Recordings

Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Year of the Horse
(Reprise Records)

These represent Neil Young's fourth and fifth live discs of the '90s (following Weld, Arc and Unplugged)--throw in Lucky Thirteen, and he has six discs of recycled material this decade, in addition to six CDs of new material. As such, they may not exactly be irrelevant, but they do pose a niggling question for fans: Why is it okay to release this and keep so much other material locked away on the shelf? Young has to be the biggest major rock artist with the most significant chunks of back catalogue unavailable on CD. Great swatches of his agonized '70s output are nowhere in sight (where the hell are such underrated efforts as On the Beach? American Stars and Bars? Hawks & Doves?), while the Geffen "Trilogy of Terror" from the '80s (Trans, Everybody's Rockin' and Old Ways) are available only as overpriced imports (given some of that material, make that waaaaaay overpriced). And there's the small matter of this long-delayed sequel to Decade, an opus that promises another pile (up to 10 discs, depending on who's spreading the rumors) of material both new and recycled, though by the time it sees a record-store shelf, it'll probably have to be titled Millennium.

Noodling around on less-than-essential toss-offs such as this one certainly isn't a crime, but it does seem like creative wheel-spinning that keeps fans from what will be an epic release from all accounts. Oh, well--at least this isn't the same old same old. Young throws together an eccentric batch of songs, resurrecting a couple of long-neglected tunes from Zuma ("Barstool Blues" and "Danger Bird") and Rust Never Sleeps ("Sedan Delivery" and "Pocahontas"). Compared with the original album, which was endlessly fascinating since it sounded like Young was this close to dropping right into the abyss, the versions of the Zuma tunes are workmanlike and go down with an incongruous smoothness. Still, Young does shake things up a bit: The beautiful "Pocahontas" receives an amped-up electric crunch, while chestnuts "Mr. Soul" and "Human Highway" are rendered in an acoustic fashion (though "Mr. Soul" got the same treatment on Unplugged--is Neil even paying attention to what he's putting out these days?).

The only really pointless inclusions are three tunes from Young's last album, Broken Arrow, which get extended jams. This wouldn't be that bad a thing except that they were extended jams on the studio album. (If Young wanted to include something from Broken Arrow, why didn't he throw in "Music Arcade," the sole acoustic number amid that album's electric rumble, an elliptically resonant tune with the potential to become as popular as "Sugar Mountain"?)

Consumer alert: This represents 85 minutes spread out over two discs; junk one song--say, the 11-minute version of "Slip Away"--and you could've fit it all on one CD and saved a coupla bucks. Young right now might be advised to back off the feverish pace at which he has been releasing product, lest he fritter away all the goodwill he garnered with his amazing comeback a decade back.

--David Kronke

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