Friday, 24 February 2012

On The Beach - Neil Young - album review

Just recently, I blogged about Neil Young's classic 1975 album, Tonight's The Night:

Tonight's The Night - Neil Young

Habitually, another album is tied together with Tonight's The Night as representing a particular stage in the singer-songwriter's career. That album is On The Beach:

It is indeed tempting to lump these two albums together, but I think that this a simplistic way of looking at things. They are markedly dissimilar in musical terms, and the mood is subtly but importantly different.

For me, On The Beach has a certain automony within the Neil Young body of work, operating outside the frameworks of most of his other albums of that era. It is illustrative of his urge to continue his restless musical and philosophical journey, rather than rely on old formulae.

Whereas Tonight's The Night, which was recorded first, had a semblance of a common thread musically, On The Beach is quite diverse, and the palette is expanded to include relatively unusual instruments, such as electric piano, banjo and fiddle.  There is none of the redeeming jauntiness of whimsical bluesiness.  These songs are more brutal, and unsettling.  The fact that the songs are all "self-contained" adds to their potency.

On The Beach has an undercurrent of resignation and quiet despair, and there are lyrical references, oblique and otherwise, to Watergate and counter-cultural neuroses of the time. This is combined with examinations of the paths and lifestyles of the artist and his contemporaries.  A very apt document of its times, in many ways.

The stand out-tracks are "Revolution Blues", with its sinister and disturbing lyrics, the deceptive and under-estimated title track, and the closer "Ambulance Blues".  The latter is one of Young's real gems, harking back almost to his folk-troubadour days.

On The Beach was unavailable on CD for many years, and this helped to generate an air of mystique around it.  Whilst the reality could not really hope to match the mystique, it is a unique album, and one of Neil Young's most important releases.

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