Top critical review
on January 31, 2003
Something went way wrong here. On the heels of "Big Pink," "The Band," and the somewhat underrated masterpiece "Stage Fright," the Band issued this album, which mostly demonstrated that Robbie Robertson was running short of ideas, and the Band had forgotten how to make magic in the studio.
Which is not to say... if this album were released today, it might be rock album of the year. Any band recording today that put out an album with these songs would be at the top of the heap: "Life is a Carnival," "Smoke Signal," "Moon Struck One," "
4% Pantomime," "When I Paint My Masterpiece," and "The River Hymn" all have something wonderful to offer. But unfortunately, the group diluted the impact of these performances with not one, but three of their worst songs and worst performances ever -- "Last of the Blacksmiths," "Where Do We Go From Here" and "Shootout in Chinatown." These are cringeworthy -- almost parodies of what was great about the Band on its first three albums.
Luckily, the followed this with the indispensable "Rock of Ages," the musically dazzling "Northern Lights, Southern Cross," and the disconnected but modestly enjoyable "Islands."
Look, these guys were brilliant. Richard Manuel is one of the greatest singers of the 20th Century, Robertson was one of the most innovative guitarists, Hudson could do no wrong on the keyboards, and Helm and Danko formed a wonderful duet pair. All of those attributes are on display here. But, the bad stuff is really bad.