This discography analysis is written by contributer JT of Perth, Australia (follow him at @thesonofnoone on Twitter).
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Sleeps With Angels (1994) Spotify
1) 'My Heart' - Hang on, the cover said Crazy Horse. Where's the Horse? What, this is them? OK then. This is actually a pretty sweet little song and a damn interesting way to start the album. The harmonies are perfect and Neil seemingly takes more risks in presenting this song as the album opener than he has in the 14 years that have passed since its release. I love this song. 9.0
2) 'Prime of Life' - Masterpiece #35. I'm convinced the reason this isn't Neil's best-known album is because (as Bob said), Crazy Horse are here, but it's not normal Crazy Horse. But people aren't hearing the songs. Crazy Horse are there and they're doing what they've always done, except here they've bought their A-game. Bringing it, however, isn't the only thing. Neil needs to bring the songs. And he more than does that with 'Prime of Life'. Singing in a softer, more hushed voice than normal (well, it wasn't normal back then as it is now), he doesn't overpower this song, and although the song doesn't really kick up any extra gears from the start - it more than grows on you. I've often said the best things turn out to be the things that don't register to begin with, and this song is a perfect example. Why can't I describe my feelings for this song any better?? Well, that doesn't matter - all you need to know is that I think it's a masterpiece, and an underrated one at that. It's not alone in that regard. 10.0
3) 'Drive By' - Masterpiece #36. You don't have to believe me, but please trust me when I say that this is one of Neil Young's finest songs. I'm not making this shit up for controversy, I honestly believe this to be true. Drums, Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Piano. It's a different Crazy Horse, but it's no less brilliant than the screaming guitars fromRagged Glory. This song truly begins to soar when Neil sings "now she's gone like a shooting star". Some of the most believable singing of Neil's career is found right here on this very track. Not saying it's his best, but there's a lot of soul to be found. Ol' Neil really felt it when he sang this gem. Ralph, Billy and Poncho are understated, never over-imposing themselves, and their weary backing vocals (however minimal they may be) show that technical excellence is nothing when you've got heart. 10.0
4) 'Sleeps With Angels' - So close to another masterpiece, but there's something not there that's keeping it from reaching the plateau. And you know what it is? I don't think this song's angry enough, not brutal enough, doesn't aim to make our ears bleed while at the same time making our eyes weep. There's a 20-minute version that was apparently cut, and I want to hear it NOW. As it is, I think the song strives for greatness and just as they're about to shake hands, the song backs off. I don't know if this is making sense, but this song is about a feeling of being let down, and although that's not exactly how I feel about the song I do feel that although it's brilliant, it could've been so much more. And maybe that was Neil's point. 9.0
5) 'Western Hero' - At one time I would've thrown the 10's the way of this song, but not today. Not anymore. Still, this is gorgeous. I feel that Neil's being trying to write a lot of similar songs to this in recent years, but missing the mark. There's no need to emulate this - it stands fine on its own (or alongside it and its twin, 'Train of Love'). Again, the restrained awesomeness of Crazy Horse is a wonder to behold. Anyone who thinks these guys only know one way to play really haven't had their ears open for a long time. 8.0
6) 'Change Your Mind' - Wow. Is this Neil trying to copy the blueprint for past epics, or is this Neil just letting flow in the best tradition that he knows how? Either or, he succeeds in giving us a simply brilliant track. As has been the way since I started this thread, I listen to the tracks as I write about them (sometimes more than once), and I've been absorbed in this song for 8 and a half minutes now with over six to go and I'm in heaven. I don't care if someone thinks this is a 'Cowgirl in the Sand'/'Down By the River' knock-off. If it is, then it's the best damn knock-off Neil's ever done. Great lyrics, great singing and the Horse are the Horse. No one else could've played this song. Love how Poncho just disappears during solos, knowing there's nothing that needs to be done. 9.5
7) 'Blue Eden' - That was one helluva first half to the album, and I feel as though I'm dissing the second half when I don't listen to it as often as I should. Because it's fine... very good in fact. But the reality is that it can't match the first six songs on this album, which is as good a run as on any previous Neil album. So how can I describe this song? Well, at times it sounds like it's Neil and Crazy Horse recording a jingle for a mens-only steakhouse. As it is, it's merely a six minute segue from 'Change Your Mind' to the rest of the album. Good, but not great. 6.5
8) 'Safeway Cart' - You can just tell Neil has recorded this as a solo, acoustic song somewhere. You can also tell that if it were released, it would be just as good. As a result, this doesn't soar. This is just one side of the coin, not the whole picture. Billy Talbot owns this song though. Sometimes I listen to this and all I hear is his bass, and at no time have I been dismayed by that. 7.5
9) 'Train of Love' - Only Neil. 'Tonight's the Night' (2 versions), 'My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)' and 'Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)', acoustic and electric versions of 'Rockin' in the Free World'. And now - 'Western Hero' and 'Train of Love'. Same songs, different lyrics. Yet, here's where my insanity comes in - I much prefer 'Western Hero'. This sounds like a Harvest Moon recap (which is likely since this was played live on the 1992 solo tour), and if you don't know my feelings on that album, scroll back a few pages. Having said that - this would've been a standout on that album (after 'Natural Beauty' obviously). 7.0
10) 'Trans Am' - Greendale, nine years prior? This is Neil's electric western... 'Albuquerque' for the modern day - except not up to that quality. I can't really say much about this song, but that doesn't mean I don't like it. Just can't muster up enough to wax on about it. Maybe someone else can do it for me. 7.5
11) 'Piece of Crap' - The twin to 'Prisoners of Rock and Roll'. Except that was Arnold Schwarzenegger, this is Danny DeVito (those crazy twins!). Still not a bad song, but I get disheartened when I realise that with 45 plays, this song has been played live more than the rest of the album combined. Doesn't exactly live up to its title, nor can we shorten its title by two words. But this ain't 'The Losing End (When You're On)' folks. This is a lightweight, but a fun lightweight. 6.5
12) 'A Dream That Can Last' - Beautiful song to end the album on. Sounds like it should've been on Life, but I'm not denying it's place here. This is a completely unique song in the Neil Young catalogue. What else can you say about it? This song is the perfect example of why Neil Young is the fuckin' king. That he can take his most popular band (one not known exactly for diversity) and have them sing on a song that's just drums, harmonica and an old arcade piano is, well I wouldn't call it a masterstroke, I'd probably say it's unexpected - and that's exactly what we expect him to do. 8.0
ALBUM RATING: 9.0
VERDICT: Neil's never been this good again. Well, not on this scale. This is a fantastic album that polarises quite a few people. Re-writing the rulebook as to what a Crazy Horse album should sound like, it's such a pity that they haven't explored this sound since. The first half of this album in particular is flawless, and one can only imagine what esteem the album would be held in if he'd managed to keep the quality up for the entire album. As I said, he's never been this good again - not for so many songs on the one album.
Mirror Ball (1995) Spotify
1) 'Song X' - "Hey ho, away we go... we're on the road to never". Boy, more prophetic words have never been spoke. But more of that later. This interesting little sea shanty opens up the album and announces from the start that this is Neil out of his comfort zone. Some many not agree, but I just can't shake the impression that this is a Pearl Jam album, except with Neil singing and writing the songs. Sure, Old Black gets to wail, but Brendan O'Brien's production never lets you forget that although the band aren't credited on the album, they're definitely the ones in the studio. And I don't know... even as a Pearl Jam fan, that doesn't sit too well with me. But I suppose this isn't a bad song to start the album on. 6.0
2) 'Act of Love' - Better. More dirty than the opener and Neil's delivery (can't tell whether it's double-tracked vocals or not) is spot on. Whether or not the song's about abortion, Neil's lyrics are fantastic. In particular, the "you know I'll always help you baby, but I just can't do that. I know I said I'd help you baby, here's my wallet... call me sometime" verse just gets me - if you know what I mean. 8.0
3) 'I'm the Ocean' - Some claim this to be a masterpiece of a song, and although I don't fall into that camp - I think it's a fine song and possibly the finest on the whole album. I'm a little put off by Jack Irons' drumming - not just on this song, but the whole album. But here it is a mammoth distraction that in order to absorb the song I have to really listen to the tune and do my best to mix the song in my head, pushing the drums down. And that's such a pity because, as fans of the song will attest, it's brilliant. If I wasn't so put off by the drumming, I'd be tempted to say it was one of the finest songs of the decade, as it is it has to settle with being one of the finest of the album. But enough of the downside - for a song I like it's too long to focus on the negative (no matter how much it irks me). This is a great song, and Neil seems to be loving every minute of it. And that's enough for me.9.0
4) 'Big Green Country' - I suppose my big concern with the album, as already stated, is that the band is too prominent (especially the drumming). This song feel simply like they let Jack Irons drum away and the rest just rolled from 'I'm the Ocean' through to this. Let me make this point clear - at no stage on a Neil Young album should Neil Young be made to feel equal or inferior to anyone else on the album. He's the man, he's the star of the show. Pearl Jam or not (he could have Townshend, Moon and Entwhistle backing him up for all I care), don't ever let me forget that this is a Neil Young album. But as always, Neil manages to come through. When he lets rip with his guitar solo (kind of what I'd expect a 'Ride My Llama' solo to sound like), Old Black indulges us with a sound that hasn't been heard since he and Crazy Horse cut 'Like a Hurricane'. That glorious but brief bit of time makes me think that I'm being hard on the album. It's put a smile on my face at least. 7.5
5) 'Truth Be Known' - OK, so slow it down a bit. Although this song makes me pine for Crazy Horse, this sounds great. Kind of a precursor to Broken Arrow (hopefully I'm not the only one who thinks this would've made a great fit there), and again... Old Black is the star of the show. 6.5
6) 'Downtown' - God, I used to hate this song. But that was before I was Neil Young fan and I simply didn't 'get' him. Now? I like it - but not enough to spend hours waxing about its brilliance. Every time I listen to the song, I keep waiting for the song to kick up into this extra gear that I hope it finds somewhere, but it never does. That's a shame because it would've made the song amazing. At the moment, it's simply very good. Bonus points for the Jimmy Page reference. Goofy fun. 7.0
7) 'What Happened Yesterday' - Is it wrong to like this simply for the fact that there's no Jack Irons? Anyway, a brief little ditty that will never make a Greatest Hits. Someone help me out though... the vocal melody here is the same as parts of 'Big Green Country' and is the same as something else from Neil's catalogue. What the fuck am I thinking of?? 4.0
8) 'Peace and Love' - Again, not a bad song, but not great. The only thing that makes me want to speak in glowing terms is again, Neil's guitar work. Old Black certainly earns its MVP status on this album. But then again, having Old Black as the album's shining light is more that can be said about some of the albums to come. 6.0
9) 'Throw Your Hatred Down' - One of my favourites on the album. Again, Jack Irons' drums are prominent (almost too much so), but they drive the song far better than they do on any drum-heavy song that precedes it on the album. I'm not sure what else makes me rate this more highly than say, 'Big Green Country'. I mean, some of the lyrics are clunky and some lines are packed with too many syllables, but I think that the song is almost a call to arms and is so joyous makes me think that this can join the ranks of the great, underplayed Neil Young songs. 9.0
10) 'Scenery' - This song soars. It sounds just like a Crazy Horse song and to me, that's always a good thing. Great guitar work here, Mike McCready gets to show that he can sit in with the big boys and not be put to shame, and Neil matches it with some dirty, dark Old Black grooves. Best song on the album (IMHO - obviously).9.0
11) 'Fallen Angel' - Bringing back the 'I'm the Ocean' melody to end the album on a slight, weird, but effecting note. If only the album had more moments of heart and soul such as this. 5.5
ALBUM RATING: 7.0
VERDICT: What could have been... Potentially a great matchup. Energetic, young and prominent band hooking up in the studio with the rock god who seems to 'get' what they're doing. Unfortunately it's a case of potential being better than the eventual product. This album just never gets off the ground enough for it to be able to sit comfortably with Ragged Glory and Sleeps With Angels, Neil's great albums of the previous years. There's some great songs here, but they're buried in an album that feels less of a Neil Young album since anything put out since Old Ways in 1985. Not saying it's a bad album, but I'm saying it could've been a whole lot more. At least one thing's clear... Brendan O'Brien is no David Briggs. One can only assume what Briggs could've made from this pairing. Oh well. (R.I.P David, who died three months after the album's release).
NEXT: Neil goes all Randy Newman on us... soundtrack time!!