Neil Young, The Dandy Warhols, The Pussycat Dolls 2005 David Bennun
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Neil Young/
The Dandy Warhols/
The Pussycat Dolls

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]




FIRST OFF, LET'S get this out of the way: Prairie Wind is not only Neil Young's best album in years, but a remarkable record by any measure.
 There are basically two kinds of Neil Young album: one abrasive and engulfing as a sandstorm (On The Beach, Rust Never Sleeps), the other deceptively gentle (After The Gold Rush, Harvest). Prairie Wind is very much of the second type - contemplative, tender, and for all its world-weariness, at times achingly naive and sentimental. It contains moments few artists could get away with.
 Young has always seemed governed by not so much a refusal as an inability to follow any promptings but his own. That may explain why, in America, he is equally cherished by metropolitan rockers, hippie throwbacks and raw-boned country-folk. While the likes of Springsteen audibly strain to capture a public mood (as Young himself atypically did last time out, on the self-consciously allegorical Greendale), he has a way of encapsulating the state of the nation simply by expressing his state of mind.
 Thus, Prairie Wind is by turns nostalgic, dejected, defiant, hazy and startlingly specific. Underlying it all is the acoustic country-rock sweetness that made Harvest Moon the most commercially successful of his later albums, and will likely have a similar effect on this one. Deservedly so; some of these songs can take a place on the porch swing with the finest of them.
 A lesser tune would be sugared under by the strings and pedal steel, but It's A Dream is plain gorgeous. No Wonder essays a contemporary tilt at the Cosmic American Music posited by Gram Parsons and realised by Gene Clark. The title track's muted R&B is, like a hidden brushfire, all the more incendiary for it. The closing When God Made Me comes across as an ecumenical liberation hymn, no less.
 From the sublime to the sublimely ridiculous. The Dandy Warhols are surely the world's most preposterous hipsters - something akin to an indie Kiss, which is a very good thing - and would be highly entertaining even if their records were not. Fortunately, their records are.
 Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars is (alongside Trail Of Dead's splendid World Apart LP) as dementedly ambitious a rock record as you'll hear all year. The Dandies' usual obsessions - Velvets, Creation records, drugs, spite, the Stones, insidious melodies - have been supplemented with avant-jazz psych-outs, honky-tonk, synth drones, what have you. The result is a slapstick art-pop binge which calls to mind every wrong-headed party you wish you hadn't gone to the morning after, and long to go to again a week later.
 Every so often, the charts yield before a synthetic pop hit - a Baby One More Time, or a Crazy In Love - so perfect and delicious as to make all the Westlifes and gameshow alumni seem merely a bad dream. The Pussycat Dolls' Don't Cha is just such a number, and the efforts to promote the group as an American Spice Girls led me to hope we might be in for the first great album from a kit-assembly band since Spice itself. Not so. The loving care lavished on that single is altogether absent from PCD, a tawdry filler receptacle which leaves the Dolls where they started: as a cheesy burlesque act. Pity.

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