What’s That Sound? is a good reminder of how impressive Buffalo Springfield was for its short time together.
Buffalo Springfield is mostly remembered for one stellar single, a few other tracks that failed to climb the charts and members who went on to other important work. A new box set What’s That Sound? The Complete Albums Collection – with remastering overseen by Neil Young – offers a new chance to reconsider that idea. The set compiles all three of the group’s albums (with the first two in both mono and stereo) and catches the variations of the debut record. The set reveals a band that deserves more consideration for its quick, two-year burst, but it has shortcomings for long-time fans.
The biggest downside is how strictly it adheres to its title. Having both mono and stereo is fine, but after almost exactly 50 years, a set like this would have greatly benefited from rarities. We don’t get outtakes, demos, extended singles (“Bluebird,” specifically), or even the odd live track. The set has a clear goal: To put the three albums together in their best possible versions. It achieves that goal, but, especially given the near-miss of the 2001 self-titled compilation, it misses the chance to create a definitive statement for the group.
That said, the music (for the most part) holds up, and serves as more as prelude to other work by Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay. Buffalo Springfield has a bit of a convoluted history, mainly due to the success of the band’s greatest track, Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” In either variation, it’s a foundational album for the country-rock and folk-rock of the time and of the early ‘70s. The first three tracks show a band full of energy, and each could still carry a spot on classic rock radio. The band hasn’t quite hit its stride yet, but its blend of guitar-pop, country, and psychedelia lets them stand out.
Its second album, 1967’s creatively titled Buffalo Springfield Again, lets the band reach its full potential. The record opens with “Mr. Soul,” a deeper push into psych-rock, with a lead guitar line more expected in Young’s later work. The band gets jazzy (“Everydays”) and grooves into R&B (“Good Time Boy”) and leans more toward country (Furay’s “A Child’s Claim to Fame”). The group doesn’t just synthesize well; it creates new approaches in its journeys. “Broken Arrow” offers its formal challenges, and “Rock and Roll Woman,” while only reaching #44 in the charts, provided a memorable riff and a blueprint for the California sound.
After that, the group’s dismantling starts to become apparent. Last Time Around has its moments but sounds like something made by musicians looking elsewhere. Some of the album’s best songs would, in fact, become staples of their composer’s following bands. “I Am a Child” works better as a Neil Young number than it does as a Buffalo Springfield cut, even though it remains one of this album’s high points, along with his “On the Way Home.” Furay’s “Kind Woman” feels overrated in the context of this box set. It’s pretty enough, but it doesn’t hold up much beyond being a pleasant band-ending ballad. By this album, the group knew what worked, knew what they were doing, and were mostly on their way to somewhere else (particularly Young). Stills nearly makes it a solo album, but the record too often feels like the rote third entry in a franchise.
Despite that drop in quality for that third album, What’s That Sound? is a good reminder of how impressive Buffalo Springfield was for its short time together. It does make for an odd set, a good choice for gathering just the albums (and comparing stereo and mono versions as desired), but it offers little beyond a general narrative toward insight into the band. Fortunately the quality of the music carries the set and still makes for compelling listening, for what it’s worth.