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Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Sleeps With Angels
(Reprise)

Why Young remains a vibrant, intriguing, forward-looking artist at a time when most of his contemporaries have long since ceased to matter to anyone beyond their immediate families is a matter of some mystery. After all, he's not doing anything that could be described as new: He's playing with the same band (Crazy Horse) that has accompanied him on and off since the late Sixties, his guitar style continues to draw from the expressionistic well he first discovered while a member of the long-defunct Buffalo Springfield, and his melodies and lyrics won't come as a surprise to those of us with well-worn copies of, say, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Zuma. Therefore, Young's effectiveness must be a matter of attitude and of intangibles. The title cut, written in response to Kurt Cobain's suicide, is the most prominent track to explore current events, but "Driveby" and "Safeway Cart" also apply this songwriter's tough-minded hippie prose to issues of the day. Elsewhere, an edgy, funereal tone pervades compositions as disparate as "Western Hero" (about the ravages of history) and "Trans Am," which patches together the mythical past and the mythical present in a manner that would seem utterly loony coming from anyone else. And just when you think you know what to expect, Young and company unleash "Piece of Crap," an assault on consumer culture that's as endearing as it is stupid. More evidence that cool can last a lifetime so long as you keep paying attention.--Michael Roberts

Charles Bukowski
Hostage
(Rhino Word Beat)

It is depressing and painful to listen to all 66 minutes of this effort by the late, legendary genius of low-rent literature, recorded fourteen years ago at the Sweetwater in Redondo Beach, California. Quite simply, it is terrible--but it is also a must-have for anyone who was ever moved to tears or laughter by the few genuinely memorable poems Bukowski wrote. The only commercially available document of a night with the Beast, it's a dream date from hell--a window into the world of a sporadically great writer whose persona and fame ultimately swallowed up any shred of the man who deserved this reputation. By 1980 the best Bukowski (the former amateur boxer and mailman whose work combined abundant sensuality and grotesque ugliness) had been replaced by a poet who shamelessly romanticized drunkenness, classical music, the virtuous nature of whores and his own dick, which he saw as a magic wand with a power beyond words. Appropriately, the audience members on hand at the Sweetwater that night sound more captivated by the freak show than by the poetry. Bukowski manages to deliver a handful of pieces (most from Dangling in the Tournefortia, published in 1981), but he must struggle to be heard above the baiting of the crowd. This chore is made doubly difficult by Bukowski's voice, which is surprisingly nasal and timid. Thanks to too many cigarettes and too much booze, he does have a certain gruffness, but he wastes it on the auditory equivalent of flashing--coyly spitting out words like "cunt" and "pussy" in order to thrill listeners even as he wraps himself in a genteel literary blanket. And yet, in spite of these drawbacks, Hostage is important, if only because it captures Bukowski just before his universal acceptance as a writer of merit and years after his soul had succumbed to the ravages of an illness peculiar to poets: commercial whoring, commonly caused by repeated publication. Don't buy this recording simply because of the way Bukowski fucked and drank himself to death. Buy it to hear the faint echo of what once was, and to remind yourself how lucky you are by comparison.--Linda Gruno

Toadies
Rubberneck
(Interscope)

Pity the average alternative-rock musician: He gigs like crazy for years, putting up with nauseating conditions and heaps of ridicule from everyone in his orbit--and when he finally lands that sought-after record deal, he's tossed into the hopper with a hundred other artists just like him. Such a fate may well await the four members of this Texas combo, which occasionally recalls Jawbox, Drive Like Jehu and a handful of other acts on the left side of the new-music ledger. If on the odd chance you actually give this a listen, you'll discover a band that's passionate, aggressive and eclectic enough to deliver both an appropriately twisted instrumental ("Mexican Hairless") and a pop-punk ditty that could have come from the pen of Frank Black ("Possum Kingdom"). But whether these qualities can turn heads in today's market is quite another thing. In the final analysis, Rubberneck is a fine album made by a solid band. Which probably means it'll be in the remainders bin inside of six months.--Roberts

 
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