Weight of the World / Violent Side / Hippie Dream / Bad News Beat / Touch the Night / People on the Street / Hard Luck Stories / I Got a Problem / Pressure / Drifter
by Don St. John
Somewhere in the mid-eighties, Neil Young began the transition from "guy making oddball records and being sued by his record company" to "legend and avatar of post-punk and grunge." If you'd like to know where the changeover started, check out Landing on Water, his 1986 release and the one Geffen Records could never justify suing him for. Landing on Water was Neil's return to a more rocking sound after the various experiments of Trans, Everybody's Rockin', and Old Ways. It has something in common with these albums; the record features a stark, metallic sound that has more than a little in common with the synthesizer-driven Trans. Nobody plays bass on this album; Neil and cohorts Steve Jordan on drums and Danny Kortchmar on guitars fill the gap with synths, leaving no bottom end, and thus no warmth to the sound. Jordan's drums rattle like garbage cans, and Neil employs lots of brittle, feedback guitar on Old Black, his classic Les Paul. The record's themes touch continually on alienation ("Touch The Night," "I Got A Problem," "Drifter"), lost visions ("Hippie Dream"), and the search for control ("Violent Side," "Pressure"). Neil never sounds convinced, even on the opening track, "Weight Of The World," that the loneliness he felt until he met his love has really gone for good.
"What about you / How can I count on you to count on me?"
is the plaintive question of "Drifter." The listener can't count on a solid answer. This ambiguity, and the way it presages the power of later albums such as Freedom and Ragged Glory, makes Landing on Water the missing link in Young's canon for most listeners. My advice: Go find it and fill the gap now.