Largely collated from Young’s five 1980’s albums on the Geffen label, who famously sued Young for making noncommercial music, Lucky Thirteen is a somewhat bemusing trawl through some of Young’s more perverse music making. Young’s five Geffen albums were the electronics of Trans (1983), the rockabilly of Everybody’s Rocking (1984), the country of Old Ways (1985), the mid-eighties generic rock of Landing On Water (1986), and the Crazy Horse reunion Life (1987). While Geffen planned to release Young’s singles from the era, Young took control of the project, omitting hits and including studio outtakes, live recordings, and alternate versions. Additionally, the last two songs are drawn from his first album back on Reprise, 1988’s R&B This Note’s For You. Based on the tracks featured here, I wouldn’t be tempted to hear most of these individual albums – Lucky Thirteen is a useful shortcut to the most bizarre phase of Young’s career.
On the other hand, it’s probably fine to skip over this era of Young’s career altogether unless you’re a serious fan. ‘Sample And Hold’ is enjoyable, and it’s a shame that the other epic Trans song, ‘Like An Inca’, isn’t also included. The three selections from Old Ways are melodic and sincere, if generic; the sentimental ‘Once An Angel’ is a touching song of devotion , while Waylon Jennings sings backing vocals on ‘Where Is The Highway Tonight?’. ‘Hippie Dream’ tends towards generic eighties rock, but it’s at least intense and provocative (“And the wooden ships/Are a hippy dream/Capsized in excess”). Best of all, ‘Mideast Vacation’ presents a less sympathetic update of ‘Powderfinger’ story over a surprisingly effective eighties backing.
Beyond the above listed songs, there’s little to be excited about on Lucky Thirteen; plastic rock, bad rockabilly and hokey R&B, although the lack of inspiration through this era is far more telling than the distracting style jumps.