Thursday, January 13, 2011

Album Review: Neil Young – Hawks & Doves

Neil Young was almost peerless in the 1970s with a string of really strong albums, embracing acoustic and electric styles (with Crazy Horse). His stock was particularly high after 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps.

Very little has been written about 1980’s Hawks & Doves. It’s an odd little album. It’s split into 2 sides, Side 1 (or the first 4 tracks) being mostly acoustic – the Doves side, then Side 2 (the final 5 tracks) – the Hawks side, which is dubious country-rock of which more later.

It seems the first 4 tracks were leftovers which didn’t make his albums in the 70s, and it shows, as they are strong acoustic Neil Young songs which could have fit on any of his albums back then. Little Wing, nothing to do with the Jimi Hendrix song of the same name is a fairly slight opener. Although it’s only 2 minutes long the plaintive acoustic strum and harmonica makes it sound instantly like safe territory for the writer.

The opening 4 tracks are kind of downbeat, which suits him quite well. The Old Homestead is seven and half minutes of minimalist acoustic strum, which doesn’t change much yet it doesn’t become boring, there’s a strong melody, which evokes many of Young’s other tracks without sounding too similar too any of them. The eerie whine of an odd sounding theremin wheezes in and out of the track at intervals, with a little bass and drums here and there.

Lost In Space is a little cloying, sounding like a fairly straightforward love song. This one is a little more fleshed out, with dobro and backing vocals added to Neil’s acoustic, while Captain Kennedy is another round of acoustic picking in the vein of The Old Homestead, if significantly shorter. It was held over from the unreleased Chrome Dreams album.

It would have been great if he stopped there but oh no he didn’t. He recorded 5 desperately gung-ho cheesey country-rock tracks with a full band. These tracks have very little to recommend themselves, either musically nor lyrically. Stayin’ Power is like a countrified version of the hoary old Phil Phillips track Sea of Love. No amount of fiddle and steel guitar can rescue these trite songs. If these songs were my introduction to Neil Young, I’d be DNA testing them. He might have been trying to go for a Comes A Time style feel, but it didn’t work. The title track is a cheery stomp-along country rocker which is even worse than that sounds, especially with a chorus of “USA, USA”.

It feels unfinished at just under half an hour. And I could have done without the last 13 minutes. Pity he didn’t scrap this album and hang onto the first 4 tracks a bit longer.