Band: Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Album: Rust Never Sleeps
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: "Rust Never Sleeps" is Neil Young's most Neil Young-y album. There are heavy riffs, political messages and Young's classic whine/wail.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The album is so decidedly stylistic that it doesn't let Young show his various non Neil Young-y skills. It's classic Young, with all the trappings, both good and bad.
Best song: Sure, why not? "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" has one of Young's heaviest -- and best -- riffs.
Worst song: "Welfare Mothers" is muddled and I don't care for it.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely.
Neil Young fancies himself something of a philosopher and "Hey Hey, My My"/"My My, Hey Hey" is his Crito. Young's thoughts on the future of rock and roll were made famous by Kurt Cobain's suicide note ("It's better to burn out than to fade away"), but the hard rock electric riff of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" is heavenly. The searing distorted guitar is perfect for the record and is looked at as Young's classic electric song.
But, the song is also "Young as older man." Young had gotten to know DEVO and was familiar with the burdeonging greater punk scene and wrote the song as a reaction to said scene. The rock and roll critical community had begun to call Young (specifically) and his contemporaries dinosaurs in the wake of the punk movement. As bands like the Clash and Sex Pistols started to gain traction, Young found himself mired in critically disfavored albums before "Rust" and had to look inward.
And so he wrote "Hey Hey, My My"/"My My, Hey Hey." The song's lyric is clear: Punk rock will not last forever. Johnny Rotten is specifically namechecked, as Rotten went back to being John Lydon upon the Sex Pistols' breakup (as in, Lydon was "fading away"). Young's introspective bitterness is palpable.
To be honest, that attitude works better on "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." The song's sound has been described as proto-grunge and it remains one of his most popular. For the most part, it's the song that kept him as a viable "artist" (as opposed to sellouts like McCartney and the Stones) in the 1980s. It's that viable artist thing that made Young into the "godfather of grunge" and eventually even worked with Pearl Jam on "Mirrorball." It's all because of this song, basically.
The rest of the album, in a lot of ways, is just as strong as the signature track. "Welfare Mothers" follows Young's other bizarre political work, falling somewhere between the hawkishness of "Hawks and Doves" and the sadness of "Rockin' in the Free World." "Pocahontas" is another of his Young's "history of the Native American" songs, though probably his best. "Thrasher" is similarly great.
Robert Christgau gave the album a rare A+ and I think he gets it right:
The miracle is that Young doesn't sound much more grizzled now than he already did in 1969; he's wiser but not wearier, victor so far over the slow burnout his title warns of.
He's right. This is an album of Neil Young's aging and it sounds great.