Monday, May 31, 2010

Ragged Glory (with Crazy Horse)

So if the commercial and critical success of Freedom helped bring Neil back into the spotlight, the other major event that pulled him from the fringes was the rise of grunge music, a genre whose fuzzy, less-polished hard rock sound owed more than a little to Neil & the Horse. It's not for nothing that he's since been dubbed "The Godfather of Grunge." With groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam acknowledging their debt to him, Neil found himself going from a pariah of the industry to something of an elder statesman to a vibrant new genre. And the irony is that, by releasing a relatively unadventurous throwback album, he released his most modern-sounding album in a good decade. Because pop music had finally caught up with him.

Ragged Glory is your proverbial latter-day Crazy Horse album: all fuzz-heavy, mid-tempo rock songs that doggedly chug along anywhere from under three minutes up to ten, depending on how much jamming Neil and co. embark on. The uninitiated may find the album repetitive and overlong, what with its relatively simple songwriting and production, stylistic uniformity and extended, indulgent track lengths. Horse fans, however, will understand that its not about tightly crafted pop tunes, it's about setting a tone and exploring the riff. The magic happens when Neil scribbles in the margins.

I won't lie, back in the day I had mostly dismissed Ragged Glory as too one-note. No surprise, coming back to it for "Journey Through the Past," I realized just how good that one note is. It's chock-full of catchy, hard rockin' jam songs; to name a few, "Country Home," "Love to Burn," "Over and Over," "Love and Only Love," and "White Line" are all minor classics. The album's one slightly experimental track, "Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)" isn't entirely successful, but its aesthetic will later be successfully used on a very interesting cover version of a classic folk song on the live album Weld. Ragged Glory is now my vote for the best, late-era Crazy Horse studio album, one that captures their noise and energy nearly as well as one of their live albums.

Rating: B +. Did I mention that there's a song called "Fuckin' Up"? That's got to be worth a few points right there.

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