Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hawks & Doves

One of Neil's piecemeal albums, this 1980 release is split up into two halves: four acoustic numbers ("Doves"), and five country/rock songs ("Hawks"). At the time of its release, it was somewhat controversial for its supposed support of right-wing values, but as experienced in 2010, I'm not sure much of a political message comes across. Even if the "Hawks" half has some rah-rah, pro-America patriotism (kinda weird for a Canadian).

Like Zuma after the "Ditch Trilogy," Hawks & Doves is a refreshingly minor and straightforward followup to the portentousness of Rust Never Sleeps. This is not the strongest collection of songs Neil ever released, but it is one of the catchiest, particularly on the "Hawks" side. The five songs on that half are all short, sweet, upbeat, and, it must be said, very repetitive. Yet something about the repetition works in the album's favor; the songs have a sense of familiarity that is warm and inviting. These songs are slight, but speak to the power of good, simple pop music: there's the sappy love song "Stayin' Power", the sublimely goofy "Union Man" (which pauses in the middle so Neil can pretend to conduct a local meeting of the "A F of M"), even a more overtly "political" song like "Comin' Apart a Every Nail" is rather generalized and doesn't require much contemplation.

And, I have to say it, the title song, which is the most unabashedly patriotic song on the entire album, works on its own corny terms. Neil belts out "Got rock 'n roll/Got country music playin'/If you hate us/You just don't know what you're sayin'," over some tasty guitar licks, all while the back-up singers cry "USA! USA!" God, I just want to blast that shit at a Fourth of July barbecue.

The album achieves an almost perfection at times in its simple-ism and fun, but if there's one thing that drags it down a bit, its the nearly 8-minute "The Old Homestead," in my humble asshole's opinion one of the worst songs Neil ever wrote. Seemingly, it's a stab at writing a Bob Dylan-esque folk epic with obscure, surreal lyrics. Dylan himself didn't pull it off successfully all the time (I consider the lyrics of "Ballad of a Thin Man" to be some of the worst, ever), and Neil flounders when he reaches for this sort of thing. What you're left with is a long, droning song that never moves or climaxes, communicates nothing and doesn't even build atmosphere.

Neil was on the cusp of the 80's, which was going to turn out to be his strangest, most experimental, least consistent era. But except for some weirdness in "Lost in Space," Hawks & Doves doesn't really point towards this era, so much as it makes a fitting (temporary) swan song for the countrified folk/rock sound of Harvest, American Stars 'n Bars and Comes a Time.

Rating: B +

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