Top critical review
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on 14 January 2016
I have loved much of Neil Young's music for four and a half decades now, and I admire him enormously as a musician and songwriter. But - oh Lord! - he can be a real cross-grained cuss sometimes. It's part of what makes his great stuff great, but it also means we get things like this, which is a frankly infuriating album.
What's so annoying is that it's a good idea, and, as far as I can tell, I like Neil's performances of this mix of covers of very good songs. But...he's had a whim to record the whole lot in a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph recording booth, which is effectively a poor quality microphone in a phone booth with extremely crude means of recording. The result sounds like a badly recorded 78, pressed off-centre and then used for generations of kids to eat their lunch off. It's awful. I can just about cope with the hiss, the scratches and the fades but the variable speed making the pitch wander is almost unbearably painful at times, as is the ear-piercing treble distortion on some of the harmonica.
I suppose after the brilliant Psychedelic Pill and the joy of hearing the great early performances on At The Cellar Door we were just about due for something pretty grim, and we've got it. The thing is, Neil himself won't give a hoot about what we all think of this. It's what he felt like doing so he did it. We can take it or leave it - it's behind him now and he's on to the next thing he feels like doing, whatever that is. I've got to admire him for it, even if I don't always like the results.
"I sing the song because I love the man, I know that some of you don't understand..." Well, I love the man, but this time I don't understand. However, like me, I'm sure Neil's legions of admirers will want to hear this anyway (although I'd recommend listening to some samples first so you know what you're getting). Personally, I won't want to hear it often, but I'll happily just chalk this one up to experience. He'll almost certainly put out something really good before too long but, however much it pains me to say it, I really can't recommend this album.