Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lucky Thirteen

One thing Neil has proven himself adept at is presenting his history the way he wants it to be seen. The reason his compilation album Decade (which I didn't cover because I inexplicably don't own it) is such a classic is because it's not just a bunch of his singles slapped together, but a varied collection of hits, deep cuts, b-sides, alternate mixes, and previously unreleased material that form a more rich conception of what "best of" really means. Last year he released Vol. 1 of his massive (and perennially delayed) Archive Series, and it similarly reframes his early years.

He attempted a similar feat on Lucky Thirteen, which was released in 1993 but compiles material from 1982's Trans through 1988's This Note's For You, which as we've discussed is easily the most bizarre, most disparaged period of his career. So not only does he pluck out some of the best songs from several critically maligned albums ("Transformer Man," "Once an Angel," "Hippie Dream," "Mideast Vacation"), but several previously unreleased songs as well. The best of the unearthed tunes might be "Depression Blues," a country song from the original Old Ways (sidetrack: the Old Ways that I wrote up previously was actually the second album he recorded with that name; previously he had recorded a different country album filled with different material of the same name that's never been officially released) where his attempt at blue-collar storytelling is actually somewhat successful.

The most telling thing about Lucky Thirteen is that it contains none of the actual tracks from either Everybody's Rockin' or This Note's For You. There's an extended, much improved, live jam version of "This Note's For You," and, more interestingly, a handful of live performances of Neil with The Shocking Pinks and The Bluenotes playing new songs that never appeared on any prior releases. None of them are lost classics by any stretch of the imagination, but the performances have a lot more vitality and personalty than anything on the actual albums he released with those bands.

Neil does a great job of highlighting the fact that he actually had a lot of great material during a supposed creative low point, but he also (unavoidably) highlights how schizophrenic this era was for him. There are many excellent songs on Lucky Thirteen, but it suffers as an album because of how jarring its transitions are. The tracks are sequenced chronologically, so it goes from electronica to country to rockabilly back to country to new wave to Crazy Horse/electronica hybrid to heavy-on-the-horn-section blues rock. There is absolutely no flow to it.

Rating: B -. Maybe it plays better now in the iTunes era of shuffled playlists, but doesn't exactly work as a cohesive whole.

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