Stylistically, Re-ac-tor is very different from Hawks and Doves – it’s a heavy album, centered around Neil Young’s electric guitar. But it also has a lot in common with Hawks and Doves – it’s an unfocused album that carries a few gems among a bunch of generic toss-offs. Like Hawks and Doves. it’s easy to have the impression that Young was preoccupied with domestic issues at the time, and it’s tempting to curate a half-acoustic, half-electric album from Hawks and Doves and Re-ac-tor, just like Rust Never Sleeps.
The most infamous song on Re-ac-tor is the pounding, repetitive ‘T-Bone’, which goes on for close to ten minutes with lyrics like “Got mashed potatoes/Ain’t got my t-bone”; its primeval stomp isn’t without charm, but it’s hardly a major work. Songs like the generic rockabilly of ‘Get Back On It’ and the crunching riff of ‘Opera Star’ also sound like throwaways. But there a couple of gems tucked away here; the train song ‘Southern Pacific’ feels like the most purposefully written piece, while the long ‘Shots’ is urgent and its solos are almost pushing into atonal territory.
Re-ac-tor is the end of an era; Young’s last album with Reprise before his infamous stint with Geffen. It’s difficult to justify paying too much for an album with so many throwaways, but there are a couple of great songs, and it has enough of the classic Neil Young sound to be a competent entry into his discography.