Somebody asked me today if I knew what irony was. “Of course,” I replied, “it’s between Magnesiumny and Cobaltny on the Periodic table.”
Welcome back once again to another re-evaluation of a classic 70’s double live album. On the turntables tonight is the 1971 release by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young : 4 Way Street. Unlike the previous 3 entrants to this blog, I actually owned records by CSNY, not this one obvs, but at least it’s a start and I know roughly what to expect. So let’s see how the mild-mannered quartet fare, shall we?
4 Way Street is the third album by CSN, their second as CSNY and their first live album. At the time this album was recorded, tensions between the band members were high, with their dressing-room fights becoming the stuff of rock legend, even being referenced by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in their 1971 LP Fillmore East – June 1971 on the song “Do You Like My New Car?” The tensions led to CSNY dissolving shortly after the recording of 4 Way Street; they would reconvene for a stadium tour in the summer of 1974. The next release of new studio material by the group proper would not be until CSN in 1977, without Neil Young. The album went to #1 upon its release and also garnered a positive review in Rolling Stone in which critic George Edward Kimball called it “their best album to date.”Other more recent reviews have also been positive.
Coming to this album; seeing the track listing, knowing most of the songs from the first two records (yeah, I know Young wasn’t on the debut but you know what I mean), I was really looking forward it and wondered why I didn’t buy it when I was into my Neil Young phase (still ongoing btw). After finally listening to this I can safely say I made the right choice in not picking this up. It’s not a bad album, there are some cracking songs and performances on here, but it’s definitely an album of two halves.
Starting off on the wrong foot is never going to be a successful strategy, yet this album does it. The first time I heard ‘Suite:Judy Blue Eyes’ was on the Woodstock soundtrack and it was magnificent. 3 voices, one guitar and an absolute monster of a tune about heartbreak and lost love. CSN (and Y) have written great songs but this is my personal favourite, so seeing it was going to open the album I was excited; less than 5 seconds later I was pissed! 33 seconds! 33 friggin’ seconds of what is arguably their best song! And it’s the bloody end of the song too! What in the name of Satan’s nipple clamps is going on? Was it just a cynical ploy to put the title on the album cover and get people to buy it? Like a dog with a depressive personality disorder I was not a happy bunny! Side one and two is an all acoustic affair, with harmonies galore and some tasty guitar work from Stills and Young. The problem here, with the exception of the always excellent ‘Triad’ and Stills ‘Love The One Your With’, is that the three Neil songs (if you include ‘On The Way Home’) stand head and shoulders above the rest of the tracks featured here.
Sides 3 and 4 are a different kettle of fish altogether and it’s these sides that save the album for me. The long jams on ‘Carry On’ and ‘Southern Man’, the wonderful guitar interplay of Stills and Young on these tracks alone is worth the price of the record. When these two guys get together magic happens; they have an almost telepathic sense of when to come in and when to bow out and let the other one take over. ‘Carry On’ should really be the album’s closer but CSNY finish as they started with another mis-step and end with the downbeat ‘Find The Cost of Freedom’ bringing the album, for me, to an unsatisfactory end.
So is it excessive? Nah, far from it. Only 2 of the 17 tracks here are over 10 minutes and both of them rip, the only other flashy element on here are vocal harmonies, which are gorgeous. Were the critics right? Not in my eyes. I would hardly call this “their best album to date”, the first two records are much better with ‘Deja Vu’ just edging out the debut. Would I listen to it again? The second disc most definitely I’d play again. The first probably would remain in pristine condition! Maybe they should have put the arguments on there as a bonus! Would I recommend it? Not really, I probably would point anyone who asks to the first two records and leave it at that. Is there a drum solo? Not a chance, which is a Swiss flag (a big plus).
So what’s the final verdict? 6/10 seems like a fair score. The electric portion of the album it top notch on its own but the acoustic side brings it down. Join me next time for another trip down memory lane and until then I’m off to see if Mark Volman still has those three unreleased recordings of CSNY fighting in the dressing-room of the Fillmore East. Toodles!