone would rather hear the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." Jim Morrison once declared "Rock is Dead,"... but not until Neil Young made what is arguably his finest work (some still say "Live Rust"). And his first song reverses what anyone thought at the time or still thinks so to this day. Right away, Young declares, "Rock and roll is here to stay," then later on, "The king is gone but not forgotten/This is the story of Johnny Rotten," talking of both Elvis and the Sex Pistols. Then... "Rock and roll can never die/There's more to the picture than meets the eye." Rock music has returned with this album.
"Thrasher" has subject-matter remotely similar to a few songs in Pink Floyd's excellent "Wish You Were Here" album (the songs "Welcome to the Machine" and "Have a Cigar"). Like how Pink Floyd lashed at greedy music execs, Neil Young lashes at those who "sold out." He says they were poisoned, lost, became "park bench mutations on the sidewalks and in stations," and waiting. Young implies that he would never sell out, which, according to Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist), he hasn't done yet.
But the biggest surprise for me was the song "Pocahontas." There are extremely few songs that can make me shed a tear... Neil Young's "Pocahontas" is now one of them. In just 3 minutes 22 seconds, Young is able to tell the entire Indian story from the beautiful beginning, to the "White Man" occupation, to the slaughter of Indians and buffalos, to a tragic present-day poor Indian living in a slum "at the top of the stairs/With my Indian rug and a pipe to share." A soft, blissful, romantic, beautiful, and tragic song... not even Bob Dylan can top this. Native American history is quite sad and tragic, and the present-day state of Native American life isn't any better. Not many people would give thought to this issue. Neil Young just told it like it is without holding back. There is not one other person outside of the Native American race or who isn't some politician that can come out and talk about it (maybe Iron Maiden, with their song "Run to the Hills"). I guess the song just means so much to me since I am a so-called Native American (Navajo, to be exact). Perhaps I am taking it more personal than how it should be accepted or viewed. But nonetheless, "Pocahontas" is a tragic, emotional, and powerful song. As for "blissful, romantic, and beautiful"? Young later on sings:
I wish I was a trapper
I would give a thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the mornin' on the fields of green
In the homeland we've never seen.
Maybe a love that can't happen is what Young is suggesting here? But then adds that "maybe Marlon Brando will be there by the fire." And talks of Hollywood, an astrodome and the first tepee. What lies in the future, perhaps?
Side two of the LP is when Neil Young and Crazy Horse comes fully blasting with their electirc, hard-rocking pieces, beginning with a narrative by a "young boy" who ultimately gets killed in battle in the song "Powderfinger." "Welfare Mothers" is a hilarious song about divorced lower-classed women. It's supposedly a "punk" song, and it may not sound like it, but the backup vocals and funny lyrics, complete with a hard-rocking sound, makes it all the more "punk." Sedan Delivery" is a song about being with yourself and finding yourself by just getting away for a while. This is something that applies to everyone.
The album then ends on "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." Similar to the beginning track, only with slightly altered lyrics and being a loud, anthemic, hard-rocking masterpiece, making the former acoustic piece more powerful than ever with fuzzy and distorted guitars, giving a hint of "grunge." With Neil Young still around, rock and roll is definately not dead.
From "out of the blue" and "into the black," Neil Young and Crazy Horse provides a true masterpiece that I'd add to my top ten albums of all-time list. He tells us a brief history of our country, more about rock and roll music that can still apply to this day, a story told from beyond the grave ("Powderfinger"), and tells each song from different times, whether it'd be past, present, or future, and sometimes even "time travels" in just one song. Some time ago, Rolling Stone magazine called "The Velvet Underground & Nico," quote, "The most prophetic album ever made." Pish! Not a chance. Give me "Rust Never Sleeps" any day.