Neil Young – Re*ac*tor (1981)

Got mashed potatoes

“Reactor” is a true Crazy Horse album but as such it is a little off, a little jarring. As the second studio album of the eighties it continues the road towards the most strange Neil records of all time. This record feels a little bit edgy, metallic, less warm, it’s an industrial feeling. You can also hear some signs of the development that will lead to the next album “Trans”… Machines at work in the background.

The album has a bunch of really great songs in a clangoring setting. These songs are really good if you listen to the basic melodies and they would be great played acoustic by Neil. Another group are some songs that are just rowdy and funny bagatelles. And then at last we have a joker, an outlier.

The best songs on the album are “Southern Pacific”, “Shots”, “Get back on it” and “Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze”. They all have great melodies.

“Southern pacific” is a rhythmic lament about Mr. Jones, an old train worker that is forced into retirement. A tale as taken out of the old Wild West. The band is great, I love the guitars and the beat. The sound picture is immersive.

“Shots” is the last song on the album, the anchor sort of. Neil’s voice is delicate, intense feeling poured into the performance. The soundscape is messy, a lot of things going on. I have heard the song played solo on an acoustic guitar and it really delivers in that setting. This is a trait most of Neil’s songs from the eighties have. Regardless of the crazy musical settings he put them in, they are fantastic songs played “bare bone”.

“Get back on it” is a fun song, it could be a left over from “Hawks & doves”, right? It has a large portion of country rock in it. And you hear the train steaming on and on as on several songs on this album.

“T-bone” with the primal and desperately hungry words is the outlier and a favourite of mine. It is the quintessential Neil Young and Crazy Horse in many ways. Neil’s sense of humour and his “don’t give a damn” attitude joined in harmony. I love it.

The fillers on the album are by no means bad, but they are minor works. “Opera star” is a little boring, I never liked it. “Motor City” is fun, a jolly stomping sing-along song for the bars in Detroit. No digital clock! “Rapid transit” is… repetitive. I either love it or hate it depending on the mood I am in. Nice sound of the guitar though.

All in all this is an album with a clear id. It is perhaps a little forgotten, released just before the “strange one”. This is an album where most songs were, and would be, great played live. An album maybe easily forgotten, but it shouldn’t be.

My rating: 7/10

Side A:

  1. Opera star
  2. Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze
  3. T-bone
  4. Get back on it

Side B:

  1. Southern Pacific
  2. Motor City
  3. Rapid transit
  4. Shots

Best songs: “T-bone”, “Southern Pacific”, “Shots”, “Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze” and “Get back on it”

Released on October 28, 1981

Media: Vinyl, LP, 2018, Album, Reissue, Remastered, Neil Young Archives Official Release Series – NYA ORS 14

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