Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Silver & Gold

On the opening song of Silver & Gold, Young sings "good to see you again," and that may be something of a self-conscious nod on Neil's part to the album's deliberate return to his old folkie sound. After a decade where Neil frequently took his music to hard rock extremes, this is one of the most mellow records he's ever released. As with Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps, and Freedom, there often seems to be a sense of change or course-correction to the albums that Neil releases when entering a new decade. Silver & Gold is about Neil finally becoming an old man, and looking back on his life and music.

At its strongest, Silver & Gold is a beautiful and evocative as similarly laid back classics like Comes a Time or Harvest Moon. At its weakest, the album is too lethargic and, perhaps worse, naval-gazing. Neil's always been best at talking about himself (as opposed to, say, being more of a storyteller), but sometimes when he gets too specific he makes his music seem too self-serving. "Daddy Went Walkin'" rubs me the wrong way every time I hear it, not the least because, like George Carlin before me, it bothers me to hear a grown man refer to his father as "daddy." The song is simply Neil reminiscing about his dad without much of a point, and not to be a dick, but "I sure did love my pa!" is not a very compelling subject for a song. (There's also an unintended bit of comedy in its musical and tonal similarities to "Old King," a song from Harvest Moon about a dog Neil used to have.) Musically, I like the song "Buffalo Springfield Again," but the subject is a bit, um, literal, don't you think? And while nostalgia sells, I'm not sure its that interesting to hear a musician reminiscing about being rich and famous. (Also, since Buffalo Springfield's second album was already called Buffalo Springfield Again, I submit that the proper title for the song should be "Buffalo Springfield Again, Again.")

But I bitch too much, there's still a lot to like about this album. My favorite song is "The Great Divide," a delicate and slightly haunting song that touches the themes of change and regret in more abstract, poetic terms, a style Neil is better at. The other classic on here is "Red Sun," a song that sounds to me like Neil was attempting to write an Irish folk song. The entire album is similarly quiet and peaceful, but the best tracks tap into a fragile beauty that Neil had not much explored in the past decade.

Rating: B -. Inconsistent, but the best moments are classics that stand tall with his best work.

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