Despite having had years to work on it, I still haven’t explored all of Neil Young’s discography. The man is truly prolific. It doesn’t help that I really just want to listen to the peak 70’s stuff. I have gotten into some of his late 80’s material, which he was putting out to relatively few accolades, and I can report that it’s pretty solid. It seems that, except for a brief weird phase around the turn of the 80’s, Young has been remarkably consistent. He likes what he likes, which is peace, love, nature, and vintage cars. He wonders about God, and man’s place in the world and where society is taking us. Sometimes he gets all riled up about everything that’s wrong in this world. (He seems to be more riled up than ever in his dotage, and who can blame him, everything just keeps getting worse.) Neil Young the hippie philosopher hasn’t changed much since we first heard his piping voice in the 60’s.
I’m tempted to go back and retroactively add Neneh Cherry’s Broken Politics to my list of the best records of 2018. But I didn’t discover this record until pretty recently, so I’ll just say that this year it’s one of my favorite new discoveries. ‘New’ is all relative, of course; Cherry is 55 and used to be a member of the trailblazing female punk band The Slits. If she sounds like she sprang fully formed from the digital whirlpool of right now, it’s a testament to her hear for what ‘right now’ is.
Lest you start thinking of Elton John too much as a purveyor of portentous power ballads, let me remind you of this gem. No, it’s not Italian. It’s just Elton and Bernie having a laugh at critics who scrounge too hard looking for deeper meanings. Artist vs. Critic has been a pitched battle since, probably, art began, and it usually involves the bruised-ego artist taking himself way too seriously. Sometimes the artist vows to show them all by doing something so deliberately unpalatable to human ears it becomes legendary (see, Metal Machine Music.) More often than not, the artist comes off looking like a butthurt little baby, (not that rock performers are known for their grace and maturity.) And in some rare cases they just do something silly and fun that reminds everyone how great they are. Elton John is so great that he can go off singing vaguely Italian-sounding gibberish and it’s one of his most rollicking songs. Call it the charm offensive.
To be perfectly honest, I’m getting tired of writing about Here Lies Love after all these years. I mean, it’s been nine years; if you haven’t bought this record already, I don’t know what I can do for you. And it’s not like some new wrinkle in the saga of Imelda Marcos is going to spawn a sequel. None of those things stop me from still listening to the record way more often than I should. And if nothing else, it still offers an introduction to a veritable parade of vocal talents. Here is Nicole Adkins, a singer-songwriter known for her retro style and love for musical Americana.
Al Stewart paints a picture of an urban afternoon that I think is quite timeless. Many people are taken with the romance of the pastoral, but city life can be equally enchanting, in its own way. There’s something about the thrum of so many people peacefully going about their own lives, interacting and yet not interacting with one another. It’s not the same as the serenity of being away from so many people, but it’s appealing in its very uneasiness. It’s constantly full of the promise of an adventure – or a misadventure, or even a disaster. Anything could happen. That’s been true for as long as people have been congregating in cities. The poetry of city life may not be its own genre, the way pastoralia is its own cliche, but it’s always been fertile ground for writers and artists. There’s always inspiration, even in squalor.
Nobody in the electropop realm has creepier visions than Ladytron. Chalk it up to too much education or the natural morbidity of Eastern Europe. But as much as their melodies are beautiful, their lyrics are about witchcraft and alienation. Even their love songs are creepy. It’s that atmosphere of the faintly twisted that’s kept them at the top of their game for so long, being among the most acclaimed electronic music group of their time.
This performance of The Soft Parade begs a couple of questions. Why is Jim Morrison so against petitioning the Lord with prayer? And how did they coax an on-key and non-insane performance out of him in the first place? Morrison was looking, in 1969, like a cult leader on the verge of inciting mass suicide. That is, shambolic and bloated, yet still charismatic. Some of the lyrics on the Soft Parade album were lazy or not written by Morrison at all, but the title track felt like the rambling of an unstable mind. Of course, Morrison’s entire persona was based on the perception that he was dangerously unstable… but yet somehow still in complete cosmic control and eminently qualified to lead his followers into a psychedelic spirit quest. But by the end, it appeared that he was just plain unstable in the garden variety manner, and he had barely any control over himself or his life. Maybe it was Morrison’s tragedy that he insisted on trying to inhabit, as an everyday matter, a persona that sold records, or maybe his life trajectory was exactly what he wanted for himself, in his conception of what it means to be a poet. Most people’s literary ambitions don’t involve dying alone in a bathtub, though. You can still see clearly, though, in performances like this one, that the psychedelic spirit quest is still there for the journeying, even if you can’t trust the shaman.