Monday, June 7, 2010

Sleeps With Angels (with Crazy Horse)

Sleeps With Angels is probably best remembered now because its title track was a tribute to Kurt Cobain, who had famously quoted Neil in his suicide note. I believe most of the album had been completed by the time of Cobain's suicide, so it's not right to credit that event as a primary influence on the music. Still, it's an (unfortunately) timely fit, as this is probably the darkest sounding Neil album since the "Ditch Trilogy." Though far more polished than Tonight's the Night, it similarly strikes a tone of beautiful melancholy.

Well, chalk this one up as yet another album I seriously underrated back in the day. Although the second half maybe (maybe!) isn't as strong as the first half, there is a high concentration of good-to-great songs on Sleeps With Angels. It opens with "My Heart," a pretty, but dark, piano number with surprisingly bleak lyrics ("When dreams come crashing down like trees/I don't know what love can do"). This sets the tone for much of the rest of the album: darkly atmospheric, downbeat rock songs like "Prime of Life," "Driveby," and the winner of the award for Quirkiest Neil Young Song Title: "Safeway Cart." It's atypically mellow for a Crazy Horse album, only really cutting loose on the playful, appropriately ramshackle "Piece of Crap." (Sample lyric: "Saw it on the tube/Bought it on the phone/Now you're home alone/It's a piece of crap/PIECE OF CRAP!").

One weird experiment he tries here is that two songs, "Western Hero" and "Train of Love" have the same music, but different lyrics. Previously, he had done different versions of the same song on albums like Tonight's the Night, Rust Never Sleeps and Freedom. And on his next album, Mirror Ball, he would do two songs with vastly different arrangements and lyrics, but the same melody. But musically, "Hero" and "Love" are identical. It's kind of weird and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Both songs, on their own, are incredibly beautiful, contenders for best on the album. Yet coming only four songs apart from each other, its saps some of their power. Then again, I guess it does make the listener ponder the lyrics more than they may have originally.

Not necessarily the best song, but the standout classic is "Change Your Mind," a 15-minute Crazy Horse jam. What sets this song apart from the usual Neil Young epic is its chillness; it's a laid back, maybe vaguely trippy song that is unmistakably Neil, while not quite sounding like anything else in his discography.

Rating: A -

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