Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

May 14, 1969 – Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is released.
# allmusic 5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is the second studio album by Neil Young, released on this date in May, 1969 on Reprise Records catalogue RS 6349. His first with backing band Crazy Horse, it peaked at #34 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified a platinum album by the RIAA.
Neil Young’s second album yielded several of his most enduring hits (including the title tune, “Cowgirl In The Sand,” “Cinnamon Girl,” and “Down By The River”) and firmly established him as a solo artist of the first rank. Though it’s impossible to narrow the catalog of Young and Crazy Horse down to one representative document, this is about as close as you’re likely to get. This was Young’s first collaboration with the Horse, and it’s still one of that group’s defining recorded moments. As in much of Young’s subsequent work, the feeling of despair moves unabated through the album, which runs the emotional gamut from laconically desperate to psychotically desperate. Despite the gloom, the heavy electric riffing on “Cinnamon Girl” and “Cowgirl In the Sand”–two surrealistic odes to an idealized muse–is cathartic and invigorating, easily as riveting as the guitar onslaught of anyone from the Stooges to the Velvet Underground.
Young’s rootsy, acoustic side comes to the fore on “Round & Round” and “Running Dry.” The homespun quality of these songs doesn’t leaven the consuming sense of dread that permeates this album, though. Strangely, this expression of angst and emotional disorder became one of Young’s most lastingly popular albums, and “Down By The River,” “Cinnamon Girl,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” quickly turned into FM staples.
Neil Young does not have the kind of “good” voice that would bring praise from a high school music teacher. But you only have to listen to Judy Collins mangle “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” to realize that rock and roll does not flourish because of “good” voices. The best rock vocals (for example, those of Mick Jagger or Richard Manuel) are usually gritty or even harsh. Negating a formula prettiness, they push forward the unique temperament of the singer (“It’s the singer, not the song” — Mick Jagger). Such vocals can never function as background music; they demand that you listen to them and feel them. Their essence is their intensity and in light of that intensity the products of “good” voices usually sound pallid and dead.
While Neil Young is a fine songwriter and an excellent guitarist, his greatest strength is in his voice. Its arid tone is perpetually mournful, without being maudlin or pathetic. It hints at a world in which sorrow underlies everything; even a line like “you can’t conceive of the pleasure in my smile” (from “I am a Child”) ultimately becomes painful to hear. And because that world is recognizable to most of us, Young’s singing is often strangely moving. In a natural and moving way, Neil Young is the Johnny Ray of rock and roll.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is Young’s second album since the demise of the Buffalo Springfield. In several repects it falls short of his previous effort. Young’s new material is a little disappointing; nothing on this album touches the aching beauty of “If I Could Have Her Tonight” and “I’ve Loved Her So Long” or the quiet terror of “The Old Laughing Lady.” His guitar work also suffers by comparison; the lyricism of the first album can only be found in faint traces here. But despite its shortcomings, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere offers ample rewards. Young’s music partially makes up for its lack of grace by its energy and its assurance. And his singing is still superb. Listen, for example, to the conviction which he gives to the title cut, a song about the need for and the impossibility of escape from Los Angeles.
The most interesting tracks on the album are “Running Dry” and “Cowgirl in the Sand.” Building on a traditional folk melody, “Running Dry” interweaves electric guitar and violin into a disquieting blend. Its aura of strangeness is somewhat reminiscent of Young’s magnificent “Out of My Mind.” The lyrics are a bit over-dramatic, but the music and vocal manage to transcend them, creating the feeling of a dimly understood tragedy.
On “Cowgirl in the Sand” everything works. The lyrics are quietly accusative, while the lead guitar, alternately soaring, piercing, and driving, keeps the song surging forward. But it is Young’s singing which is the real key to the success of this track. “Cowgirl in the Sand” demonstrates quite clearly the peculiar depths of Young’s voice. It indicates how rock manages, again and again, to triumph over high school music teachers and their legions.
All tracks written by Neil Young.
Side one
“Cinnamon Girl” – 2:58
“Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” – 2:26
“Round & Round (It Won’t Be Long)” – 5:49
“Down by the River” – 9:13
Side two
“The Losing End (When You’re On)” – 4:03
“Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)” – 5:30
“Cowgirl in the Sand” – 10:06

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