Essential Music #11

Lucky Thirteen, Neil Young‘s 27th solo album, samples that chunk of his career from 1982 to 1988, when he ditched Reprise (his label since his 1969 debut) and took up with Geffen Records. The five wildly uneven albums that came out of this unholy alliance were mostly savaged by the critics and left to rot on the shelves. It all came to an unseemly end when David Geffen sued his own artist for not being commercial enough, and Young returned to Reprise.

Lucky Thirteen‘s musical grab bag consists of previously unreleased material, alternate takes, live stuff, first-time-on-CD cuts, and a couple of songs culled from a concert laserdisc. Subtitled “Excursions into Alien Territory,” Geffen’s attempt to recoup some of its losses doesn’t hang together like a bona fide Neil Young album (which sometimes have trouble hanging together themselves). Techno, country, rockabilly, R&B, blues, and rock served up on the same platter makes for some jagged listening; but taken individually most of these songs are first-rate, with at least two of them out-and-out classics: a slightly different version of “Sample and Hold” (robotic romanticism set against computerized grunge) and “Mideast Vacation” (politically incorrect military mythmaking that’s right up there with Stan Ridgway’s “Camouflage” and Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”).

Rock critic Dave Marsh once argued that Neil Young “lacks the commitment or the focus to develop his ideas (or even select well among them).” The extraordinary range of musical idioms evidenced on Lucky Thirteen and Young’s command of them instead reveals a refreshingly peculiar artist who today remains significant for the fifth decade in a row.

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