Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s ‘Fu##in’ Up’ is Fu##in’ Great

A track-by-track homage to their classic album Ragged Glory, Fu##in’ Up highlights Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their best – loose, loud, and long-lasting.

Fu##in' Up
Neil Young and Crazy Horse
26 April 2024

Okay, the title of this review is admittedly low-hanging fruit, but who doesn’t love a live album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse? Their concert material on LPs like Rust Never Sleeps (1979) and Live Rust (1979) have become defining artistic statements for the band as well as important documents of shifting tastes and attitudes during the late 1970s. Surprisingly, they managed to bridge a gap between the folk Americana Young had innovated and the then-emergent punk rock scene. Always attuned to the present moment, whether in his politics or debates in the music industry (read: Spotify), Young has never drifted into nostalgia, let alone irrelevance. 

That said, Fu##in’ Up is something of a trip down memory lane. Consisting of only nine songs but lasting about 65 minutes, this new release is essentially a track-by-track homage to Ragged Glory (1990), the blistering sixth album by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The only song missing from the original record is “Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)”, the last song on the LP and its weakest. It didn’t reflect the raucous spirit that preceded it. Its absence here will go unmissed.

Recorded in November 2023, reportedly at a private show at the Rivoli in Toronto, Fu##in’ Up highlights Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their best – loose, loud, and long-lasting, but without being long-winded. For reasons that are unclear, all the tracks have been renamed with lyrics from the songs. Crazy Horse have also been revised. Micah Nelson – the son of Willie Nelson – and Nils Lofgren join Billy Talbot (bass), Ralph Molina (drums), and Young on this outing. Guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, who appeared on Ragged Glory in addition to Zuma (1975) and other classic Neil Young and Crazy Horse releases, has since retired.

Fu##in’ Up wastes no time and even starts with a slight stumble on the first track, “City Life” – originally titled “Country Home” – before Young and Crazy Horse find their groove. There are a few pauses on this album. Banter with the audience, like that found on Live Rust, is practically non-existent. The audience can only be heard in brief moments through cheering, undoubtedly reflecting its small size. In contrast to Live Rust with its cavernous sound and famously passing rainstorm – the crackling thunder complementing the crackling music – Fu##in’ Up more closely resembles the recent archival release, Way Down in the Rust Bucket (2021), which is also a club recording. Made in Santa Cruz, California, in 1990, it captures a pivotal moment just prior to the Ragged Glory tour.  

It is difficult to say what tracks stand out on Fu##in’ Up. I will take all of them. The strongest ones on Ragged Glory, like the road number “White Line” – renamed “Feels Like a Railroad” on this LP – and the garage rock romanticism of “Over and Over” – renamed “Broken Circle” – equally shine here. The third track, “Heart of Steel”, is a reprise of “Fuckin’ Up” from Ragged Glory. Has there ever been a better song of self-reproachment? Other gems include a digressive “Valley of Hearts” (originally “Love to Burn”) at 13 minutes and an equally discursive “Chance on Love” (“Love and Only Love”) at 15 minutes. Their relentless, epic reverb warms you like a bonfire. 

The lingering question is, why return to this album now? Americana has always been about finding a way through the present by resorting to the past. Bob Dylan turned to 19th-century America on John Wesley Harding (1967) to confront the escalating violence of Vietnam – an approach immediately grasped by Jimi Hendrix with his cover of “All Along the Watchtower” – while Bruce Springsteen sought to explore the ennui of the post-Vietnam era on Nebraska (1982) through ballads that resembled stories drawn from old newspaper articles about small town America. 

“Why, why do these old songs live so vividly now?” Young asks in the liner notes. “They do to me. I recognize it. Losing it, finding it, losing it…. Take a chance on love. On love, on love.” Drawing from his own lyrics, perhaps the endurance of Ragged Glory has to do with its engagement with this timeless theme: all of these tracks touch upon love in some form, whether for home, a person, or the white lines of the open road. The title Ragged Glory doesn’t refer to the American flag as often assumed but to the undaunted spirit of love.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse wear their hearts on their sleeves – or is it their amplifiers? – on this LP as they did on the original. With this perspective in mind, the title Fu##in’ Up has less to do with offhand nihilism and more to do with love’s resilience, no matter how often we might fu## up by disregarding it. A key line on this album comes from “Feels Like a Railroad”: “I’ve been down, but I’m coming back up again.”

Despite their garage rock machismo, Neil Young and Crazy Horse are ultimately old-school romantics. They deliver hard-won life lessons amidst their squalling guitars and Molina’s insistent drumbeat. In their own closing words, love and only love will endure.

RATING 8 / 10