Again, with all this hurricane action it didn’t seem right to do TOO much pertaining to music, but Neil Young crafts that type of aural experience which is just SO overwhelmingly melancholic and absorptive of feeling that it would seem to allow me to keep the ball moving with this little thing I do, at least temporarily.
Wikipedia dubs his new release, Hitchhiker, his “thirty-eighth studio album,” but as I’m sure much of my clientele knows, studio projects are not typically recorded 41 years prior to their release date. Of course, this extreme retrospection has ironic results, as it’s of little doubt that Young’s older material is more compelling than his new. Either way, Wikipedia’s verbiage is certainly awkward.
But then, maybe such should always be the case with a “reject album.” And I don’t know about you, but as a fan of Rust Never Sleeps, I find the very concept of an acoustic “Powderfinger” a bit troubling, sort of like raw cabbage on a pastrami hoagie. Rust Never Sleeps was just such a PERFECT live album: the godfather of grunge was wailing like a wild coyote all over those cuts, even incorporating a sense of humor on songs like “Welfare Mothers” and “Sedan Delivery” (not that most people nowadays would get the jokes… knowing them they’d just get really jealous that Young got to deliver all those sedans). Any improvement on that and I’d probably have a brain embolism. But I’ll save that for the new Ted Leo album. Anyway, the long and short of it is that Reprise rejected Hitchhiker contemporaneously on grounds of excessive acoustic fare. To be honest, in this blogger’s opinion, this was one of the better moves Reprise ever made.
And as we know, “Ride My Llama,” “Pocahontas” and “Campaigner” already WERE acoustic tracks, with not much crowd noise factor or improvisation going on on the extant recordings, so the most variation we can hope for on these Hitchhiker versions is scant at best. I did, though, take the time to peruse the track “Hitchhiker,” which uniquely does not feature on Young’s exhaustive double-disc best-of collection Decade. Right away, and this is a note on which the song would end too, the histrionics don’t strike the listener as trite as much as they do just BAD: the guitar sound is nowhere near the liquid crystalline awesomeness it would reach on Rust Never Sleeps, and the antsy, Ani Difranco-like strumming technique Young assumes here barks of a boorish amateurism, as if Young were trying to cash in on his already touted minimalist techniques in rock.
As was alluded to before, there is no backing band on this material, which, for Young, amounts to just an absence of puppet farm hands, so to speak. This being said, the damage done here in that regard is kept to a limit, and one thing you have to say about this little titled-track project is that the CONFIDENCE is there, materializing in fact in many swatches as very similar to Kurt Cobain projects such as With the Lights out’s “Do Re Mi” (which isn’t as bad as it sounds). Young’s predilection for jazzy, tense chord progression will keep the patient listener at it.
The real distinction of this song, though, is the puzzlingly humorous lyrics. The entire thing is set up essentially like a drug travelogue: “Then I tried amphetamine”; “The doctor gave me valium / But I still couldn’t close my eyes”; “Smokin’ grass with my Chicago lass”, narratively intertwined with tales of his famous move from his native Canada, to LA (also known as “nowhere”), the finally “into the country,” on to the ranch he would eventually own with his woman. And then, all I know is his account of having a kid isn’t for the faint of heart, and that’s even if you don’t know that Zeke in fact had a certain mental retardation. Luckily, Young’s accounts of Zeke and the experience of breeding offspring in Shakey, the Neil Young biography, are nothing but glowing (I don’t typically like to introduce background information on people’s lives but in this case I found it ancillary)… either way, it makes you glad for that wacky tobacky, I guess. California to… those who needeth it most.