On Looking Forward, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s first collaboration since 1988’s American Dream, anyone expecting another Déjà Vu will be sorely disappointed – because this is not the CSNY of 1970. Angry they still might be, though age has certainly mellowed these old war horses quite considerably, to the extent that reflection is the underlying theme here. Just four aging hippies doing what aging hippies do best; namely look back and reflect on everything that’s been, where they are now, and wonder whatever happened to their youth.
The album begins with Stills’ upbeat “Faith In Me”, which has an almost Caribbean flavour to it, and reminds me of some his of 1970’s output, which is a good thing, as Stills is obviously enjoying himself, playing some damn fine guitar too by the way. The title track, “Looking Forward” is courtesy of Young, and is the sort of number one would expect them all to be singing if they happened to be living together in the same nursing home. “Stand and Be Counted” was written by Crosby and his son James Raymond. As a political statement it may lack some of the bite of “Almost Cut My Hair”, but the message is just as clear, even if it lacks a little of the previous song’s gravitas.
Naturally it wouldn’t be a proper CSNY album without some social commentary by Graham Nash. It’s no “Marrakesh Express”, more like Serepax Express if you ask me. Nice and easy on the ears and the sort of tune one could probably doze off to, and not really care that they missed it. On “Seen Enough” Stephen Stills breaks out the slide guitar and gets all Bob Dylan on us, in that the song is probably one of the most wordy Stills had written for quite some time, and on which he comments “We went to Church/They all prayed for the white man/The cops and the preachers/Were most of ‘em in the Klan”. Neil Young revisits his Harvest days with the sentimental “Slowpoke”, a song so relaxed in its execution that I wouldn’t be surprised if the engineer went in to check their pulses by the end of it.
Crosby’s “Dream for Him” is one of the better tracks of the album, and my personal favourite (there is a far superior live version on the Voyage box set which absolutely must be heard). Here David reflects on mortality and future generations, questioning where the world is heading, while wishing for a better one. It’s a lovely piece of rock-jazz, and reminds me of the sort of thing CSN did so well in the early ‘70s. “No Tears Left” has Stills written all over it, with its hard riffs and bluesy beat. Definitely another throwback to CSNY’s heyday, well, at least Stills’ anyway.
Young once again ruminates on the introspective “Out of Control”, a song which is all gently played and sung, but pretty boring all the same. Nash’s “Someday Soon” is another nursing home number, guaranteed to lower your blood pressure, and put the listener in a calm and relaxed state of mind.
The group fire up (sort of) on the vigorous “Queen of Them All”, a tune which seems to go everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. Closer “Sanibel” has exquisite harmonies throughout, but little else to recommend it; which isn’t to say it’s terrible, it’s just like having a quiet cup of tea with your grandfather. And there you have it, the last true studio album by one of the most talented yet dysfunctional super groups in rock history. Not that I’m complaining by the way. Any CSNY is preferable to no CSNY, even if not all it may not meet all of the listener’s expectations.
Looking Forward is by no means anywhere near as good as their much earlier output. Gone is the verve and energy which made them so vital in the first place. But none of that really matters, because just like old friends, it’s always nice to catch up every once in a while and share a few stories with one another; stories which I am more than happy to hear, especially as I myself get older.