BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD: LAST TIME AROUND (1968)
1) On The Way Home; 2) It's So Hard To Wait; 3) Pretty Girl Why; 4) Four Days Gone; 5) Carefree Country Day; 6) Special Days; 7) The Hour Of Not Quite Rain; 8) Questions; 9) I Am A Child; 10) Merry-Go-Round; 11) Uno Mundo; 12) Kind Woman.
Of the three Buffalo Springfield records, this one always gets the cold shoulder — for objective reasons: like Cream's Goodbye a year later, it was released due to contractual obligations already a few months after the band had split, it consisted of various odds-and-ends recorded over a year-long period, and it did not even have a single track where all of the band members would be playing together. Clearly, this is an album that cannot be as strong as its predecessors — and this is the decision towards which most listeners are biased even before putting it on.
But if Last Time Around does not and cannot work as a «coherent» group album (and neither did Again, for that matter), it does not mean, either, that all these songs were not written and recorded at a time when all the songwriters involved (even Richie Furay!) were maturing or even reaching their creative peaks. In just one more year, Stills would be a respectable and visionary member of Crosby, Stills & Nash; Young would be issuing the first of his numerous solo classics; and even those first Poco albums weren't all that bad, when you lower your expectations.
With maybe one or two questionable exceptions, all the songs here are at least good — hooky, meaningful, nicely produced — and at least a few are classics for the ages. And even if the principal songwriters are pulling on the blanket in different directions, it's not as if these directions are completely incompatible: had it been so, there'd be no way that Stills and Young would still regularly get together later, as parts of CSN&Y or of the Stills-Young band. Heck, even the sole contribution by the latecoming new member, Jim Messina, who briefly replaced Bruce Palmer on bass, is nonchalantly nice — not to mention that it would very soon be rewritten by Ray Davies as ʽHolidayʼ, although they both probably caught the tune from some pre-war vaudeville.
Anyway, speaking of individualities, Young is really underrepresented here, with just two solo songs to his name — of which ʽOn The Way Homeʼ is a fairly soft, innocent folk-pop ditty sung by Furay and dominated by falsetto group harmonies that sound more Beach Boys than Neil Young; and ʽI Am A Childʼ is an early Neil classic that would soon become a stage favorite, a very simple little ditty that probably earns our love by how well the chorus matches its basic catchiness and simplicity — a song written, indeed, from a child's point of view, but, in the grand tradition of «baffling the grown-up», ending up asking some unanswerable question or other (in this case, "what is the color when black is burned?", and no, the song was recorded two months prior to Martin Luther King's assassination, if you're looking for some political metaphor here). I mean, ol' Neil can be a very boring gentleman on acoustic guitar and harmonica when he plays those things for too long, but these two and a half minutes — so sweet, so charming, worth all of Harvest for me if you need a hyperbolical comment.
Of the five Stills numbers, I would want to single out ʽFour Days Goneʼ, which already gives you the perfectly accomplished Steve Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash — a country waltz with nervous tension a-plenty and that fabulous desperation strain in Steve's voice that gets through to you even if he's singing so quietly, never having to strain his vocal chords; and ʽSpecial Daysʼ, with a great guitar tone that shows how much the man has matured as a psychedelic rock'n'roll player from the early days of romantic folk-rock. ʽUno Mundoʼ, bringing in a Latin beat and a rather hammy lyrical attempt to marry all the world's continents to each other, seems like a misfire to me, but an amusing one — as an anthem, it may not be nearly as immoral as ʽLove The One You're Withʼ, but the "uno mundo, uno mundo..." harmonies should probably have been left to somebody more authentic, like Santana.
Probably the weirdest number here, however, is ʽThe Hour Of Not Quite Rainʼ, an art-pop song with baroque orchestration written by Furay around a poem by Micki Callen as the result of a radio contest on a Los Angeles station («send us your words and Buffalo Springfield will write a song to them because that is absolutely what they're here for, folks»). Amazingly, it sounds real good, with an atmosphere of some deep autumnal mystery generated by the cello-and-brass-heavy orchestration and by Furay's slow, high-pitched, slightly somnambulant, if not altogether drugged-out, vocals. Despite being written «on order» and not featuring the input of any band member other than Furay, it somehow ends up in the same class as ʽExpecting To Flyʼ — melancholic light classical psychedelia with a bit of a shivery edge to it.
In short, I would recommend not to regard the record as an auxiliary odds-and-ends package, nor to see it as a less-than-perfect swan song — in reality, «Buffalo Springfield» were almost always more of a mixture of interests than a band united by a single purpose, and should be seen as the first chronological chapter of a long saga, or perhaps an important prologue to the continuing story of Stills, Young, and their buddies from the Byrds and the Hollies (now these were actually real bands, whose stories were vastly different from CSN&Y and did not end with Crosby's and Nash's departures). And in that context, Last Time Around is really more of a See You Soon, Folks thing — not the sound of something crashing and dying, but the sound of something better beginning. And, of course, it gets a thumbs up.