Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE
Broken Arrow
Reprise

Tuneful, reflective, indomitable, marked for eccentricity with a dim, meandering were-those-crowd-noises-tacked-on-in-the-studio? version of the Jimmy Reed slop blues "Baby What You Want Me To Do," Broken Arrow represents no apparent diminishment in the stock in trade of everybody's favorite rock and roll survivor, which is vitality itself. Resist the myth of his changeability; like all his best work, the amazing 50-year-old product factory's ninth '90s album (albeit the fifth featuring all new material) sticks to a funkless folk-rock that milks minimal materials for maximum expressiveness and pleasure in both homespun and electrifying guises. But that's not to say the old cow is giving up as much grade A as she used to.

Because Broken Arrow features the gallumph of Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina, Young's natural rhythm section since 1969, I prefer it to last year's Pearl Jam collaboration, where the jet propulsion threw him off pace a little. But I doubt most listeners will agree. Qualitywise, it feels like a cross between such half-lost mid-'70s efforts as On the Beach and the slightly subpar early-'80s stuff that began Young's depressing Reagan-era slide. If anything, it isn't lost enough--better realized than On the Beach, it lacks that cult item's weird sense of quest. In fact, it makes you wonder whether Young hasn't grown so confident in his own aversion for complacency that he could play out his career as solidly and unmomentously as, say, Muddy Waters--never dismissed, but taken for granted.

Who can say? Not you, not me, not Neil. No rock and roller has ever reached this place before, and it's conceivable that in a few years the standouts here will sound as classic as 1989's "Wrecking Ball." I'm especially partial to "Big Time," his umpteenth vibrant refusal to fade away, and the quietly indelible "Music Arcade," which hints slyly at the opposite: "I really didn't mean to stay as long as I have/So I'll be movin' on." The three songs stretched over the CD's first 26 minutes offer as much glacial guitar as any grunge diehard could wish, and nothing here is merely dull. Nevertheless, no pitch of permanent vitality will ever fully answer the artist's eternal question of what to do for an encore. In rock and roll, taken for granted is never enough.

Spin, Aug. 1996