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Neil Young Lets Album Speak for Itself

July 24, 1994|Steve Hochman

Silence is golden . . . but is it platinum?

Because his upcoming album is, in his words, "too personal," Neil Young is refusing to do any promotional activities for the release: no interviews, no concert tour.

"Sleeps With Angels," due in stores Sept. 16, includes such intensely emotional songs as the title track (written following Kurt Cobain's suicide) and "Driveby" (about the shooting death of a young girl).

"The record's going to have to speak for itself," says Young's manager, Elliot Roberts. "I understand how he feels. He says, 'How can I talk about this little girl getting killed and these other things, knowing that it's for ink to sell records?' "

In fact, Roberts says that Young will probably be angry at him for saying even that much to Pop Eye on the record's behalf.

Young's is a rare stance in a world where performers routinely--and enthusiastically--promote even their most personal works. What's more, it comes at a time when Young has plenty to promote.

The singer has reached new highs in cross-generational popularity. He's been recognized as the father figure of alternative rock by such young bands as Pearl Jam (whom he joined in performance at last year's MTV Video Music Awards show) while remaining a favorite among baby boomers. His last four studio albums have each sold more than a million copies in the United States.

"He's at his peak and we could take great advantage of that (commercially)," says Roberts.

How deeply will his refusal to do promotion cut into potential sales of the new record?

Some observers say that for most artists, even top stars, such a no-profile decision could mean the difference between a platinum album (sales of more than 1 million copies) and a gold one (more than 500,000).

But Young is not most artists.

"This album is going to be so raved about that he might get more attention for what he doesn't do," says Arnold Stiefel, who with partner Randy Phillips manages Rod Stewart, Morrissey and Patty Smyth. "I think it's way cool for him not to promote it--but thank God he's not my client."

"It's unknown," says Bob Merlis, senior vice president of media relations for Warner Bros. Records, which will release the album. "Press and touring definitely help album sales, but you can't quantify it. Every record is an individual case, and Neil has had success without tours in the past."

Jeff Pollack, president of the nation's largest radio programming consulting firm, says that it shouldn't make any difference in terms of airplay.

"Radio and video programmers don't need to be promoted on Neil Young," Pollack says. "Neil's never been about (promotion) anyway, That's why all the young bands admire him so much and he has tremendous credibility with all aspects of the music business."

Pointing to R.E.M.'s rise in popularity during recent years, when the band didn't tour and did only limited press, Pollack maintains that the no-promotion posture could even increase Young's sales.

"Neil doesn't feel the need to explain himself," Pollack says. "He never has, and I think people appreciate that. What a fine thing subtlety is."

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