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Neil Young/
Gene Clark

[Mail on Sunday, 2002]



NEIL YOUNG is the only Sixties veteran to remain a vital part of the American musical canon throughout his career to date, and the only rock star who would be equally welcome at a tractor pull and an Earth Day benefit.
   This month brings us a new Young album, usually an event to relish, alongside a clutch of CD reissues. The pick is undoubtedly 1974's On The Beach, which in mood and tone anticipated Bob Dylan's uncannily similar Blood on The Tracks by a year. Heartsore, jaded and haunted by Young's apocalyptic fixations, it is painful and powerful in equal measures. It traces, obliquely, the bitter comedown from the previous decade's highs; and while it offers neither the palliative sweetness nor the surging force of his best known albums, it stands comparison with any of them.
   That surging force was never more ferocious than on 1978's Rust Never Sleeps tour. Stung by punk, Young rode the tide that swept so many of his contemporaries into irrelevance. The eponymous concert film is now out on DVD. If you can endure all the stage business involving becowled roadies and giant doves (think Spinal Tap's Stonehenge, or an REM video directed by your GCSE English teacher), then you'll be rewarded with an astonishing performance by Young at his creative peak.
   One of that show's highlights, Powderfinger, today sounds like a prescient account of the battles between the US government and America's disaffected survivalists. Young picks

up this theme on his new album, Greendale, which chronicles a small California town disturbed by change and startled to find terrorists among its own. For Young, Greendale represents in microcosm a nation where the constitution has been suspended by an oligarchy and the citizenry invited to become its own secret police. The album is tattered and unwieldy, but also gritty and intriguing, driven by a smouldering sense of polemical indignation matched in Young's work only by 1970's outraged Ohio. You sense that not since Richard Nixon's heyday has the Canadian felt such disgust towards his adopted country.
   The late Gene Clark, leading songwriter of The Byrds and brilliant, wayward solo artist, is at last receiving the recognition he deserves. I've played his 1974 masterpiece, No Other, more often and with more pleasure than anything else on my shelves. It is not just a great album, it is one of the very greatest albums ever made. It belongs atop Parnassus with the likes of Astral Weeks, Revolver and Highway 61 Revisited. No Other is a very different kind of record to these, having more in common - not necessarily musically, but in terms of scope, scale and ambition - with such bountiful soul cornucopias as Isaac Hayes's Black Moses, Sly Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On, and Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life. That it has been commercially unavailable for so long is, to say the least, bewildering. forefather Gram Parsons famously longed for a Cosmic American Music. On No Other, Clark perfected it. In eight inspired and often epic songs, he melded country and folk-rock with gospel and elements of funk to produce a sublime, organic whole of dizzying breadth. The slightest hesitation would have left Clark seeming to overreach himself. His baroque arrangements and grandiose poetic conceits would have fallen flat. But he held his nerve, and produced what will surely now be recognised, after almost three decades building up a rapturous cult following, as a record that anyone who loves pop music must hear and own.

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