By 1997, Crosby, Stills & Nash were without a label thanks to a drastic artistic slump, but they began working on a new album, paying for studio time out of their own pockets. Neil Young expressed interest in the tapes, and suddenly, a new CSNY album was in the works. Even though Young‘s continual tinkering pushed its release back by months, Looking Forward still feels rushed and half-finished. It’s immediately apparent that the record began as a self-financed project; it sounds weirdly muted, as if all the levels weren’t set accurately; similarly, it’s possible to hear sometimes awkward overdubs added to basically completed tracks. While they may have named the album Looking Forward, CSNY are alternately nostalgic and haunted by the past, which colors their attempts to look toward the future. All four of Young‘s songs fit squarely within the Harvest tradition, as he tries to balance his restless nature with growing old. His songs aren’t bad, but they feel like rough drafts for greater solo-album insights. Stills is looking backward musically on his three songs, but what’s really striking is his extreme bitterness, completely misunderstanding the youth of the ’90s. It’s especially jarring when juxtaposed with Crosby‘s rosy outlook, though his “Stand and Be Counted” — a well-intentioned salute to the activist spirit of the ’60s — is a flat-out embarrassment. Which leaves Nash, whose two unassuming, sepia-toned songs may seem slight, but wind up as the most satisfying because their gentle melodies and easy, assured performances recall the group’s heyday. They’re buried in what feels like a collection of undirected solo tracks, and to a certain extent, that’s been the case with CSNY since Déjà Vu. But Looking Forward is even more disjointed than 1988’s tepid American Dream, even if it is a better listen.
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