Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This Note's For You (with The Bluenotes)

The reason that Crazy Horse is the perfect backing band for Neil Young isn't because they are a polished group of pros (they're not), but because they match his noisy, sweaty, jangly, hard-rock aesthetic. Neil, as a guitarist, is neither a professional nor a virtuoso; what he did (that so many other guitarists did not) was forge a unique personal style that, what it lacked in technicality, it gained in emotional resonance. And Crazy Horse were just the right group of raw, unvarnished musicians to back-up Neil's impromptu guitar wailings.

Which is why This Note's For You, a jazzy/bluesy/R&Bish rock album is a bad fit for Neil, not entirely unlike Old Ways. Neil assembled the Bluenotes, a stalwart horn section made up of pros, and mostly they serve to clash awkwardly with their frontman. Neil doesn't have the chops or the polish to play this kind of material with this kind of band; it's like crème brûlée topped with Strawberry Marshmallow Fluff and Nerds.

The songs alternate between upbeat R&B/Rock songs (that all essentially sound the same) and slower, more atmospheric jazzy tunes (that all essentially sound the same). I would categorize the album as "very inconsistent," but what sets This Note's For You apart from other inconsistent Neil Young albums is that, as opposed to being a mix of good and bad songs, this is a collection of mediocre-to-bad songs that all have standout moments. So I might be moved by a horn crescendo on "Can't Believe Your Lyin'," or a line or two of "Life in the City," or think parts of "Ten Men Workin'" are fun, but none of them are entirely successful as songs. Of all the tracks, I would say only "Twilight" evokes the proper mood, holds up as a piece of songwriting and doesn't have any glaring flaws.

The album has an anti-commercialism slant to it, and is probably most famous for the video for its title track, which poked fun at popular music, had a scene where a Michael Jackson lookalike caught fire, and was temporarily pulled from MTV when Jackson's lawyers threatened to sue. But if this minor controversy lent the song a vague air of danger at the time, its not apparent when heard today. Now, the song sounds surprisingly tepid, and its presumably in-your-face attack on commercialism in music boils down to little more than a list of companies who weren't sponsoring Neil ("Ain't singin' for Pepsi/Ain't singin' for Coke" etc. etc. and so on).

Rating C - . An interesting but largely unsuccessful collection of contradictions.

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