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‘Fu##in’ Up’ Review: Neil Young’s Gloriously Ragged Return To Grunge
Joey Martinez
In Depth

‘Fu##in’ Up’ Review: Neil Young’s Gloriously Ragged Return To Grunge

Recorded at a secret gig, ‘Fu##in’ Up’ reveals what Neil Young And Crazy Horse can do with the ‘Ragged Glory’ songs, more than 30 years on.

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Neil Young was in unusually reflective mood throughout 2023. Off the back of a solo acoustic summer tour, he issued the Before And After album – a collection of deep catalogue cuts re-recorded on his own. Less than two months on from wrapping up the acoustic shows, he was at Los Angeles’ Roxy, site of some legendary Tonight’s The Night-era gigs, to play both that album and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere in full, with a four-man Crazy Horse in tow. And in November, during a secret gig held at Toronto’s Rivoli, in celebration of the 50th birthday of Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss, Young and the Horse played most of their 1990 album, Ragged Glory. It’s this latter performance that’s been released under the name Fu##in’ Up (on clear double vinyl as a Record Store Day 2024 exclusive; black vinyl as a standard pressing), even though, as the 68-minute, nine-song document reveals, Young and his long-running band aren’t putting a foot wrong.

Marching into the future with “an unparalleled power”

The first release of new Neil Young recordings this year (issued in February, Dume revisited the sessions that resulted in 1975’s Zuma), Fu##in’ Up marks the 55th anniversary of Crazy Horse’s first ride together, on 1969’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. The thick, distorted, fuzz-laden sound that Young worked up with the original Horse line-up of Danny Whitten (guitar), Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums) eventually earned him the nickname “Godfather Of Grunge”, and it was with Ragged Glory – released at the height of the grunge era – that Young, then vaunted by Seattle grunge pioneers Pearl Jam, returned to claim the title.

At that time, and with Crazy Horse barely 20 years old, Ragged Glory seemed about as heavy as things could get for Young and his on-again, off-again outfit. Which is what makes Fu##in’ Up such a welcome addition to their legacy. With longtime Horse member Nils Lofgren and Promise Of The Real collaborator (and Willie Nelson’s son) Micah Nelson sharing guitar duties, and the indefatigable Talbot/Molina rhythm section spurring the group on, Fu##in’ Up more than lives up to its billing as an album that sees Crazy Horse “march into the future with an unparalleled power”.

Achieving “new prowess in their playing”

From the opening notes of Ragged Glory’s Country Home (here renamed City Life), that power is immediately apparent, the Horse creating a vortex of sound through which Young’s 1953 Les Paul – “Old Black” – cuts like barbed wire, as if seeking to carve out a space for Young’s vocals to survive within the maelstrom.

If Feels Like A Railroad (River Of Pride) (previously White Line) sees the Horse holding steady, they stampede into Heart Of Steel with a wild abandon fitting for a song whose original studio recording has given Fu##in’ Up its name. Young’s doomy riff may initially set the pace, but it’s when Molina lets loose his thudding drums that the group lock into one of their trademark tribal grooves, Lofgren’s and Nelson’s churning guitars gathering like a storm ready to engulf everything in its wake.

In a statement announcing Fu##in’ Up’s release, Crazy Horse were said to have achieved “new prowess in their playing”, exploring “a wide-open field” from which leads “a road into the future”. If songs such as Heart Of Steel is power in (relative) restraint, album closer Chance On Love adds an extra five minutes to the original ten of Love And Only Love, the group aiding young in his entreaty: “Spirit come back to me/Give me strength and set me free.”

Fu##in’ Up is the sound of Young and the Horse completely unfettered, and yet there’s gentle humanity to be heard in Young singing songs such as Mansion On The Hill (renamed Walkin’ In My Place (Road Of Tears)) just days ahead of his 78th birthday. If there’s extra power in the playing, there’s even more poignancy in the lyrics: “Well, I saw an old man walking in my place/When he looked at me, I thought I saw my face,” Young sings, acknowledging the inevitable, even as the Horse rages against all notions of dying.

“I can’t stop it. The Horse is runnin’”

A lyric to Days That Used To Be (here To Follow One’s Own Dream) may explain Young’s compulsion for revisiting his landmark Crazy Horse albums in recent months: “There’s very few of us left, my friend/From the days that used to be.”

Original Horse guitarist Danny Whitten died aged 29, in 1972. Nils Lofgren, split between responsibilities with Young and Bruce Springsteen, will be ceding his spot to Micah Nelson on Young’s upcoming Love Earth tour. And yet, since reuniting in the studio with Crazy Horse for 2019’s Colorado, Young has rarely let the group leave his side: Barn (2021), Word Record (2022) and the Crazy Horse members’ own collaborative album, All Roads Lead Home (2023), have all seen them mine a rich new seam of creativity together.

“I can’t stop it,” Young has said of this late-period revival. “The Horse is runnin’. What a ride we have. I don’t want to mess with the vibe.” On the evidence of Fu##in’ Up, the vibe is not only intact, it’s running at full force.

Buy ‘Fu##in Up’ on vinyl.

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