1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 399

Harvest, by Neil Young
Suggested by Debra Riley Wootton

Are there any cool Neils?

I’m not talking about any of the Neils who are part of the project. You’re all cool Neils. That’s a given, because you’re reading this. My query is a wider one… in the grand canopy of coolness, do any Neils shine like stars?

In music, there’s Neil Young. Neil Diamond. Neil Peart. Neil Hannon. Neil Tennant. Neil Sedaka. Stalwarts and superstars all, but cool? Nah. Maybe Neil Tennant, in the Nineties, but that’s about it. Outside of music? There’s Neil Patrick Harris, who’s pretty cool, and there’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, who’s a well-loved American version of Brian Cox, so I guess he’s cool. You’d think Neil Armstrong would be cool, but even though he was the first, he’s upstaged, in the name department at lease, but the follow-up act Buzz Aldrin. And then there’s Neil Gaiman, who I suppose is actually very cool indeed, but would likely prefer it if he wasn’t.

I mean no shade. Hell, I’m a Craig. There are zero cool Craigs. There’s Craig Charles, Craig Fairbrass, Craig Ferguson, Craig T Nelson, Craig Cash. And musically, there’s who? Craig David? Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2? Very poor indeed.

As far as name recognition goes, Neil Young is the capstone on the Pyramid of Neils. As far as this project goes, this is my second Neil Young album after Album 12, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. I gave that six out of ten, praising its folksy countrified rock, while noting that Neil Young is a personal blind spot, my version of Doctor Who’s The Silence, who slips from my mind unless I’m staring directly at him.

I can confirm that this is still the case. I legitimately thought this was the first Neil Young album of the project, and was halfway through my review when an unrelated search of the Masterdoc revealed the truth.

Harvest, released a full three years after Everyone Knows This is Nowhere, has fewer high spots than I’d expected. It’s a mellow and gentle country journey, populated by sweet guitar and tremulous vocals, with an unmodulated groove and pace that remains steady and constant throughout. It spreads easily, like Philadelphia on crispbread, thinly gauged and pristine like newborn snow. The thing is, I like my peanut butter to be crunchy, as it’s the texture that tantalises and prevents it presenting as bland paste.

Don’t get me wrong, now. I did enjoy this. My particular highlight was the one song I recognised, the classic Heart of Gold, but there were others that certainly warmed my respective cockles. Old Man is a dreamy guitar-driven pseudoballad, and The Needle and the Damage Done is a somewhat harrowing reflection of the destructive power of Heroin, writ softly in delicate picked guitar. Every song is lovely, if you can embrace Neil’s particular vocal limitations, and if you’re happy to lose yourself in the calm waters then you can free-float through bliss for the full forty minutes.

My issue is that without the more strident input from his sometime-bandmates Crazy Horse, Neil can descend into the maudlin a touch too deeply for my tastes. Putting that aside, I can give Harvest a generous 6/10, in line with its predecessor, but qualified with a caveat that there is a gulf of enjoyment between the two.

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