Neil Young: Sleeps With Angels (1994)

I've been knee-deep in my Neil Young collection for the past week or two (that's about 45 studio albums, never mind countless live albums and compilations), working on a Neil Young Top 10 for an upcoming Toppermost contribution. (I ended up with one Top 10 for 1969-1981, and a second for 1982-2000, leaving the post-2000 work for a more intrepid soul... feel free to place your wagers on what made the cut.)

And while revisiting Neil's 1980s output can be a challenge (despite the playfully durable electronica-themed Trans and a few redemptive moments on stray albums), it was also a helpful reminder that he made quite the artistic rebound in the 1990s -- maybe nothing quite up there with his 60s-70s triumphs, but still some truly terrific music. I think my favorite is Sleeps With Angels, a largely plugged-in album with Crazy Horse after the acoustic (and frequently beautiful) Harvest Moon

It's for the most part a dark and somber record, released in the wake of Kurt Cobain's suicide. And like 1975's Tonight's the Night, which was deeply influenced by the drug overdoses of a number of Young's comrades, the album makes a few direct references to such passings, but for the most part conveys sadness and loss through tone and mood. Yet while Tonight was stark and bare, Angels, supported by a mostly low-key Crazy Horse, is a dense, sonically rich record, keeping it captivating even where lyrically intense.

The centerpiece of the album is the raging, sprawling "Change Your Mind," a classic "Cortez the Killer"/"Like a Hurricane"-styled Crazy Horse jam, abetted immensely by one of Neil's most infectious choruses from the post-70s era. The much more concise title track is haunting, with a menacing electric atmosphere; while ballads like "Western Hero" are lovely, capturing Neil before his later work would drag similar sentiments into a certain sameness.

The one upbeat moment is the silly, boisterous "Piece of Crap," out of place on the collection but still a welcome respite, with Neil & the Horse mining the same dorky yet fun territory as songs like "Opera Star" and "Prisoners of Rock & Roll."

Angels opened up a brief electric trilogy (followed by the Pearl Jam-backed Mirror Ball and another somewhat downbeat Crazy Horse rocker Broken Arrow, which, bookended by the acoustic Harvest Moon and, in 2000, Silver & Gold, made for Young's most solidly consistent run since the early 70s.

Here's the video for the title track:
Here's a live "Change Your Mind":
...and "Piece of Crap":

Comments

  1. I also really love Neil's post-Freedom comeback '90s run and agree that this is the best of those albums with the exception of Harvest Moon (which I think is better than Harvest). A quick story: I was island hopping in Hawaii on a small plane when we hit some trade winds and the plane jumped around wildly. It was pretty scary. Afterwards the pilot sounded very shook up and apologized 3 times so I guess it was pretty bad. When the plane started shaking I was listening to Change Your Mind and I remember thinking that this might be the last song I ever hear. At least it would've been a great one.

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    1. Sounds terrifying. Agreed you could do worse as far as final songs go! Funny, I enjoy Harvest Moon more than Harvest as well. The high points of Harvest are among his best songs ever (still love Heart of Gold, Old Man, Needle), but it's an inconsistent work. And Moon just sounds better, probably one of his best albums if you just want something you can throw on without being jarred by something that doesn't quite fit in.

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