’The Visitor’ – Neil Young and The Promise of the Real
Whenever another Neil Young album is announced, it always fills me excitement and a little apprehension in equal measure. The reason for this is that he has been one of the biggest influences on me and my own music, alongside Edward Elgar and George Gershwin. One of the exciting things over the years is that when he releases a new recording you really have no idea where he’s coming from at that moment in time, because as we’ve seen throughout both his live performances and numerous albums, he brings something new to the musical table, so to speak, with each set of songs. Swapping from folk, to grunge, country and back again, he certainly keeps us on our musical toes as his creative thought processes take us along with his personal thoughts, and convictions. This has always been interesting and inspiring, not just to me of course, as he’s had a massive influence on many major artists, inspiring their work. So, when I received this album to listen, and review, I had no idea what to expect, but knew he would have something to say in his own way. Joined on this latest release by the American rock band Promise of the Real, who certainly deliver a different feel to the record. Imagine Crazy Horse meets Pearl Jam, with touches of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and you’ll get what I mean. Also, there is a feeling throughout of familiarity of the music, with lots of Young’s previous work added into the mix, either consciously, or certainly unconsciously as it’s all in there as you’ll read in my review!
Powerful start to the album with Young’s grunge guitar, but this time sharing the sonic landscape with honky-tonk piano. Singing and emphasising his love of the good old US of A, and the promised land, with a blues feel song? To be honest, it’s a slightly messy sound, particularly in the chorus. Although, as on all the tracks here, he’s singing about real life, problems we face, how we deal with issues affecting us all, which needs to be heard.
Fly by Night Deal
Rhythmic feel of a ’Trans’ track and the layout of the band. Also, his spoken dialogue over the top of the backing vocals reminds me of ‘Greendale’ soundtrack – which is quite cool really, as I like that! Some nice distorted guitar added into the mix adds that little something too.
Here we’re back to familiar country/folk song Young and his songwriting roots. However, it’s also almost a complete repeat of himself, and of one of my favourite songs, as he uses the same riff, melody, guitar sound, and vocals as ‘From Hank to Hendrix’ and creates the same soundscape and feel – even the use of harmonica. But, all songwriters, writers, painters and composers repeat themselves in many ways, as this is what is known as ’their voice’ so don’t let that put you off too much. It did, however, catch me slightly out at first hearing.
Another mix-up of a song. Big chorus- almost an ideal description of all our modern life predicaments, although I’m not totally convinced of the backing vocals – these again sounding very messy, and overcrowded, like the 7.45 to Manchester on a Monday morning!
Change of Heart
A nice acoustic track, with Young at his very best, in both words and music. This song is given a real laid back feel, but with a message at its heart. I even like the whistling, yep, you heard right, whistling, believe it or not, adds a nice touch. Young sings/talks his way throughout the song with a great delivery of his mind and heart. This time the backing vocals are a lot clearer, having space for audible effect, and the whole arrangement is well…. perfect.
Great guitar intro takes into a true Americana song – like a group of musicians telling stories with guitar in one hand and a jack daniels in the other. We go from Crazy Horse to Buffalo Springfield and back, via the Eldorado ep in one track – great to keep in with the whole concept of the album, a lot of recycling, but why not when they’re your songs. Add in some terrific percussion too makes it a cool mix.
Diggin’ a Hole
Keeping in with the recycling idea, this song is very reminiscent of a track from ’Tonight’s the Night’ – honky-tonk, country blues, with sometimes both the piano and slide guitar jostling for position. In fact the whole finished song has that ’Tonights the Night’ atmosphere.
Children of Destiny
More upbeat, with heavy drums, strings, full band and brass, etc. Interludes of strings with Young’s heart-rending vocals is great. But the chorus – oh no, please, no! Sounds like a corny Eurovision song – sickly sweet, bombastic in places. The message of the song is a well important one but drowned out by the chorus, brass, strings, presented in an American marching band delivery.
When Bad Got Good
Well, what can I say about this one? Rough cut diamond – very rough! What’s with the male vocals all through the song about, really?? Too much for me this one I’m afraid – rattling chains/handcuffs, locking people up – really!!!!!
Phew, almost recovered myself from that one. Now, this is great, NY at his true creative best, both vocally and musically expressive throughout, with great laid back accompaniment. Again, storytelling in his most convincing way, we listen to both the words, but also the arrangements which are terrific – well, to me at least. His voice and conviction tear at your heart and soul here, but in a good way I reckon. One heck of an epic Young song, coming in at over 10 minutes long, although it doesn’t drag, it’s a good well balanced final track to the album.
All in all, another interesting addition to Young’s studio albums, this being his 37th, and having previously worked with Promise of the Real, he and they all obviously relished the idea of working together on some songs together. That being said I’m not convinced totally about reusing material, sometimes hints at back catalogue works, but in a couple of songs it’s way too much in your face, plus I also question the ‘messy/murky’ sound going on, it sometimes sounds so full of stuff it’s hard to get your head around the song lyrics, etc, which is a shame as isn’t that really the point? Anyway, give it a listen yourselves, because I’m always happy to say, it could just be me, and maybe I need to give it a lot more listens to understand reasons for the way it’s recorded, although I feel a little disappointed with the whole record, but am behind some of the sentiments.