Neil Young decided to rejoin his erstwhile bandmates in the studio for the first time since they released Déjà Vu together in 1971. The resulting album, American Dream, was issued November 1, 1988 to middling commercial success.
The album certainly did not live up to its title either in content or results although the precise harmonies are in place and a competent group of musicians are gathered in support. It is the caliber of the songwriting that drags the album down. While a few songs are fine, the majority just did not measure up to the group’s past standards.
Even the members of the group have spoken poorly as to the quality of this release over the years. Crosby thought much of the material was sub par and, to compensate, they lengthened the album.
Neil Young had promised not to record with them again until David Crosby was clean and sober and kept that promise when in 1988 Crosby put his additions behind him. I don’t know whether Young wrote his songs specifically for this project or if they were just leftovers, but they seem more suited to his solo career. Whatever their origins they are overall the best selections on the album. He composed four tracks himself and co-wrote three others with Stephen Stills. The title song is folk/rock with a simple bass and guitar foundation. The lyrics are clever satire as they poke fun at the fall of prominent people. “The Old House” tells the story of a family losing their home. “Feel Your Love” is catchy and contains some nice acoustic guitar work.
Crosby was responsible for two songs. “Nighttime For Generals” has a good rock beat but becomes bogged down lyrically and his political agenda was getting old. The gem of the album and one of the best compositions on his career is “Compass.” It is a gentle and poignant look back at life and Young’s haunting harmonica effectively adds to the mood.
Graham Nash had been responsible for many of the memorable tracks which the group had produced through the years. Here, though, his writing is disappointing. His songs are preachy and his politics and social concerns may have been relevant a decade before but on this album they were just repeats to a generation that was moving on. The passion may still be present but the execution and judgment are lacking.
Stephen Stills’ writing credits are limited to the three Neil Young and one which he authored with multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale and bassist Bob Glaub. “Drivin’ Thunder” is the best of an average-at-best group of songs. His vocals are still essential to the harmonies, though, and his guitar playing remains excellent in places.
American Dream was not a stellar stop in the musical journey of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. “Compass” stands head and shoulders above everything else and only a few Neil Young creations are above average and, when taken together, do not make for an excellent album.