First, last and always, there is the blend. The way the three voices fit together remains one of the most singular and pleasing harmonic fusions in all of rock. And that is why, when the solo careers of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash have been on the skids for years, they can reunite and create a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.
Within the blend, Graham Nash's sweetly ineffectual folk tenor becomes a gently keening top voice, reassuringly angelic as it balances David Crosby's thin whine and Stephen Stills' bland, faintly husky crooning. Within the blend, the physical destruction wrought by legendary dissipation seems magically erased. Indeed, the trio's strait-laced folk harmonies, with their vaguely Celtic modality, still augur a climate of moral and spiritual superiority — the rock counterculture at the zenith of its high-consciousness snottiness.
No other California harmony group could claim such a spiritual mystique. The Mamas and the Papas' California dreaming presupposed a voluptuary paradise of hot-blooded teenyboppers. The Beach Boys' playground of little deuce coupes and perfect waves, for all its glimpses into the great beyond, was sun-scorched and physically intense. And even the Eagles, CSN's most distinguished heirs, remained sullen sensualists brooding about the failure of pleasure to make them happy.
But Crosby, Stills and Nash's world, like their music, has always been more distant, more abstract. Head changes — vague spiritual glimpses, ethereal love games and mute voyages into the sunset-tinted headwaters of an imaginary yacht basin — have been their primary subject for some years now. Their voices, drifting on little watercolored islands toward a misty shore of meaninglessness, evoke a kind of perfection. For the blend is more powerful than any tune it attempts or any lyric it essays. The blend simply floats....
Those who enjoy just drifting along on sweet nothings will enjoy Daylight Again, CSN's dreamiest, most opaque album. Of its eleven songs — three by Nash, one by Crosby, six by Stills with various collaborators and one by Craig Doerge and Judy Henske — not a single one gives us a hard look at what any of them has been doing in the last five years. Nash's diaphanous "Wasted on the Way" is a wistful daydream about "so much water moving underneath the bridge." In "Delta," Crosby ruminates about "the running rivers of choice and chance." And Stills, in yet another voyage song, "Southern Cross," sings of "dreams a-dying."
Not ail the songs are about waiting (and wanting?) to die. "Into the Darkness" finds Nash mildly miffed at a pushy entrepreneur ("Alone on the phone with your business arrangements") who also just happens to be sailing "into the sunset." And his "Song for Susan" is a childlike ditty about two hearts "wrapped around" each other. But these few signs of life aren't enough to ruffle the album's sepulchral calm.
Fittingly, Stills' title song, gorgeously rendered by the trio and Art Garfunkel, is both an epitaph and a longing for extinction, for "Armageddon's side" and "a valley covered with bones." In Daylight Again, the blend has turned into a ghostly choir sighing over lives that have all the urgency of an afterthought.