15. Song from an Album I Liked Less over Time
‘Cripple Creek Ferry’ – Neil Young
This feels like a confession. My name is Dennis, and I can’t listen to After the Goldrush. For years, through university and beyond, I could handle it, though perhaps even then I was pretending, bottling it up. I know the niggles were always there.
This album drives me mad. It’s the lyrics. Specifically, it’s the priority that’s given to rhyme over sense. Here’s an example:
Don’t let it bring you down.
It’s only castles burning.
Find someone who’s turning,
And you will come around.
“Someone who’s turning”? Turning how? Like milk? I know. I know it’s not him, it’s me. I know that I’m being pedantic, that a song is more than a lyric sheet, that its emotional meaning comes from a complex of things: the words, the melody, the arrangement, the timbre of Young’s voice… But now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it. And when Young is lying in that burned-out basement, waiting for replacement, what kind of replacement does he mean exactly? A tyre? A printer cartridge? I guess the answer is that the meaning is left floating by Young – these are vague enough, suggestive enough terms for us to hang our own personal meanings on them, and that’s partly why the songs are so effective. That should be fine. But for some reason I just can’t manage it here, just can’t shake the feeling that on this album it’s rather shabby.
Sure, a lot of people do it. Nick Drake is an obvious comparison – a terrible rhymster. But then Drake is still a cult, and his naïvety is part of his appeal. After the Goldrush is one of those blue ribbon albums, hailed always for its quality, not for its charm: it’s not supposed to have that’ll-do rhyming.
But the closer, Cripple Creek Ferry, has charm in spades. Musically, in its slightness, its simplicity, those extra kick drum beats at the end of the chorus, it’s cute. Lyrically – what a relief! – it deals in specifics, or at least in Dylanesque archetypes: the Gambler, the Captain. And that rhyme – “It’s the second half of the cruise / And you know he hates to lose” – is goofy, but it’s not pretentious. The overall effect is slightly cartoonish. I like that much more than the po-faced masterclass of the previous ten songs.
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