Country Home / White Line / F*!#in' Up / Over and Over / Love to Burn / Farmer John / Mansion on the Hill / Days That Used to Be / Love and Only Love / Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)
by Kurt "The Hangman" Blumenau
The turn of a decade has often proved a fertile time for Neil Young. 1969-70 brought us Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and After the Gold Rush, while 1979 saw the release of Neil's clearest and most enduring cri de coeur, Rust Never Sleeps. The pattern continued into the nineties with Neil's 1990 release of Ragged Glory, recorded with longtime backup band Crazy Horse in his barn in California. The moods in this ten-song set range from giddiness (a hilarious cover of "Farmer John") to scathing self-flagellation ("F*!#in' Up"), but overall the mood of the album seems to be the sort of guarded optimism for the future as expressed in "White Line:"
"Right now I'm thinkin' bout these things that I know / And the daylight will soon be breakin'"
Ragged Glory is not one of Neil's dark albums, even with the inclusion of "F*!#in' Up" and the shimmering noise-guitar-and-choir environmental warning, "Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)." The lyrics are too optimistic and not as barbed as Neil's words have been in the past ("Days That Used To Be" effectively comments on the passing of hippiedom without being TOO cutting). The music, as befitting the album title, is beautifully fast and loose, expressing great emotion in its simplicity. Crazy Horse is, for my money anyway, Neil's most simpatico backing band; here they bash and clang merrily away, creating a ragged groove that a lot of modern grunge bands would kill for. Many of the songs are stretched out in the fashion of earlier NY/CH epics like "Cortez The Killer" and "Down By The River," allowing plenty of room for interplay and Neil's characteristic passionate, spasmodic solos (the songs average about six-and-a-half minutes, and two or three top the ten-minute mark). Ragged Glory represents a return to form for Neil, a smart, tough, yet fairly optimistic view of the turn of another decade from a true survivor of the rock-and-roll wilderness. A taste for loud, sloppy rock is essential to appreciate Ragged Glory, but if you've got it, then get it. It's a triumph, comparing well with any of Neil's electric work, even the hallowed Rust Never Sleeps. Stay tuned for 1999-2000...