December 15, 2006
Neil Young & Crazy Horse
“Live at the Fillmore East, March 6 & 7, 1970”
On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98
There are two sides to Neil Young. The first side is known for its delicate vocals and stunning songwriting and is responsible for songs such as “Heart of Gold.” This Neil Young is the one most familiar to the average listener.
The other side is characterized by a raucous passion for rock ‘n’ roll (though the quality of songwriting is by no means sacrificed, see “Cinnamon Girl”), and is most often found in Young’s work with Crazy Horse.
Although the two sides of Young have overarching elements, casual listeners will find themselves more comfortable with Young’s softer side.
Young’s recent release – a recording from a performance with Crazy Horse, “Live at the Fillmore East, March 6 & 7, 1970” – is not from his softer side.
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The recording includes six songs from the second halves of two sets performed at the Fillmore East in New York – “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” ” Winterlong,” “Down By the River,” “Wonderin’,” “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” and “Cowgirl In the Sand.”
Although the album consists of only six songs, two of the numbers – “Down By the River” and “Cowgirl In the Sand” – each span more than 10 minutes. The longwinded jams on these songs aren’t epic, but their instrumental forays sound as natural as Young’s earthy vocals.
Young’s vocals don’t have the same degree of poignancy when accompanied with the crackle of an electric guitar as they do when riding the subtle tones of an acoustic guitar or piano. But that doesn’t mean they don’t please.
The refrain of “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” is sung with as much fervor as he puts into “Don’t Let It Bring You Down.” However, the album would be better served had it included songs from the first half of these performances, in which Young performed solo acoustic sets.
Had the album included a broader spectrum of Young’s material, it’d stand among pop music’s great live albums. As is, it’s a great live album for dedicated Young fans.
My Chemical Romance
“The Black Parade”
On sale at All That Jazz for $15.98
Rob Cavallo must still be high off the success of Green Day’s “American Idiot.” It’s the only explanation as to why the renowned producer would invest the time into helming My Chemical Romance’s third album, “The Black Parade,” an awkward pop-punk concept album.
It seems natural that Cavallo would follow Green Day’s popular rock opera with another attempt at an epic production. But, whereas Green Day is an established act with a love for the original rock opera band, The Who, My Chemical Romance has only one other major studio recording and is not a band with across-the-board popularity – concertgoers to England’s 2006 Reading and Leeds Festival reportedly disdained the band so much that they threw bacon, tangerines, golf balls and plastic bottles filled with urine at its members.
Any band that is the target of such heavy criticism probably isn’t ready to make the big step into concept album territory, which is why “The Black Parade” sounds like an imitated blend of “American Idiot” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”
When the opening track, “The End,” makes the sudden transition from an acoustic ditty to an over-the-top ballad, complete with orchestral arrangements and call-to-arms lyrics, it’s apparent My Chemical Romance is in over its head.
Frontman Gerard Way frames himself, or his album’s character (depending on whether you buy into the flimsy, oft-told story that encompasses “The Black Parade”), as a leader of “the broken, the beaten and the damned.”
The album’s first single, “Welcome to The Black Parade,” sounds as forced as the band’s costumed image, despite Way’s best efforts to offer a Roger Waters-esque, not-quite-sane vocal delivery.
“Mama,” the album’s equivalent of Pink Floyd’s “The Trial,” lacks the conviction to match its grandeur. Then there’s “Teenagers,” which sounds like an ode to Twisted Sister – enough said.
Leave thematic albums to the veterans, guys. You can’t breathe life into a stale sound if you’re already suffocating.