Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Millennium’s First Classic
Why Neil Young’s Silver & Gold scores

Not surprisingly, the first classic album of the new millennium comes from the only sixties icon to shine consistently and brilliantly in the 1990s.

The most significant thing about Silver & Gold is that it’s the first quality collection of songs celebrating the quiet joys of a stable marriage at age 54.

Hardly rock ‘n’ roll grist for the mill, sure. Not from the “Godfather Of Grunge” anyway. But if you think about it, no-one is better qualified than Neil Young to express these particular feelings through song. None of the other elder statesmen of Rock have “settled down” as gracefully, none with Neil Young’s immense expressive gifts anyway. Lennon, unfortunately, died at 40. Dylan, Van Morrison, Clapton, Lou Reed, Joni Mitchell…no-one managed to live the romantic life their best work perhaps yearned for. Paul McCartney did, but he isn’t really an autobiographical songwriter.

Besides, we’re talking about expressing feelings from a zone where marriage has long since stopped being a roller-coaster seat but become an easy chair. This is not a zone most celebrated rock/pop artists have touched. Quality albums celebrating tranquil love have come from some artists like Dylan’s New Morning (1970), Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey (1971), John Lennon &Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy (1980) and Milk &Honey (1984)…but none of these marriages lived on. Strange that this point-of-view should come to us from the man who penned the much-maligned (thanks to Kurt Cobain’s suicide) words , “It’s better to burn out/than to fade away…”

But that was 1979, the year Neil Young and Pegi Morton got married. Young had been through a traumatic decade – lost close friends to drugs, lost the sixties idealism, lost his own way a few times – he’d paid some of his dues perhaps. 21 years on, after nurturing two children afflicted by cerebral palsy, their marriage is stronger than ever. For an exceptional songwriter who was always forthcoming about love, this was always likely to be a very classy offering, whenever it came.

Since 1997, this was a work-in-progress project for Neil Young. His original plan was to do a simple one-man acoustic album, quietly, elegantly, eloquently. Though he deviated from the one-man idea, the album stayed totally true to its originally conceived spirit. This is an immensely tasteful, clear-eyed and gentle collection of songs…happiness as a subject in art has never had a better example. In fact, he even recorded two songs he’d written in the eighties, including the title track, which just makes perfect sense here. Despite using a few country-music elements here and there, the music almost never becomes sentimental…but radiates with keenly-felt emotion, simply expressed. The album opener “Good To See You”, for example, brims over with the delight of being home after a trip, dumping the suitcase in the hallway as the feet make their way to the most important person in the world. The title track is as real as the heart beating, as simple as its implication – “our kind of love never seems to get old/it’s better than silver and gold…” The country-tinged “Daddy Went Walking” is about an old couple just taking an evening walk, hopes for the future perhaps (Young’s own parents were divorced when he was just 15). “Buffalo Springfield Again” deviates from the theme but not the spirit as it is an affectionate paean to his old (and path-breaking) band.

Deliberate or not, there is a slight sense of deja-vu in some of the tracks, almost echos of earlier Young songs. The album’s shimmering masterpiece “Razor Love” opens like Van Morrison’s nostalgia-celebrator “Take Me Back” but goes in another direction and then to a breathtaking level with his lovely high-pitched vocal, which provide the warm hues to the best moments on the album. Always abhorring homogenous perfection, Young ends the album with a cold, dark song “Without Rings”, about the loneliness of not having someone to sing all the warm songs to. Strangely, it almost seems to provide a perspective to all that was being expressed in the album – white stands out more with a touch of darkness behind it.

Ultimately, Young’s younger grunge admirers might not find this album easily palatable. But even otherwise, this is not an easy listening album. To enable the subtleties and richness to seep through the consciousness, this requires undivided attention. Indeed, much like the subject most of the songs are themselves about.

August 2000


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow ... how insightful ... you wrote this 7 years ago?

9:44 AM  

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