no surprises here

After the Storm (Atlantic)
Crosby, Stills & Nash

By Ray Rizzo

Whether you are a skeptic or a supporter of Crosby, Stills & Nash, their latest collection of songs on After the Storm won't change any preconceived notions.

Always writing from their distinct personality styles, CSN are in the swing of mid-life, and Storm examines it. Once again, David Crosby's prophetic I-screwed-up-so-you-don't-have-to vibe returns in "Till It Shines," while the Latin backbone of "Panama" sends Stephen Stills back to days of first love and innocence.

However, Graham Nash remains the most capable writer, offering "These Empty Days" and "Unequal Love," the latter highlighting the album with its' simple resolve: "Love is unequal sometimes."

Such lines are a fan's joy and the cynic's frustration: the trio are not as poetic and daring as they are sincere. So songs never develop as much as they set a pace and ride it out, with melodies that fail to surprise the listener after a verse and chorus are established. And when Stills sings in "Bad Boyz," "They can't hang out with the boyz/Unless they're packin' heat/And ready to make some noise . . ." you either cringe at his lack of depth in a song about racial tensions or you thank him for caring.

Producer Glyn Johns never lets Storm's dry aural atmosphere get too big to inhibit the trio's performance, but the result is lackluster, as if the raw materials of CSN were not enough to carry an entire album, and no one bothered to throw them any rope. Their trademark harmonies are often reduced to ornamental patches, and when they do try a vocal showcase, (the Beatles' "In My Life") they just sound tired.

For fans of CSN's familiar style, Storm's naked approach could be a welcome format. But for those who do not sympathize when Graham sings "Why do I have to explain/Music is worth all the pain," there's plenty left to be desired.