Sunday, August 05, 2012
BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN
Constructed from fragmented sessions where the original five members rarely shared the same studio or any common ground, it is a wonder that the second Buffalo Springfield LP exists. Out of chaos, in-fighting and a large cast of contributors came their finest record.
Neil Young and Stephen Stills often had very different ideas about the creative direction of the group. Frequently clashing, their contributions to the set were mostly recorded separately. There were instances where they would chip in on instrumental or vocal parts for one another, though it was the exception rather than the rule.
Young's driving opener, "Mr. Soul", would be one of the few cuts where the quintet laid the track down together. Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer come off like the Stax house rhythm section, pushing the beat while the guitars do an unmistakable variation of the "Satisfaction" riff. Purposefully vague, the lyrics seem to be an uneasy
reflection of the author's love/hate relationship with audience expectation.
In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?
Typically, Neil has avoided any analysis of the song. Like the majority of his work, it has held up quite well. The remake that he did 15 years later for Trans is nearly unrecognizable. He has expressed regret for adding further guitar overdubs to the original version. Stills had advised him that it was done. Young messed with it some more, yet he did not improve upon the initial take. This would be a lesson that he would take to heart soon after he had started playing with Crazy Horse: Get it down and move on.
Melodic sense and a sure touch with a tune benefit Stills' offerings. "Rock and Roll Woman" is the best of the pack in this vein and points in the direction of CSN (with David Crosby himself involved in backing vocals and co-writing). "Bluebird" is another standout, judiciously pared down from over eight minutes of extended jamming. It would become a highlight of their live shows with Stills/Young guitar wars adding to the excitement factor.
Country rock is spotlighted in Ritchie Furay's jaunty, "A Child's Claim to Fame", which was a veiled shot at Neil Young and his less than stellar commitment to the Springfield. James Burton adds dobro to this fine blueprint for the material that would comprise the first Poco album. Every selection on this disc brings with it a seismic shift in style. Another element that brings variety is guitar texture, which is utilized perfectly throughout. Just listen to the distorted, harmonized lick that kicks off "Hung Upside Down". Further evidence comes with the chiming acoustics on "Rock and Roll Woman" and the over-driven, angry frown of a note that cuts across the beginning of each verse of "Everydays". The soloing is mad, untamed.
In terms of return for effort, the thirty days of recording and mixing that eventually gave birth to "Expecting to Fly" were well spent. Written by Young and arranged by Jack Nitzsche, this stunning exercise bears the stamp of a Brian Wilson soundsscape filtered through Neil's special lens. Sunrise is evoked by that long opening note that flowers into a burst of strings just as the other instruments stumble in to support the verse. Nitzsche deserves special mention for bringing all of the components together that make this one so compelling. Geniuses working in tandem.
"Broken Arrow" is another haunting tune which loses points only for the overly cluttered, "kitchen sink" production job. Stills' harmonies on the chorus are stellar but some of the effects/tricks that precede each verse detract from the beauty of the melody. In the wake of Sgt Pepper, many ambitious recordings began to flood the market. This is a case where a re-think and some restraint would have been welcome. (especially that cheesy Take Me Out to the Ballgame organ snippet). There has been much conjecture about the meaning of the words, which some have construed as a rumination on major events up to that point in the sixties. Unfathomable is how I see it. To Native Americans, a broken arrow is a symbol of peace.
In retrospect, it's fairly easy to say that the main writers were charting the course for their own future projects. "Again" definitely benefits from the strong work that they turned in. Dropping "Sad Memory" and "Good Time Boy" to add another of Young's compositions would have added value to the overall presentation. Despite critical acclaim, commercial impact was slight. How this quietly beautiful work escaped record buyers at the time is a mystery. Perhaps if the personalities involved had worked harder to achieve a united front, they could have captured a larger audience.
Regardless, Buffalo Springfield Again stands as one of the premier releases of 1967, easily the equal of anything that was unveiled during that pivotal year.