fri 21/06/2024

Album: Neil Young - Before and After | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Neil Young - Before and After

Album: Neil Young - Before and After

Another one for Young completists

Long after the gold rush, a sonic tapestry that's frayed around the edges

Down memory lane, taking us back some six decades to the Buffalo Springfield, the latest Neil Young album's almost 50 minutes of continuous music, each song segueing into the next.

“Songs from my life, recently recorded, create a music montage with no beginnings or endings,” Young has stated. “The feeling is captured, not in pieces, but as a whole piece, designed to be listened to that way… This music presentation defies shuffling, digital organisation, separation. Only for listening. That says it all.”

Well, that’s the idea at least. Getting up from the sofa to move the tone arm was always a faff, but then CDs and the remote control did away with that problem. And now we have streaming (though post-Joe Rogan, Young is mostly absent from Spotify), so whatever Young’s hopes and ambitions, Before and After will not escape the pick-and-mix habits of contemporary listeners. Nor should it. For this, frankly, is another album – an opus, perhaps we should call it, if we are to treat it with the gravitas it so clearly craves – that rather tries the patience.

Young has released more than a score of albums this century alone and while he is totally admirable as a human being, always on the righteous side of life, outings such as Living with War (2006), “a musical critique” of George W Bush, and The Monsanto Years (2015), a broadside against the agribusiness giant, can be a little... wearing. “Mr Soul”, a song with more than a hint of fellow-Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” about it, includes a reference to a fan who wrote saying “I upset her/Any girl in the world could easily have known me better”. Well, quite.

The press release describes the album as “a sonic tapestry for the ages” and “an intimate listening experience”. The first statement is absurd hype and the second is largely untrue – it’s for the most part too strident to be intimate, Young’s voice, with those slightly grating Canadian hard "R"s, is big and echoey. “Birds” qualifies, though it doesn’t improve on the version on After the Gold Rush (1970), and “When I Hold You in My Arms” (Are You Passionate, 2002). ”Mother Earth”, its melody based on English folk song “The Water Is Wide” and first recorded on Ragged Glory (1990), is rather lovely, Young on harmonica and pump organ.

The high tenor, mournful, nasal and slightly whiny voice – qualities that from the outset distinguished Young’s singing – are still intact. So too the vibrato, though that’s now sometimes off-key. And of course the strumming and harmonica styles remain instantly recognisable.

But like so much of Young’s later oeuvre, Before and After is an album for completists.

Liz Thomson's website


Strange that you would reference Lightfoot's Edmund Fitzgerald, based on a shipwreck that happened nearly ten years after Mr. Soul first found the airwaves. If any hints were taken, or phrasing borrowed, it went from Young to Lightfoot. 

But, I agree, this is an album for completists. It's a fine record, but doesn't bring much new to his discography.

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