Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
If any CD can test your tolerance levels, it's Leisure Noise. On three separate occasions, it stared up indignantly from high atop my trade-in pile as if to say, "It's because I'm Gay Dad, isn't it?"
Gay Dad is a provocative name, to be sure, but it's one that also suggests a father who embarrasses you in front of your friends. On the first few listens, "Black Ghost" sounded more like the Alan Parsons Project than something new and exciting outta England. Ditto for the band's overproduced first single, "From Earth With Love," which suggests Supertramp trying to be Supergrass. The second single, "Joy," fares a lot better, where the band makes like Pulp covering Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line" and deciding it can write a better song halfway through. Even better than that was single number three, "Oh Jim," which gently pinches the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge" for its verses and Radiohead's "High and Dry" for its choruses.
At first, you find yourself not wanting to root for an album that gives you flashbacks of The Bends, but then you begin to admire the band's maddening multiple choices:
A) Front man Cliff Jones singing "I see you," like the Byrds song of the same name, regardless that it's going half-speed over the interstellar overdrive of "Dim Star."
B) "Black Ghost," where Jones sings "free me" in falsetto just like Roger Daltrey's full-throated tilt in McVicar.
C) Whoever the whooshing bass player is (the CD lists no personnel), he's Gay Dad's chief secret weapon, filling all the empty spaces like blue fluid in a lava lamp.
D) Sampling an obscure record like "The Bublight" for six seconds as a heads-up to the Joe Meek Appreciation Society.
Having a healthy rock hero worship makes sense since Gay Dad is fronted by a former British music journalist. Much of his limey press brethren have dismissed Cliff Jones and company with NME headlines like "Future of Rock and Roll or Third Rate Industry Hype?" Maybe with all the monochromatic acts out there now, it takes too much work to process a band with elastic eclecticism. Can you fault a group for having too many good ideas? While this isn't a perfect album, you get the feeling that one may be waiting just down the road, when Jones finally figures out who he wants to be and surpasses that.
From Gay Dad, we go straight to . . . Gray Dad -- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's long-awaited reunion record, Looking Forward. After one spin, I was ready to dismiss this with a one-line Gene Shalit review like, "I'm looking forward to trading this in." Maybe it was seeing one formerly loathed CD ingratiate itself into heavy rotation on my home system, or just the peace and brotherly love sentiments that bedevil us all during the holiday season, but suddenly I found myself wanting to give this CSN&Y album a chance. I know, I know, bad idea. But if you're like me and never had any grandparents, you don't much mind having old people around repeating the same stories over and over.
If you've heard even one CSN album, you know the drill. Invariably, Crosby will sing about somehow wanting to wave his freak flag -- last album he wished he was a camera! Stills will probably grump about some injustice that's disturbing his personal space or complain about a woman who doesn't understand him. Nash will remind us about the children or some ecological disaster and invariably there'll be a song about sailing a boat somewhere.
That pretty much holds true for Looking Forward, except Neil Young's presence ups the ante from zilch since he's still considered a major artist. The press release story that these old friends suddenly found themselves reuniting without planning it is fairly ludicrous. It's been almost six years since the last CSN album, and the group was apparently in the midst of working on a "self-financed/ produced album," which means even Atlantic -- their label since inception -- finally lost faith in the franchise. Eventually, they wound up on Neil's label, and his climbing aboard the Gray Dad barge seems like a generous career-saving gesture.
Neil supposedly "recorded way too many songs" for his next solo album and contributed four here -- you don't suppose he gave them the best ones, do you? He probably had no problem parting with "Slowpoke," which sounds like "Heart of Gold" whirling around in a blender.
CSN and sometimes Y were never a real "band," more like four solo careers fighting for album space. It's pretty telling that the only time they've ever had dual lead vocals on a song was "Wooden Ships," a song Crosby and Stills shared writing credits on. When you hear Young take a verse after Nash on the pretty "Sansibel," it's less out of a sense of "gee, we never did this before" and more likely because no one in the band wrote it. Or maybe because it's another song about sailing a goddamned boat.