|Photo by Mike Hashimoto|
NEIL YOUNG Silver & Gold (Reprise)
The second I put this on, I feel like Ive entered the Time Tunnel. Ive got my fringe leather on, Im driving to the park with my girlfriend in my 1969 Opel GT to meet some friends, smoke a doob, hang out and hit each other on the shoulders. Oh, and its 1973 and Ive got the new Neil Young tape in and she likes it a lot better than my Foghat or Mothers Fillmore East. Chicks really dig Neil.
This was a common occurrence for many years, because Neil Young was always putting out good new albums, and several even great albums, like [insert favorite Neil Young record here]. And if you didnt need a laser beam to hear it, this good new Neil Young CD could almost pass for one of those good old Neil Young records. It splits nicely into Side One and Side Two, is about 40 minutes long (20 minutes/side), its got his snaky, creaky printing on the cover, and it even sports the old classic Reprise orange steamship logo with the :r that was only used on the Neil, Captain, Duke, Frank and Jimi rekkids. Side One is exceptional. Five really great songs, including one, Buffalo Springfield Again, that tells a story, has a great hook, and gets you right in the heart, which makes it pretty much perfect a Neil Young song in every way. Side Two has some sugary love stuff that gives me head cavities, but thats the one your girlfriend will like best. (Side One can also be used as a soundtrack for hitting other guys in the shoulder.) A wonderfully warm recording, Silver & Gold is country-folk soaked in co-producer Ben Keiths crying pedal steel, Neils harmonica, fiddles, acoustic guitars and even Emmylou and Linda for good measure on one cut. Everything just seems to fit so damn well. If it were in a 12-inch sleeve, it might squeeze right between After the Gold Rush and Harvest. Snugly, too.
But why now, here in 2000, is this particular Neil CD rocketing up the charts? Maybe because therere entire armies of alternative young guys who grew up on Neil and created a, hell, an entire genre based on his music. Or maybe its just that the real deal sounds so sweet and refreshing, because its just that: real. Neil continues to make fresh, relevant and honest music, and Silver & Gold is a fine rock-folk-country-love-song album: a good Neil Young album. Extra points added for nostalgic value? Hell yeah!
BELLE and SEBASTIAN Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (Matador)
Belle & Sebastian
To Britpop cultists, Belle and Sebastian are a dream: The band grabs the spotlight by avoiding it. (Features on the band usually focus on their reluctance to be featured.) Their records seem to come out in both a trickle and a stream. (Much was made of the unavailability of their coveted debut, originally issued in a pressing of 1,000, and three 97 EPs initially released only as imports, yet theyve put out nine records since 96.) Their well-structured songs revel in Byronic notions and often involve concupiscent adolescents haunted by fatigue and ennui. (Do Belle and Sebastian romanticize early, tragic death? See It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career; Get Me Away From Here, Im Dying.) And finally, theyre from Glasgow, Scotland allowing for a new spin on twee U.K. fetishism. Much is made of the fact that B&S shun media to focus on their music, yet its their music, not their lack of traditional pop-star access, that frustrates most.
Sticking with their strengths on their fourth long-player, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, B&S are a bit stuck. Leader Stuart Murdochs precious, high-pitched warble will still break a fragile heart, and the bands arrangements are impressive, evoking Burt Bacharach and funky Stax sides more than the music of contemporary orch-pop pretenders, but the groups lack of growth has begun to make their well-established talents wear thin. Despite the fact that Fold Your Hands is better produced deeper, richer than previous records, its songs are no better (probably worse) than those on the album that first gained them widespread notice, 97s If Youre Feeling Sinister. And like 98s The Boy With the Arab Strap, on which choirboy/janitor Murdoch began sharing songwriting duties, Fold Your Hands shows the limits of democracy: On this record, one-third of the songs are written and sung by supporting players like cellist Isobel Campbell, violinist Sarah Martin, guitarist Stevie Jackson and keyboard player Chris Geddes. This might furnish a small thrill to B&S fanatics, but its akin to the tingle provided Beatles fans when Ringo sang lead a neat trick and a good way to introduce variety into the mix, but nothing to make one cheer the shifting spotlight.