Old Laughing Lady / Mr. Soul / World on a String / Pocahontas / Stringman / Like a Hurricane / The Needle and the Damage / Helpless / Harvest Moon / Transformer Man / Unknown Legend / Lookout for My Love / Long May You Run / From Hank to Hendrix
by Uncle Dave
I like to be at the office by seven, so the World Cup is not my favorite tournament - and not just because England isn't there. I live in Germany where they're football mad - and have a team which makes the "luck of the Irish" look almost unfortunate. Trying to sleep when they are playing is out of the question in my neighborhood, so I lay in the dark and listened to Unplugged instead. It's that kind of album - crisp and clear and the digital sound definitely enhances some of those older songs. This could be subtitled "Greatest Hits," and it's certainly as close as you'll come to a marketing exercise from Neil Young. It succeeds in that because it is a well-chosen, well-performed set that spans the whole of NY's career. I tuned in to Unplugged on MTV the other day to remind myself what it's all about. Aerosmith were on and sounded like, well, Aerosmith "sans electrique." They were even more mind-numbingly boring than usual. That seems to be the way of it, and I wonder whether, with such groups, there's a point as their music relies on power. People like Neil Young can do it with or without the wall sockets, and it shows. The marketing idea is enhanced by the fact that the lyrics are printed on the insert, but then destroyed by the failure to mention the albums that they come from. Strange, but when you're listening to someone who can write (from "Pocahontas"):
"I wish I was a trapper, I would give a thousand pelts / To sleep with Pocahontas and find out how she felt"
normal rules don't apply. As a showcase for his astonishingly consistent song writing abilities, Unplugged is ideal, and the opportunity is taken professionally and consummately. The scope for invention in an acoustic environment is somewhat less than can be achieved electronically, but there are still things here to send a shiver down your spine. "Harvest Moon" is so much like the original track that it's scary, and the use of a pump organ for a gothic start to "Like a Hurricane" is one of those moments of musical genius rarely witnessed, which some artists go their whole lives without seeing. I like Unplugged a great deal. The only question mark is why, in this age of Hi-Fi video machines and the ease with which you can feed digital sound through your speakers while watching TV, should someone buy the record instead of the video. It's a thoroughly good album, and if after reading some of these reviews you'd like to try a Neil Young sampler, then this is it.