By Brian Ives
Usually, on Fridays (“New Release Days” to music fanatics) we publish a “5 Best Songs” feature to give you a short primer to select new albums (We’ve done this for new albums by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Paul Simon, among others). And this week, we wanted to do that with Neil Young’s latest release, Earth. But as it turns out, that won’t be possible.
That’s because, per Mr. Young, that’s not possible. While there are a number of different songs on the album, the artist says that the album is “98 uninterupted minutes long,” noting that “Earth flows as a collection of 13 songs.” Except they are all part of the same track. So, technically, the whole album is just one track.
Additionally, Young says, “Our animal kingdom is well represented in the audience as well and the animals, insects, birds and mammals actually take over the performances of the songs at times.”
With most artists, that description would make it a shoo-in for the strangest album in their catalog. But in the Neil Young discography, there’s a lot of possible applicants for that dubious title. Here is some of Earth‘s competition.
Trans (1982) – In the early ’80s, Young was influenced by synth-based German band Kraftwerk, and was starting to use an early digital synthesizer called a synclavier along with a vocoder, a synthesizer that makes human voices sound robotic (sort of a precursor to auto tune). The result was an album that sounded nothing like any previous Neil Young efforts (which, in a way, was the most “Neil Young” thing he could have done).
Chrome Dreams II (2007) – Judging by the album’s title, you might reason that this was a sequel to an album called Chrome Dreams. That’s sort of true: there is a Chrome Dreams bootleg, that is based off of an album that Young started recording in the ’70s, and ultimately shelved in favor of American Stars N’ Bars. So that was pretty odd. Even odder: the inclusion of a song with his ’80s era horn-heavy big-band the Bluenotes, “Ordinary People,” which clocked in at over eighteen minutes (lots of ordinary people are discussed in the song).
Everybody’s Rockin’ (1983) – After Trans, Young’s label, Geffen Records, demanded a “rock and roll album.” They probably didn’t expect Young to respond with a rockabilly/doo-wop hybrid. But that’s how Neil and the Shocking Pink was born. Alas, they lasted just this one album: ten songs (four of which were covers) clocking in at 25 minutes, is just a teeny bit longer than “Ordinary People” but still shorter than his 2012 song, “Driftin’ Back.”
Re-ac-tor (1981) – A very repetitive song from Young’s new wave-inspired album, it includes “T-Bone,” a nine-plus minute song about the conundrum of not having a t-bone steak, yet having mashed potatoes.
Arc (1991) – Sorry Earth and even Trans, Arc gets the win… which isn’t to say that you’re going to want to listen to it too many times (or even once). It’s a 35 minute long EP consisting of one long track, just like Earth. But where Earth will feature songs, Arc is basically a sonic collage of feedback, vocals and drum beats. It was recorded while on tour in 1990, and Sonic Youth was Young’s opening act. SY guitarist Thurston Moore convinced Neil that this would be a good idea.