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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Buffalo Springfield: Again

BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD: AGAIN (1967)

1) Mr. Soul; 2) A Child's Claim To Fame; 3) Everydays; 4) Expecting To Fly; 5) Bluebird; 6) Hung Upside Down; 7) Sad Memory; 8) Good Time Boy; 9) Rock & Roll Woman; 10) Broken Arrow.

Even though the title of this second album would seem to imply that this record is a logical heir to the first one, it really isn't. Three young lads cut their songwriting teeth in 1966 (although at least one of them — Furay — was denied dental help), helping each other out where necessary. By 1967, the three young lads in question were ready to understand how utterly different they were from each other, but professional and historical ties still bound them together, and so, in­stead of three solo albums, Fate got them to get together again and make a single one. So they kind of jumped from their Rubber Soul period into their Abbey Road stage in one blink — quite a dazzling case of acceleration, if you ask me.

The actual sessions for Again were stretched out across the entire first half of 1967, and did not always include all the band members assembled together: Young was frequently absent because he did not care all that much, bass player Bruce Palmer cared a lot but was also frequently absent because of his drug bust, and session players came and went at random whenever some of the re­gulars dropped out of the picture. In other words, the whole thing was rather messy, but then «messy» was sort of good in 1967, when great ideas sprang out of chaos and «work schedules» were considered detrimental to groundbreaking art anyway.

The one member of the band here who sounds as if he wouldn't mind working on a schedule is Furay, who finally gets a chance to contribute three of his own songs — and they are proto-Poco: nice, sweet, inoffensive country-pop/rock — melodic, derivative, sentimental, perfectly listenable but not all that exciting. ʽA Child's Claim To Fameʼ has some sweet dobro lines added by James Burton, but could have been written and recorded by just about any mediocre Nashville team. ʽSad Memoryʼ is an acoustic folk ballad, somewhere in between the Everleys and James Taylor, which Young tries to make more distinctive by playing some electric lines in the back­ground, muffled and disguised to sound like a soft jazzy sax solo — too quiet to draw attention, though. ʽGood Time Boyʼ is the most upbeat number of the three, and drummer Dewey Martin gets to sing on it, either because they didn't want him to feel left out, or because they thought he had a sufficiently rowdy voice to make it rougher. However, his attempts to generate a «good time» atmosphere and bring it closer to James Brown's R&B stylistics (with chaotic-ecstatic "sock it to me now!"s and "lay it on me now!"s) are laughable, to put it mildly, and the whole thing, at best, can qualify as a humorous / parodic number. (Another Beatles analogy here — they use up their drummer much like the Fab Four used up theirs. Drummers are funny, you know).

Stills gets the largest share of songs here, and they already establish his classic solo/CSN style: not too hard, not too soft folk- and country-rock with a creative/psychedelic twist. Arguably the oddest track of the four is ʽEverydaysʼ, where he combines a nightclub lounge-jazz atmosphere with harsh feedback hum that accompanies all the verses — assuming that the feedback is pro­vided by Neil, this marks the first Young experiment with guitar noise captured on record, and it is sort of ironic that it had to happen on a Stills-penned jazz number! The most ambitious number out of all four, though, is probably ʽBluebirdʼ, which really puts that «rock» in «folk-rock», with battling acoustic and electric guitars, falsetto harmonies in the bridge alternating with brashly-boldly delivered verse vocals, an instrumental section where psychedelic drone meets folk dance and even a little bit of drum'n'bass, and an unexpectedly soft coda where the distorted electric guitar is kicked out of the house by a banjo — you can read all sorts of symbolism into it, but we here will just accept this as an unpredictable randomized adventure.

The biggest artistic breakthrough, nevertheless, belongs to Young, whose three tunes here have all acquired classic status, and raised the Buffalo Springfield benchmark high enough to be able to compete with 1967's first-graders. ʽMr. Soulʼ rocks harder than anything else on the album, and not so much because its main riff represents but a minor variation on ʽSatisfactionʼ, but be­cause this is where we get to know the classic Neil Young style of guitar playing — the piercing distorted guitar tones, the jagged, slightly dissonant solos, the relentless ear-pummeling that forces the listener to take notice. It's a short song, with no sign yet of the earth-shattering guitar jams that Neil would soon be associated with, but it's a fairly truthful sign of things to come. And also, somehow I get the feeling that the song may have been at least a subconscious influence on ʽJumpin' Jack Flashʼ: couldn't we hear echoes of "I was raised by the praise of a fan who said I upset her", played to the riff of ʽSatisfactionʼ, in "I was raised by a toothless bearded hag", played to the near-equal riff of ʽJumpin' Jack Flashʼ? Just curious.

Neil's other two contributions are not rockers at all, but rather grand romantic epics, on a surpri­singly grand scale that was probably imposed on him by the overall romantic ambitiousness of the times, since his early solo records have almost nothing resembling ʽExpecting To Flyʼ and ʽBro­ken Arrowʼ (well, maybe the self-titled debut does, a little bit). You could, in fact, treat them as two separated movements of a single conceptual piece — «The Arrow That Expected To Fly But Couldn't Because It Was Broken» or something. The first movement is what they sometimes like to call a «Euroart song», one that the Moody Blues and the Zombies would probably appre­ciate; the second is multi-part in itself, playing out like a mini-spectacle (with a goofy self-quotation-mode reprisal of ʽMr. Soulʼ leading into "the lights turned on and the curtain fell down" introduction) with half-metaphorical, half-nonsensical lyrics that seem to be dealing with disillusionment, disenchant­ment, and depression. But really, I'm just writing this because 99% of Neil's songs deal with dis­illusionment, disenchantment, and depression, and remembering this always comes in handy when trying to decipher the cryptic verbal imagery of his early years.

I think that these songs still hold up after all these years, despite their youthful maximalism and rather naïve grandiosity — the vocal melodies are lovely and challenging, what with all those unpredictable time signature changes inside the verses of ʽBroken Arrowʼ; and those who have a problem with the sharpness and shrillness of Young's whiny voice on his stripped down solo al­bums will probably wonder why he would so rarely, if ever, resort to smoothing them out with the psychedelic echo effects on ʽExpecting To Flyʼ that retain all the tenderness of his voice while at the same time masking the «grating» overtones. On the other hand, neither of these songs is «typical» Neil Young — they're «Summer-of-Love Neil Young», recorded in that really strange year when you could extract a common musical invariant from John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Neil Young, and Ted Nugent, so it might be argued that these are just early experiments with different voices, and that the music is not endowed with true Young spirit, whatever that be.

On an amusing note, you could argue that the logical sequel to Buffalo Springfield Again is Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon — picking up exactly where the former left off. But apart from the odd link between the coda of ʽBroken Arrowʼ and the beginning of ʽSpeak To Meʼ, there would be little to further that analogy: Again has no concept, no big masterplan, and is really just an exercise in survival of three differently attuned songwriters in the newly discovered limitless waters of the post-Sgt. Pepper era. An inconsistent mix of pretty secure mediocrity with flawed, insecure greatness, it deserves its thumbs up a-plenty, but you can already see here who's aiming for the buffalo and who's pining for Springfield.

2 comments:

  1. That cover is such a hodge-podge. Like a primary school art project. What, are the Buffalo Springfield supposed to be the gods overlooking the mountain? Does that make Stills Jupiter and Young Uranus?

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