Harmonic trio reunite and prove that some things never change
By the late ‘70s, CSN were already regarded as an anachronism, a post-hippie hangover that just wouldn’t go away. And while it’s true that the bulk of those who once subscribed to the counter-culture had by then assimilated into mainstream society, still, there was something reassuring about knowing that a few hadn’t quite yet put their freak flags away entirely, nor cut their hair, or sold their soul to corporate America.
Released in 1977, CSN was Crosby, Stills and Nash’s first LP since their impressive debut in 1969. That it took so long is hardly a mystery: solo albums, aborted attempts at recording a follow up to Déjà Vu with Neil Young, drugs, egos, ex-girlfriends, it’s almost a miracle that they even reconvened at all. And while it may not have quite the sparkle of their first collaboration together, there is enough of the old charm on CSN to warrant repeated listens.
Kicking off with Crosby’s uplifting “Shadow Captain,” the first thing that strikes the listener are those impressive harmonies, which influenced everyone from The Eagles, America to Supertramp. Stills’ “See The Changes” was originally recorded with Neil Young as part of “Human Highway,” the title of CSNY’s intended second studio album that was never completed. Here Stills modestly reflects on where he’s been and where he’s going: “It ain’t easy rearranging/And it gets harder as you get older.” It’s also arguably the highlight of an album which has little in the way of actual filler.
As always one can count on Graham Nash to come up with some of the LP’s most philosophical numbers. The forlorn “Carried Away” is reminiscent of Harvest era Neil Young, while “Just A Song Before I Go” is about a breakup though without the usual bitterness that comes with such subject matter. Another fine composition is Still’s Latin-flavoured “Fair Game,” also concerned with a relationship gone wrong, and which could easily be a more cynical b-side to “Love The One You’re With.”
Crosby self deprecates on the slightly jazzy “Anything At All” (“Anything you want to know just ask me/I’m the world’s most opinionated man”), before revisiting his “Guinevere” days on the harmony-rich “In My Dreams.” Nash searches for answers on the plaintive “Cathedral,” a narrative where our main protagonist finds himself “standing on the grave of a soldier that died in 1799/And the day he died it was a birthday/And I noticed it was mine.” Nash’s “Cold Rain” is another sorrowful tune concerned with “people heading home” full of “Sad dreams.”
Stills, who writes the majority of songs, comes up trumps with “Dark Star,” one of his better latter day tunes, and the love-confessional of “Run from Tears,” concerned with the failure of a relationship. “I Give You Give Blind,” the brief final number, is an anthem of sorts, although by the time this album was released the days of political/social anthems had well and truly past.
Ultimately CSN, despite its often dark and wistful undertones, remains a predominately joyful experience, taking the listener on a nostalgic journey that is as familiar as it is reassuring to long time fans. Crosby, Stills and Nash were never about reinvention or keeping up with latest trends. Like visiting one’s aging parents, where the furniture and decor never changes, one always knows what to expect – which is perhaps how it should be. CSN’s approach to music was based not so much on formula, but more to do with feeling and personality. A quality which they continue to maintain to this day.