Neil Young

Neil Young

Landing On Water

Life

Geffen/Universal

While acknowledged Neil Young classics like On The Beach and Time Fades Away remain unreleased on CD, Geffen, who once sued Young for not sounding enough like himself • go figure that one — reissues these two hit-and-miss mid-’80s relics.

1986’s Landing On Water, undoubtedly the most disappointing of the pair, finds Young wading in a flood of trash-can sounding synth drums, brittle, lifeless ambiance and a lackluster bunch of songs that even the mighty Crazy Horse — who went MIA during these sessions — wouldn’t have been able to salvage. Somewhere in the muddy depths of “Hippie Dream,” “Drifter,” and “Touch The Night” there may be a spark of a Young-worthy melody fighting for a breath of air, but it’s so deeply submerged under the unsympathetic, heavy handed, murky Danny Kortchmar production, only Young would know it even existed. Occasionally Neil’s screaming guitar cuts through the murk, but it’s not enough to save this lackluster, often irritating album. While not the worst disc in his catalog, it’s certainly in the bottom three, and 15 years later remains for diehard Young fanatics only.

With nowhere to go but up, 1987’s Life is a marked improvement. Crazy Horse is back in the picture, and even though there are some synths remaining from Landing, the sound is fuller and the songs considerably more substantial. In fact, the album yields a few gems like “Long Walk Home,” a classic After the Gold Rush-styled paean with mournful Young piano, harmonica, and a somber melody that isn’t even ruined by the obnoxious gun blasts that burst out on the drum beats. One gets the feeling that tunes such as “When Your Lonely Heart Breaks” could have been timeless Young masterpieces if they hadn’t been hidden away in a middling album that seems rather hasty in its execution. Life is the sound of an insanely talented artist gradually finding his muse again after plunging to his lowest artistic ebb. As such, its unexpected reappearance is reason to rejoice for Neil Young fans frustrated that some of his best work still remains unavailable.

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