I'm noticing that, not always, but often I've been grading the more mainstream Neil Young albums higher than some of his more experimental work. I feel a little like one of those people who only gives a shit about Martin Scorsese when he directs a mafia movie, like I just want Neil to stick to making pleasant folk tunes and stop with all the quirkiness. But what can I say? Deliberately commercial or not, Harvest Moon is a classic.
Opening cut "Unknown Legend" is a dreamy tribute to a once-independent woman now settling into middle-age, and establishes the growing-old motif that seems to be the album's main theme."From Hank to Hendrix" one of the most affecting break-up songs Neil has ever written, continues this, chronicling a long-term relationship by cultural touchstones ("From Marilyn to Madonna/I've always loved your smile"), and "One of These Days" is a thank-you letter "to all the good friends I've known." Even the album's goofiest track, "Old King," a tribute to "the best ol' hound dog I ever did know", is about a dog that died, therefore lending the song a slight sense of nostalgia.
The production on this album, arguably a little too-polished, is still rich and layered. The title track in particular, which features a sweeping broom as part of the percussion, is a lush blend of smooth sounds that effectively adds to the lyrical love story it tells.
The weaknesses of Harvest Moon that keep it from being on Comes a Time's level have to do with a small amount of bloat and mawkishness. Some of the songs could be tightened, but that's only a minor complaint. "Such a Woman" and "Natural Beauty" are both pretty, but they amp up the emotion a little too high in the choruses and lose some of their effectiveness. The worst song is "War of Man," unnecessarily long at 5 1/2 minutes, with on-the-nose lyrics ("No one wins/Its a war of man") and a painful earnestness that rises to the level of corniness.
Still, this album is more great than not, and highly recommendable to anyone who treasures the warm, folk balladeer Neil Young.
Rating: A -