Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Broken Arrow (Reprise 46291)
After three decades as a recording artist, you'd think maybe Neil Young would be on the verge of settling down. But "Broken Arrow," his latest album with Crazy Horse, is as different from "Mirror Ball" and "Sleeps With Angels" as those albums were from "Unplugged" and "Harvest Moon." Instead of the super-distorted sludge of his last couple of Crazy Horse collaborations, Young goes for a lighter, rootsier sound this time around, generating a sort of superchunky country rock groove on "Changing Highway" and turning in a fairly faithful cover of Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do." This shift in dynamics makes for some interesting moments, as on "Scattered (Let's Think About Livin')," where Young's wispy vocals, combined with the muted overdrive of the guitars, bring an almost otherworldly sense to the song. But even with the volume turned down, Crazy Horse still plays with the same, draggy feel as always, and while that plodding approach works reasonably well on tunes like the tense "This Town," the band's turgid rhythm work leaves beat-oriented songs such as the Bo Diddley-ish "Loose Change" seeming tired and lifeless, as if Young and company barely had the energy to get the riff going -- a feeling that only intensifies as the 10-minute track meanders on. Definitely not one of Young's stronger efforts.
Music for Our Mother Ocean (Interscope 90062)
It would be hard to imagine a more natural connection between music and charity than the one that sparked "Music for Our Mother Ocean." Assembled to benefit the environmental activism the Surfrider Foundation, which is devoted to keeping the oceans clean and healthy, the album is tribute both to the wonders of the water and the glories of surf music. Naturally, it's the surf aspect that's most musically interesting. Who would have imagined, for instance, that Pearl Jam would have been capable of something as silly as "Gremmie Out of Control," a lighthearted and wholly entertaining surf spoof? Or that Helmet would be able to make a pretty good piece of hard core out of Bjork's "Army of Me"? Granted, not every track is a gem, as Silverchair's "Surfin' Bird" is disappointingly flat, the Beastie Boys' "Netty's Girl" is annoyingly self-indulgent, and the Ramones' remake of "California Sun" doesn't quite equal the band's early version. But Gary Hoey brings impressive muscle to his take on "Wipeout," the Rev. Horton Heat has a blast with "I Can't Surf," and Sprung Monkey's "Good Times" is amazing enough to make you look for more by the band.
Music From the Motion Picture (Reprise 46360)
Thanks to Eric Clapton's "Change the World," the soundtrack album from "Phenomenon" is likely to become a hit even if the movie flops. It helps, of course, that "Change the World" -- which was produced by Babyface, Hollywood's favorite hit-maker at the moment -- is one of Clapton's catchiest efforts, blessed with a warm, bluesy verse and a lithe, jazzy chorus that brings out all the supple grace in his voice. But "Change the World" is hardly the album's only noteworthy track. Aaron Neville turns in a lush and lovely remake of Van Morrison's "Crazy Love," Jewel uses "Have a Little Faith in Me" to show that Bonnie Raitt isn't the only singer capable of mining gold from a John Hiatt song, and Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue" stands as proof that Southern soul remains as vital as ever. But the album's brightest moment may well belong to Bryan Ferry, whose beautifully produced and gorgeously sung "Dance With Life" could well be the most commercial single of his career. Who says that being easily listenable makes an album dull?
Music From the Motion Picture (Capitol 37190)
Given the degree to which the current crop of British bands are obsessed with old new-wave music, it makes sense that the soundtrack to "Trainspotting" would be full of both old and new new-wave music. Whether the influence of the past is as obvious as it is in Sleeper's resurrection of Blondie's "Atomic," or as oblique as in Primal Scream's low-tech instrumental title theme, it's clear that these young rockers look back not in anger but with affection. In fact, their best work -- such as Blur's Bowie-ish "Sing" or Elastica's taut, tuneful "2: 1" -- suggests that the original new wave aesthetic is as topical now than it was in the late '70s. Still, as solid as those selections are, they all lack for visceral excitement, as if the artists relied too much on their brains to trust their guts. Maybe that's why the album's most energized music comes not from the new wave of new wave bands, but from such club-conscious acts as Leftfield or Bedrock featuring KYO. Even a track like Underworld's year-old "Born Slippy" -- which, by club standards, is a virtual fossil -- has more kick today than Blur, Pulp and Sleeper put together. And frankly, that doesn't bode well for the future.
Pub Date: 7/04/96