There is a certain segment of Neil Young's fan base that is in it primarily for the decibels. They want to hear "Hey Hey My My", not "My My Hey Hey". They want Crazy Horse, and it better not be `Greendale'. While I share their passion, I do have a corresponding affinity for much of Young's kinder and gentler fare, such as `Comes a Time'. There does come a time, however, when the mood strikes for something striking, and nothing can strike that chord like Neil's `re.ac.tor'. In that sense, this may well be Neil's most underrated effort. Indeed, it is not difficult to find people who would place this disc in an inferno, creating a disc.oh! in.fer.no!
`re.ac.tor' is an explosive chain reaction (since there is no song called `re.ac.tor' on the disc, one must speculate on the significance of the title, including it's syllabled graphic style, and absence of capital letters, which may symbolize being broken down to essential elements; the song titles receive the same curious treatment). The cover is odd and striking, a bold red sideways pyramid flanked top and bottom by black panels. I suppose it conveys contained, yet invasive heat, another good analogy for the aural content within. The 1981 release of `re.ac.tor' followed the 1980 release of Young's `Hawks and Doves' almost one year to the day, another album with a similarly simple yet symbolic cover, a large white star surrounded by blue background.
While `Hawks and Doves' embraced a patriotic theme, `re.ac.tor' embraces everything hedonistic. Drugs and rock open things up in `op.er.a star'; "women", "booze" and "a pleasure cruise" are the tangible elements in `surf.er joe and moe the sleaze'; `t-bone' is a rambunctious 9 minute raging blues on having what you need, but not all you want (for some odd reason Neil decided to print all 6 verses from `t-bone' in the liner notes, all consisting of "Got mashed potatoes. Ain't got no T-bone"); `south.ern pac.i.fic', `mo.tor city', `rap.id tran.sit' and `shots' are angry rants on aging, Japanese imports (Neil really has a thing for cars, especially old ones, eh?), New Wave rock, and war, respectively. Even though I'm from the `mo.tor city', my favorite in the bunch is the wildly entertaining `rap.id tran.sit'. Funny how a `60's rocker put together the best New Wave song the New Wave ever spawned.
You don't have to be a hedonist (in most respects) to enjoy this album. You do have to be motivated to indulge in loud, bare bones rock and roll, however. In the middle of the set Young offers `get back on it', a fast paced two minute ditty that serves as a bit of a respite from the aural assault blasting out on either side of it. Yet it still captures other elements of the disc... it's rather irrelevant lyrics pass the time as Young just has fun with the music. He sings, "I might be late comin' though. I got some things I gotta do". We know, Neil. Nice to hear you getting it out of your system. Now get back on it!
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1.: Opera Star
2.: Surfer Joe And Moe The Sleaze
3.: T Bone
4.: Get Back On It
5.: Southern Pacific
6.: Motor City
7.: Rapid Transit
* Neil Young: guitar, piano, vocal
* Crazy Horse:
o Frank Sampedro: guitar, stringman, vocal
o Billy Talbot: bass, vocal
o Ralph Molina: drums, percussion, vocal