Neil Young with Crazy Horse: Toast (Warner) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Neil Young with Crazy Horse

Toast

Warner

Jul 26, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


In 2001 Neil Young chose to sideline the newly recorded Toast in favor of 2002’s shabby, soul-inspired Are You Passionate? He’d later write, “Toast was so sad that I couldn’t put it out.” It wasn’t the first time in his prolific, near-monolithic career that the Canadian had left a great record on the shelf. His death-shroud masterpiece Tonight’s the Night famously received the same treatment in 1973, perhaps for similar reasons.

While Tonight’s the Night was unveiled just a couple of years later, Toast has been hidden in Young’s vast, unreleased archives for over two decades. It is an exceptional record. It’s also a record that bears the weight of heartbreak, self-loathing, and cracked, diminished hope in a way Young has rarely explored so fully in his modern work.

Toast is an album of duality at heart. Young’s longtime and undoubtedly most complimentary collaborators Crazy Horse give simple, tough backing to songs that sway mightily between the twin poles of Young’s ambivalence over a relationship that’s gone irredeemably wrong. On “Quit,” one moment he’s crying “Don’t say you love me” over a gorgeously maudlin guitar melodically redolent of Patti Page’s croon on ’50s hit “Old Cape Cod,” the next he’s declaring “Hey baby, don’t count me out/I’ve got a lot to give, stick around and find out,” which feels as much a threat as a promise.

“Goin’ Home” (which showed up, ill-suited and in a longer take on Are You Passionate?) wields the bold, iron heavy sound of vintage Young. It’s matched with an ornate, purposely confused and brilliant lyric. Even in the opening lines “On the hill where Custer was/Making his last stand/With the Indians all around you/And his gun in his hand” we can’t tell on which side of that skirmish our protagonist fights.

He goes on to further conflate love with warfare (“Made a turn on a wooden bridge/Into the battleground”) to mistake carelessness for freedom (“You’d think it was easy/To give your life away/To not have to live up to/The promises you made”), and, finally, to see the earthly become the ethereal as “She saw her clothes were changing/Into sky and stars.” It’s complex; it’s beautiful.

“Boom Boom Boom,” which shares most of a title and something of the blues strut of John Lee Hooker’s classic, pairs Young’s shipwrecked, atonal soloing with the ironic refrain “Ain’t no way I’m gonna let the good times go,” the sadly, simply optimistic “She’s a healer to me,” and finally, funereally, “All I got is a broken heart/And I don’t try to hide it when I play my guitar.” It’s tantamount to making an emotional voyeur of the listener.

“You’re making love to me,” Young sighs tellingly, shifting the responsibility for that love solely to his partner, on “Gateway of Love.” Young and his Crazy compadres are in all their ragged glory here, with a ’50s tinged stomp that steers into a luscious melody partly recalling Young’s own “Like a Hurricane.” Young’s guitar parts are as high and hesitant as his vocals, though both coalesce perfectly during the sweetly aligned verses. Again Young is hoping for freedom—“If I could just live my life/As easy as a song/I’d wake up someday/And the pain would all be gone”—before pleading hopelessly for succor—“Help me now I’m sinking fast.”

“Standing in the Light of Love” cops an obvious Deep Purple riff and is brazen in its miserabilism—“Drowning in the deep blue sea/Drudging in the long parade.” It’s a rare, forgivable lull.

The album’s pinnacle, and a genuine highpoint of Young’s songwriting career lands with the jaw-dropping “How Ya Doin?” Its iteration as “Mr. Disappointment” on the aforementioned Are You Passionate? acting almost as comedy to this version’s stoic tragedy. “I wanna get you back/I don’t know how to do that,” Young admits before conceding his misfortune in love—“I’d like to shake your hand, Mr. Disappointment/Looks like you win again.” The heavy rumble of Young’s guitar moves through minor chords as he delivers the crushing, “So now it’s up to me/To set your spirit free/So you can swing again/On our gate.” It’s heartbreak beyond heartbreak; the irrational wish that, when they leave, they will take you with them; or perhaps an impossible belief that this lover will somehow still be present even after they’re long gone.

Toast is an invocation of impending loss so powerful and relatable as to be, at times, unbearable. That Young with Crazy Horse are able to create sublime songs from this ruinous situation is a feat unto itself; that Young only felt safe to release them 20 years after they were made is an indictment of just how ruthlessly personal and genuinely affecting they are. Perhaps its title is a fragile glass raised to a lost love; perhaps it’s an acknowledgment of something burned beyond recognition. Young seems, by the evidence here, to want and to have it both ways.

An album once considered too sad to release is now an album it’s impossible to do without. (www.neilyoungarchives.com)

Author rating: 9/10

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