Neil Young & Crazy Horse
This ain't your momma's Neil Young.
After 1980's Hawks & Doves satisfied Neil's acoustic binge, he responded with Reactor, which can only be described as reckless energy let loose, with inevitable consequences. In some circles it's referred to as Neil's only attempt at comedy. It's certainly an inconsistent album, using the creative juice of live performance as an unchecked attempt at pure smash and grab rock. One has to give credit to the ballsy attempt by the band to simply lay out their raison d'etre as a function of force of will, especially in the increasingly ironic Year of MTV. But AC/DC they are not, and I think that's fairly clear given the out and out weird vibe that permeates the record.
The music itself jumps all over the place, but plants its feet most squarely in the days of early metal and blues rock. It shines brightest when the band gets down to serious business (rare), and whatever merits it has as a cultural statement or via artistic license is squandered by the sheer nonessentiality of the album. I mean, really, Neil: why did you even bother? It's simply strange to see one of America's most respected songwriters essentially perform a throwaway album with almost no emphasis on lyrics, cohesion, structure, or a basic respect for his fans.
Hands down Neil's heaviest album, I would be loathe to tell anyone who wasn't intimately familiar (and comfortable) with the highs and lows of the Neil Young / Crazy Horse collaboration to buy this album, or listen to it, with the exception of "Shots", which in my mind should go on his greatest hits.
- Op-e-ra Star - Certainly an antithesis to your typical Neil Young composition (though he would repeat the formula more frequently in the years to come), its hoot-based chorus and relatively tight punkish guitars certainly suggest that Neil and crew might have been paying more attention to the signs of the times than you would expect from someone with nearly 20 years of playing under his belt.
- Surf-er Joe and Moe the Sleaz - All thunder and no lightning, it's one of the few tracks on here that suffers despite the intensity that resonates throughout the album. Maybe it's the cowbell, maybe it's the exceedingly weak vocal Neil offers on the chorus, but this song just kind of sits there. A flat soda.
- T-Bone - If the nonsensical "mash potato" lyrics don't turn you off, this 9 minute monstrosity is sure to turn you off about 8 minutes before it ends. For some reason, some people really love it: these people are the enemy, and will be first against the wall.
- Get Back On It - A standard blues number with a nice boogie beat, some nifty guitar licks, and a touch of call and response. How unhip this must've seemed in 1981. Pshaw.
- South-ern Pac-i-fic - Probably the most easily identifiable "Neil Young-style" song on the album, it's a chugging railroad cowboy anthem with a heavy lyric and a haunting chorus. And thus it's the best track on the album.
- Mo-tor Cit-y - Dated mostly by its political reference to Japan's increasing automobile presence in the US at the turn of the century, but even as a standalone cowpoke blues song its pretty substandard.
- Rap-id Tran-sit - That is the rippingest one-note solo ever, my friend. But that doesn't save this simple groove, which relies a bit too much on a nervous energy that Neil just can't quite convey (for some reason, David Byrne could probably pull off this song with no modification. But that's why he's Neil Young!)
- Shots - Its heavy opening and punchy snare rhythm aren't done a service by Neil's interminably thin voice, but man, that band could wail. I'd vote this the best track if you want to hear why people praise Neil's guitar work.