Crosby, Stills & Nash wanted, or so Graham Nash has said, to ”have fun,” to record the kind of music people listen to in convertibles when they’re roaring up mountain roads with the top down. The result is a strangely bland album that only die-hard fans will love.
The first cut, ”Live It Up,” already a hit on album-rock radio, exemplifies what’s wrong. It’s a pop/rock tune with a catchy beat — and a generic sound nearly any group could have come up with. The next track, ”If Anybody Had a Heart,” has a hint of classic CS&N vocal harmony, but musically, once again, it’s generic. This is the kind of big-boned (and small-brained) arena-rock ballad that for years has kept groups like Heart in business.
And so it goes throughout the album, with just a few exceptions. A drab folk-like tune, ”Haven’t We Lost Enough?”, can’t be a product of anyone’s pop-music factory, because it’s accompanied only by the colorless twang of Stephen Stills’ acoustic guitar. Three songs go deeper than the rest, two of them the ones on which David Crosby sings lead. ”Yours and Mine,” with Crosby’s high voice shining against a tense and quiet instrumental web, urges us to feel kinship with children killed in Third World wars; ”Arrows” softly suggests we all look into our souls, as a first step toward turning our misfortunes around. The soprano saxophone of jazz star Branford Marsalis coils around the melody of both songs, adding an extra touch of musical class.
The third song with real meaning, ”After the Dolphin,” is extraordinary. It begins with a World War I radio broadcast announcing the first aerial attack on civilians, which happened to be the German bombing of a London pub called the Dolphin; it ends with President Harry Truman announcing the atom-bombing of Japan. The question asked is whether humankind will survive this deadly century.
But three songs with character don’t make an album. Taken as a whole, Live It Up isn’t nearly as thoughtful as Oh, Yes I Can, the solo record Crosby made last year. Nor does it have the offbeat edge Neil Young gave American Dream, the 1988 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young release. Save your money; drive up that mountainside with CS&N’s best songs from the ’60s and ’70s blaring out instead. C+