Neil Young devotees will probably spend the next few weeks trying desperately to convince themselves that After The Gold Rush is good music. But they’ll be kidding themselves. For despite the fact that the album contains some potentially first rate material, none of the songs here rise above the uniformly dull surface. In my listening, the problem appears to be that most of this music was simply not ready to be recorded at the time of the sessions. It needed time to mature. On the album the band never really gets behind the songs and Young himself has trouble singing many of them. Set before the buying public before it was done, this pie is only half-baked.
“Southern Man” is a good example. As a composition, it is possibly one of the best things Neil Young has ever written. In recent appearances with Crosby, Stills and Nash, the piece has had an overwhelmingly powerful impact on audiences. But the recording of “Southern Man” on After The Gold Rush fulfills very little of this promise. By today’s standards, the ensemble playing is sloppy and disconnected. The piano, bass and drums search for each other like lovers lost in the sand dunes, but although they see each others’ footprints now and then, they never really come together. Young tries to recover the dynamics of the piece with his voice alone, but can’t quite make it: On this and the other really interesting tunes on the album — “Don’t Let It Bring You Down,” and “I Believe In You” — the listener hears only a faint whisper of what the song will become.
Another disturbing characteristic of the record, oddly enough, is Young’s voice. In his best work Young’s singing contains genuine elements of pathos, darkness and mystery. If Kafka’s story “The Hunger Artist” could be made into an opera, I would want Neil Young to sing the title role. But on this album this intonation often sounds like pre-adolescent whining. The song “After The Gold Rush,” for instance, reminds one of nothing so much as Mrs. Miller moaning and wheezing her way through “I’m A Lonely Little Petunia In An Onion Patch.” Apparently no one bothered to tell Neil Young that he was singing a half octave above his highest acceptable range. At that point his pathos becomes an irritating bathos. I can’t listen to it at all.
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There are thousands of persons in this country who will buy and enjoy this record. More power to them, I suppose. But for me the test of an album is whether or not its quality is such that it allows you to grow into it a little more with each subsequent listening. And I find none of that quality here. To the 70 or 80 people who wrote to Rolling Stone in total rage that I could be anything but 100% delighted with Deja Vu, I will simply say: this record picks up where Deja Vu leaves off.