Sunday, November 15, 2015

Neil Young - After the Gold Rush (1970)

The funereal tone of many of the songs on After the Gold Rush, Neil Young's third solo album, betrays a sense of hopelessness and finality.  Many of the songs on this record, inspired by the un-filmed, Armageddon-themed screenplay of the same name written by Dean Stockwell and Herb Bermann, are stripped down to one or two instruments and Young's harrowing voice, and most of the tracks with backup instruments don't sound any less isolated.  The record finds Young, at the beginning of the disillusioning 1970s, looking mostly in vain for signs of love, camaraderie and succor.  In that sense, After the Gold Rush in fact reflects the aftermath of dead dreams of a brighter future as other albums of the time do, such as John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
Young tries to provide what comfort he can, like any loner seeking to connect in a world gone wrong, but there's little help he can give.  The front sleeve, showing Young isolated from the elderly woman he's passing, betrays that reality.  Loneliness and despair permeate through After the Gold Rush via music that is mournfully soulful, emotionally tender, and somewhat chilling.  "Tell Me Why" and "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" are cutting acknowledgements of loss, while the ironic "Don't Let It Bring You Down" bites with imagery of old men and blind men dying in one last desperate bid for compassion in a world that doesn't care.  Young's love songs, like the piano dirge "Birds" and the pensive "I Believe In You," each try to reach out to a lover but is undercut by the reality of miscommunication and mistrust.   
After the Gold Rush is a sober, tough assessment of a decaying world, and the the best cuts drive the point home effectively.  "Southern Man" is a scathing, angry condemnation of racism in the American South that contrasts Southern religiosity with the horrors of violence against blacks, rocking out like an vengeful deity.  The somber title track, which looks at a scorched earth in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust to the tune of a slow piano and a French horn that almost weeps its notes, shows Young as naked and vulnerable as he's ever allowed himself to be.  The trailing off of his voice at the end suggests nothing less than the idealism of the sixties collapsing into despair.  But you know Young, in spite of the odds, won't give up so easily; he'll still try to find someone who's turning, so he and the rest of us can come around. 

No comments: