Neil Young

Out Here

Silver & Gold

(Reprise Records)

A handful of tracks intended for Silver & Gold have already been released, appearing on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion disc Looking Forward. Neil Young gave his old friends the songs, including the title track, and they did nothing but add some backing vocals -- the equivalent of handing over a fifty to a con man and getting two fives in return. Never have such wonderful songs been so wasted on men who have no idea what to do with them. Other tracks intended for this record were discarded when Young had trouble deciding in which direction he was headed; for a moment, this was nearly an all-Neil-only-Neil album, his Nebraska (or, um, Harvest). Then he brought in the all-stars (Emmylou Harris on backing vocals, Keith Richards on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums, etc.), and out went the Acoustica concept, as he once thought of titling this offering. In the end, Silver & Gold is but a work-in-progress presented in its "final" stage -- incomplete, but finished for now.

That wouldn't be so problematic if the album didn't feel so deficient. After all, the man has made a career out of turning sloppy into art, of turning turmoil into beauty. But Silver & Gold, better titled Copper & Brass, is so thin the laser can barely read the digital grooves; the thing should have been released as a freebie flexidisc. Perhaps time will be kinder to this ode to middle-age; perhaps we'll one day look upon it as the poignant beginning of the end for a man who has spent so much of his recent days bidding farewell to old friends and colleagues (Mirror Ball's lyrics should have been printed on a tombstone). It begins with a gawrsh-dang howdy ("Good to See You," a song no more profound than its title) and winds down with a song about how true love hacks through life's bullshit ("Razor Love," on the nose). In between are the happy fantasies of a child of divorce: He imagines his parents together forever ("Daddy Went Walkin'") and longs for the "Horseshoe Man" to make everything all right. And he can pull it off, because the folkie Neil Young still sounds like a child waiting for his voice to break.

But good luck making it past track four, in which the man who forever looks backward once again turns to salt. After all this time, after having written some of the rock era's most prescient and poignant offerings, Young suddenly sounds like a man making it up on the spot when singing the praises of his extant band ("Buffalo Springfield Again" -- a threat, not a promise). He begins: "Used to play in a rock and roll band/But they broke up/We were young and we were wild/It ate us up/Now I'm not saying who was right or wrong." That took three years. No, it took 30.

Robert Wilonsky


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