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Artist Spotlight: Neil Young

by Justin Farrar

Artist Spotlight: Neil Young

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To coincide with the release of Neil Young + Promise of the Real's excellent new album, Earth, we've cast the Napster Artist Spotlight squarely on one of rock's most beloved icons. Whether you're a veteran fan who has grown up with Young's music or a relative newbie to the cult of Neil, his discography is the kind that never runs out of secrets and surprises. We hope these will either bring to the fore a particular title you've yet to explore or offer a radical reassessment of a well-worn classic that has meant something very specific thing to you for ages.

What becomes obvious when you get the "Neil bug" and start devoting way too much time to his sprawling catalog is how the artist possesses both an intense devotion to his core vision and an uncanny ability to try on a wide range of styles and even personae (David Bowie, though way more theoretical and showy about such things, actually shares a lot with Young in this regard). For example, Young's 1968 self-titled debut (a self-conscious framing of him as art-pop composer) feels worlds removed musically, as well as emotionally, from 1991's Weld, which was all about the guy playing out the godfather-of-grunge meme that ripped through alternative rock at the time. The same can be said when contrasting the bummer-vibes black humor of Tonight's the Night with the intensely earnest Living With War (or for that matter any one of the handful of political records he has released in the last decade).

Yet when seen within the context of his full discography, each of these titles helps to create a startlingly detailed image of the artist, one that has unfolded through time -- and continues to do so. And that's one of his music's greatest appeals: It has changed and evolved along with its listeners. It's far and away one of the most intimate relationships between musician and fan in all of rock 'n' roll history.

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