Sunday, May 16, 2010

Re-ac-tor (with Crazy Horse)

Re-ac-tor, I think officially the first album of Neil's weird, all-over-the-map experimental 80's faze, is many things: the first proper guitar rock album he had made since Everybody Knows This is Nowhere; the first album to establish what I think of as the modern era Crazy Horse sound (straightforward hard rock, heavy on the soloing, rough around the edges, all songs performed at about the same tempo); and an oddball experiment in both hard rock minimalism and maximalism.

To be honest, I returned to Re-ac-tor expecting an amusing triviality, a little piece of quirk better than some of he stuff he put out in this era, but nothing special in and of itself. Probably in the C+ range. Turns out I totally forgot how kickass it is; it's one of the most pleasingly offbeat and playful albums in a period of great inconsistency.

The album's minimalism is best expressed in the song "T-Bone," where Neil solos over the same riff for 9-minutes, and the only lyrics are "Got mashed potato!/Ain't got no t-bone!", repeated ad nauseum. It sounds obnoxious when I describe it, but the repetition is kinda of infectious, and it has a certain uncompromising commitment to its own ridiculousness that elevates it.

The maximalism is best expressed in the closing track "Shots." Layered thick with synthesizers, sound effects, and guitar effects (Neil makes his guitar sound like a machine gun), the song is fitting as the last track, as it clearly points the way to the kind of electronic experimentation he'd soon be doing on Trans. It doesn't go that far down the rabbit hole, though, and still fits into the guitar rock template of the rest of the album.

Re-ac-tor presents its mission statement in its opening track ("You were born to rock/You will never be an opera star!"), and never lets up with the rocking for its entire 40-minutes. From evoking the sound of a train in the awesome, chug-a-lugging riff from "Southern Pacific," to making weird car sound effects with his mouth on "Rapid Transit," what's obvious is that Neil was having fuckloads of fun. It's experimental, but in a playful way and not a challenging one, a collection of 8 superior hard rock songs that finds Crazy Horse steadily, reliably blasting their way through songs hi-and-lo-fi, and all the while Neil makes his guitar squeal in that special way that only he knows how.

Rating: B +

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