From Uncut magazine
Only Neil Young can explain why he named this set after his unreleased 1977 album. True, there is some recycling: the opening three songs date from the 1980s. Beautiful Bluebird is deceptively sweet, but also addresses a dead friend; Boxcar is an existential train song. Ordinary People is a monster of a tune in which the squalling guitars do battle with streamroller horns, while Young narrates a tale of a “Michelob night” in Vegas.
But the title is a feint. The album is a powerful exploration of faith, with Young circling his own mortality. He does it quietly (Ever After) and noisily (the crackling mini-epic No Hidden Path). He writes a hymn (Shining Light). On The Believer, he offers his own simple philosophy. “Though the seas may rise/Until they do/I keep doin’ the things I’m doin’.” It’s almost enough to excuse the children’s choir.
This album is a whole lot of jammy jammy jam jam jam with the ‘lectric guitar, but at least it’s smooth and satisfying. This album is overflowing with mid-tempo, mild-mannered rock songs, and it’s sure go down easily without causing audio indigestion like his grunge albums did for some of us. It’s very long-winded, though, which is its main drawback. That’s 66 minutes for a 10-track album that would have been much better at 40 minutes, but this is Neil Young, and he isn’t exactly known for his brevity.
You might have also noticed that this album was christened with the title Chrome Dreams II, indicating that it is a sequel to a 1977 album that was scrapped and left unreleased. I’d say it’s a pretty goofy idea to write a sequel to an album that wasn’t released, but Young has had far goofier ideas in his career. Really, it’s amazing what this guy gets away with.
This is a strange album for him, too, considering that it contains a song “Shining Light” that sounds to me like a cross between Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory” and The Bee Gee’s 1969 hit “First of May.” Young might have tried a weird brand of pop music before in the ’80s, but I never remember him going after that golden sunshine-boy pop sound. Even weirder is the closing track “The Way,” which features a children’s choir (!!!) and sounds like something out of a hokey Christmas pageant. I’m also somewhat perplexed over “The Believer” which seems slightly like a mid ’70s Marvin Gaye R&B song. I can’t say I’m too wild over the R&B attempt, but the other two are lovely!
The other songs range from laid back country-ish to overlong jammy tunes, which are sure to please his longtime fans. The opening tune “Beautiful Bluebird” is a pleasant thing to sit through, and it features some of the loveliest acoustic guitar picking that I’ve ever heard out of him! “Boxcar” is a short and sweet tune with a deeply thumping drum, a nice melody and more of that awesome finger-pickin’ acoustic guitar. When it comes to picking my favorite piece of the whole album, I am immediately drawn to “Dirty Old Man” with its dirty riff and Young’s humorous delivery of its funny lyrics. I wouldn’t be surprised if his longtime fans would love “Spirit Road” the most since it’s the most “typical Neil Young” with its gritty and rambly guitar structure. Personally, I find it to be somewhat forgettable, but I am entertained by it!
I don’t have much to complain about regarding the short songs (with the somewhat minor exception of the sluggishly paced country ballad “Ever After”). What gets my goat are two songs that Young dragged on well past their respective expiration dates for no good reason. At least the 18-minute “Ordinary People” has a rhythm that’s kept punchy and some evolving guitar solos, but I start to completely space out after five minutes of it. The 14-minute “No Hidden Path” similarly starts out somewhat awesome, but I’m not even half way through it before my eyes start to glaze over. These songs are by no means painful to sit through… I just get the nagging impression that I could be doing other things instead of sitting through ’em.
While I find Chrome Dreams II to be a strong enough of an album to elicit a positive review out of me, I also can’t forget that those two freakishly long tracks constitute nearly one-half of the album’s entire running length. Thus I spend way too much time listening to this with a happily blank expression on my face like I’m some sort of comatose retard. I can’t claim that any of this is ugly or inaccessible whatsoever, but it seems like I wasted a lot of time listening to it. I ask you, what does Young have against brevity? Brevity is nice! Ah, but I guess a good number of aged, acid-fried hippies listened to this and love every second of it, so who am I to argue with them? My idea of a great song is a two-and-a-half-minute ditty from the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols rule.
From The Village Voice
For a guy who’s spent a large chunk of his career oscillating between two distinct musical modes, Neil Young has in this decade acted as a particularly strict sonic segregationist. You want reflective, acoustic-guitar-and-harmonica Neil? Try Silver & Gold or Prairie Wind. Pissed-off, (somewhat) amped-up Neil? Go with Greendale or Living with War. Even when he’s taken a hard left off these well-trodden paths—as with Are You Passionate?, his Booker T.–backed foray into Southern soul—Young’s still done so with almost dogged single-mindedness, for both better and worse.
Consequently, Chrome Dreams II, on which various Neils commingle to an extent not heard on record since perhaps 1989’s Freedom, immediately comes off as the 61-year-old artist’s freshest effort in years, even as it’s steeped in Young-ian oddball mythology: The “II” in the title is in deference to the Loch Ness monster that is Chrome Dreams, an unreleased late-’70s “album” that has been credited as the original home of now-classics like “Powderfinger” and “Like a Hurricane.” But Young is also nodding to more verifiable history: The new record is front-loaded with three ’80s-era tunes (“Ordinary People” in particular has, in the ensuing years, been deified by Neil-philes), while the backing musicians gathered here are alumni of past Young bands the Stray Gators, the Bluenotes, and of course, Crazy Horse.
But whereas Chrome Dreams II is to some extent an amalgam of Young musical tropes, its songs are lyrically of a piece, with Neil in many places waxing overtly (albeit secularly) spiritual. If the titles—”Shining Light,” “Spirit Road,” “No Hidden Path,” “Ever After”—don’t drive the point home, the imagery surely does: Young throughout is traveling along windy roads and long highways, keepin’ the faith and prayin’ in the trees, putting his trust in the “great spirit” and looking for his “way back home.”
The differences lie in how he gets there. “Beautiful Bluebird,” a newly recorded version of a song that dates from the sessions for 1985’s Old Ways, rambles with a gentle if slight country-rock lilt, while the train imagery that runs through “Boxcar,” another revitalized tune from that decade, is bolstered by a steady snare drum and sharply picked banjo. Though Young can tend toward the sentimental—as on “Shining Light” and “The Way,” the latter making CD II, inexplicably, his third consecutive studio record to end on a tune that features a choir—scattered throughout the disc are among his most exhilarating and idiosyncratic electric rock songs in years. The 14-minute “No Hidden Path” is an extended showcase for Young’s beautifully strangled guitar lines, while “Spirit Road” is driven by a distorted, jangling riff and propulsive backbeat, over which he balances quasi–New Ageisms (“A speck of dust in the giant world,” “That long highway in your mind”) with more earthly concerns (“Lost your keys,” “Stop to eat”). “Dirty Old Man,” meanwhile, offers up the filthy guitar tone and type of scumbag protagonist that Young paired to great effect on songs like the Rust Never Sleeps proto-grunge romp “Sedan Delivery.”
It’s all well and quite good, though also utterly dwarfed by the massive “Ordinary People,” a lumbering, 18-minute screed first unveiled on Young’s ’88 tour with the Bluenotes. (The version presented here is an unreleased studio recording from that period.) In the grand tradition of epic Neil tunes, it swings with the tenacity of a wrecking ball, gaining potency by doing nothing more than repeating the same thing over and over again. For someone who once said of himself that his “changes are as easy to predict as the sun coming up or down,” Young—unlike most artists his (or any) age—continues to be inspiringly iconoclastic.
From The Observer
Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, the twin peaks of American rock’n’roll, have lately fallen into a rhythm. Last April the pair released protest albums at the same time, Young making pleas to ‘impeach the president’ on Living with War, while Springsteen, on We Shall Overcome, reworked some Pete Seeger anthems that had involved a previous American adventure abroad.
Now both have chosen the same month to release studio albums that mark a return to roots. For Magic, Springsteen is back with the E-Street Band for the first time since The Rising five years ago, while Young, for Chrome Dreams II, has reassembled old friends like Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina and steel guitarist Ben Keith from Harvest days. This retrenchment seems highly conscious in both cases, a taking of stock. Young recorded his album at a garage studio in Redwood City, California, which features vintage petrol pumps on the forecourt and well-worn recording equipment inside. Springsteen put Magic together down south in Atlanta.
Listening to the results side by side, you are reminded of how, more than any of their contemporaries, more than shape-shifting Dylan, Young and Springsteen have always traded primarily in authenticity, and how they have come at that virtue from entirely different directions. Young has won his integrity by always following his eccentric muse, and forever testing his audience’s faith; Springsteen by never letting his ego get in the way of the music, always putting in a full shift for his fans. Young has been ‘Shakey’ so long, true to an ever-wavering sense of self and belief, that it has often seemed that only his guitar keeps him upright. The values formed in Asbury Park, New Jersey have been Springsteen’s consistent touchstone. Young has been a hippie and a supporter of Ronald Reagan; Springsteen has never taken a narcotic and has never stopped doing union benefits.
As songwriters, they are both interpreters of the common American man, but Young, the son of a Canadian sportswriter, has always dramatised himself as the outsider, looking on, wearing his angst as a badge of honour; Springsteen, whose father was a bus driver, rarely recognises a distinction between himself and his subjects; his voice suggests they win together and they lose together. They are both obsessed by the American road but Young sees it in Kerouac’s sense, with no particular end in sight; Springsteen comes at it through Steinbeck, as the way back home. You can hear this stand-off in their harmonicas; Young’s always sounds like it is played in a howling desert, Springsteen’s asks for a campfire or a back-room bar.
Either side of 60 – Young is three years Springsteen’s elder at 61 – both have produced classic albums in their own image. Chrome Dreams II grows out of a familiar Young legend. It is the sequel to a record that was never made. (Chrome Dreams, scheduled for release in 1977, is one of several ghost ships in his archive, victim of a sudden shift in obsession.) It is characterised by its absence of coherence. The opening three tracks were first recorded in the Eighties or were occasionally performed live then; they, along with what follows, are a tentative kind of primer in Young’s catalogue of the past 40 years, veering suddenly from the grungy guitar of ‘Dirty Old Man’ (I’m a dirty old man, I do what I can/ I like to get hammered on Friday night’) to the saccharine gospel of ‘Shining Light’, which is Young in best bed-wetting mode, with the kind of simpleton falsetto (‘shine light, you always show me, you always guide me’) that only he can get away with.
The 12 tracks are held together by two things: a tremulous kind of optimism that sometimes extends to a dippy faith – an antidote to the righteous anger of Young’s last, political outing; and by the 18-minute epic ‘Ordinary People’, which Young defiantly plans to release as a single.
Backed with the gusto of big horns, Young’s guitar is once again a thing of wonder on this track, now slashing and burning, now playing transcendent dance riffs. The song itself, dating back nearly 20 years, is a tracking shot of the margins of American working life, of the kind Springsteen has made home territory. Young invests it with more alienation, producing a sort of paranoiac ‘Penny Lane’: there’s a man ‘dealing antiques in a hardware store… with five pit bulls inside, just a warning to the people’. Young can catalogue American individuals, like a latter-day Walt Whitman, but always in the context of a song of himself. ‘Everyday people, I got faith in the regular kind,’ he wails, but it’s more in desperation than hope.
One of his strategies to save himself from despair is to employ something that Springsteen has never properly risked: little fragments of comedy. Young finds it in the nursery rhyme bathos of the splendid ‘Ever After’ which offsets a Hank Williams mood with a classic Young piece of wisdom: ‘A man had many boxes/ And he liked them quite a lot/ But they would not be opened / ‘Cause the value would be shot.’ And he suggests it, too, in the surreal comfort blanket of the album’s pay-off, ‘The Way’, in which the plinking of Young’s piano and the piping voices of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City are reminiscent of ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ and St Winifred’s School Choir: ‘This is the way, we know the way, we’ve found the way’ trill the choristers as the troubled Pied Piper Young leads them along some primrose path to who knows where.
There aren’t laughs on Magic, or even many surprises. Springsteen’s songs are all new, and they all seem to come from almost exactly the same place. Magic is an uptempo rock album, back to the basics of love lost and found and smalltown tragedy after the overt rabble rousing of the past three years that began with his Vote for Change tour around the election of 2004. Springsteen has always been a lyricist capable of achingly great lines, but as ever he uses them sparingly; you are lulled with plenty of ‘Your world keeps turning round and round’ before you get a ‘Pour me a drink Theresa in one of those glasses you dust off/ And I’ll watch the bones on your back like the Stations of the Cross.’
There are no 18-minute tracks on this album. Springsteen does not wilfully try patience. There is, though, also a lack of genuine event; some songs will only come alive on stage. This sense of ‘and the next, and the next’, is partly redeemed by the lust and energy that Springsteen still finds with his band, in particular the testosterone sax of the great Clarence Clemons. There are one or two tracks that might eventually stand up alongside ‘Glory Days’, ‘Your Own Worst Enemy’, say, or ‘Long Walk Home’, though nothing with the heart of Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad. This album is, as the Boss announces on the opening track ‘Radio Nowhere’, about ‘finding his way home’ after a few years of excursions into other territory. ‘Is there anybody alive out there? I just want to hear some rhythm…’ You can picture the arms raised in response.
The title track, ‘Magic’, suggests how easy this rhythm has become for this band: ‘I got a coin in my pocket, I can make it disappear/ I got a card up my sleeve I’ll pull it out your ear’ – but that doesn’t make it any less energising a sound. And one thing Springsteen does share with Young is that his years of sincerity allow him to pull off the big sentimental finale, though this one could hardly be further from ‘The Way’. ‘Terry’s Song’ was a late addition to the album written for Frank ‘Terry’ Magovern, Springsteen’s personal assistant for 23 years, who died in July. It is, unlike much of the album, one from the heart, with a refrain – ‘when they built you brother, they broke the mould’ – that proves there is still no cliche yet written from which Springsteen’s voice can’t wrench full-scale pathos.
Although I consider myself a pretty major Neil Young fan, I will be the first to admit that there are large chunks of his catalog that are — shall we say — “spotty.”
There are of course those Neil Young records which are unqualified masterpieces — a category where I would squarely place Harvest, Harvest Moon, Rust Never Sleeps, and Freedom. And for every one of those, at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got those records like Everybody’s Rockin and Life that just kind of make you scratch your head and go “what was he thinking?”
But there are also those albums that I like to think of as Neil’s “in-between” records. A few of these have been real surprises that have grown to be among my favorites over the years, such as the droning, depressing On The Beach and the grungey, Kurt Cobain-influenced Sleeps With Angels (whose Cobain tribute “Change Your Mind” is a song I’d rank among his best).
Neil also has made a handful of albums that have one or two standout tracks, with the rest consisting — on the surface at least — mainly of filler. American Stars And Bars struck me that way the first time that I heard it, with the brilliant “Like A Hurricane” standing way out from the rest of the pack on that record. Even so, over the years the rest of the album eventually really came to grow on me – especially the fireside crackle of “Will To Love.” The more recent Are You Passionate is another one of those, although nothing else on that album has stayed with me quite the same way the blazing guitar of “Comin’ Home” did.
On an initial listen, Chrome Dreams II really feels like another one of those type of albums. Like those other “in-between” albums, lying at the center of Chrome Dreams II are two standout tracks.
The sprawling, eighteen minute “Ordinary People” is one of those marathon Neil Young songs, like “Hurricane” and “Cortez The Killer,” that basically serves as a vehicle for him to go off on a trance-like guitar excursion for which he is so well known.
Unlike those songs, however, the guitar work is less grungy sounding than recent electric Neil Young – and definitely less so than on Living With War, last year’s cranked to eleven anti-Bush rant. In places the guitar here actually hearkens more back to the psychedelic sound of something like Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and that album’s own twin blasts of extended, electric Neil, “Cowgirl In The Sand” and “Down By The River.” There are also some nice keyboards, and a horn section backing the track that takes you back to the bluesy sound of This Note’s For You.
“Ordinary People,” like many of the tracks here is also apparently one that has been around for awhile, which explains some of the dated sounding references to people like Lee Iacocca in the lyrics. Available in bootleg versions for years, the track is said to be part of an original Chrome Dreams CD that Neil nearly released in 1976.
As the story goes, he shelved the project after Joni Mitchell criticized it as being a little too “all over the place.” Whether he chose to revisit this project now as a result of his ongoing trip through the vaults for the impending definitive series of Archives said to be finally about to see the light of day or not, the description fits here as well.
The other “big” track here is “No Hidden Path,” which like “Ordinary People” is another lengthy electric guitar workout, which at eleven minutes is only slightly shorter. Here again, the big dark sounding guitar work is front and center, but Neil again seems more interested in revisiting the more psychedelic edges of his early work than the grunge of nineties-era Crazy Horse. For fans of the lengthy Neil Young guitar opus in the tradition of “Hurricane” and “Cortez,” these two tracks alone make Chrome Dreams II a must-have.
Outside of those, Chrome Dreams II is an album that is as all over the place as its apparently thirty-year-old source material would seem to indicate. The rest of the album is a mixed bag to be sure. “Dirty Old Man” is a goofy-ass songs in the tradition of Ragged Glory’s “Fuckin’ Up” that Neil comes up with from time to time. This one is about a “Dirty Old Man” who likes to get hammered and fool around with the boss’ wife. The track is actually a lot of fun, and hearkens back to the lovingly, but sloppily executed rock sound that fans of Crazy Horse will love.
“Boxcar” starts out with the sort of banjo sound that would have been right at home on Prairie Wind, and maintains a lovely sort of country vibe, as it weaves a plaintive tale of a vagabond on a freight train in the lyrics.
Meanwhile, other tracks here seem to take on a more spiritual tone. The borderline gospel of “Shining Light” never makes it quite clear whether the “shining light” that Neil has found here comes in the form of carnal love or the divine. Either way, the song is one of the prettiest he has included on an album in awhile. “The Believer” is another song that seems to hint at spirituality, but is never overtly clear about it. The arrangement here is a quiet, simple, and understated one of piano, guitar, and drums.
For “Spirit Road” he once again straps on the electric guitar and mines more familiar terrain in the lyrics as well. “Spirit Road” finds him “headed out on the long highway in your mind” in search of the “spirit road you had to find” where “getting home to peace again” await the traveler at the road’s end.
So on its surface, Chrome Dreams II is a mixed bag that feels like one of those notoriously “in-between” Neil Young albums I alluded to earlier. Some are calling it his best in years, although I’m not really sure I’m quite ready to go there yet. What I will say is that there is at least a little bit of every element here that has made Neil Young such an enduring artist over the years.
There’s some nice quiet acoustic stuff, some of the grungier sound you’d more often associate with Crazy Horse, and even a few surprises in the form of a few gospel flavored tracks. And there are at least two lengthy electric guitar classics in the mode of “Like A Hurricane.”
For right now, that’s good enough for me.
By Alexis Petridis @ The Guardian
There is a strain of Neil Young devotee that has more in common with the crossword buff than with other music fans. Like those whose week feels incomplete unless they’ve been driven to distraction by Azed or Araucaria, they thrive on a kind of bewilderment, and bewildering people is one of Young’s specialities. Said fans had a rough time in the 1990s, when Young hardly did anything bewildering at all. The famous Baffling Inner Logic that previously governed his actions had apparently been laid to rest: Young seemed set on seeing out his career by alternating Crazy Horse-fuelled hard rock with untaxing acoustic albums.
But in the new millennium, the Baffling Inner Logic came back with a vengeance. We’ve had both a virulent post-9/11 pro-war album, Are You Passionate?, and a virulent post-9/11 anti-war album featuring a choir, Living With War. Six months after Living With War came its follow-up: exactly the same album with the choir removed. He made a film, Greendale. Like every other film by Young, it made no sense whatsoever. There was a Greendale stage show, too, featuring lip-synching actors and interpretative dance: nothing, after all, screams out for interpretative dance quite like the lumbering din of Crazy Horse.
Even among sexagenarian rock cranks, Young cuts an antic figure. By contrast, Lou Reed is painfully eager to please, Bob Dylan but the hapless puppet of his record label. He makes Van Morrison look like Gary Wilmott. In Young’s head it presumably makes perfect sense that his latest effort should be a belated follow-up to a 30-year-old album that he never actually released in the first place. With a tracklist featuring Like a Hurricane, Powderfinger, Pocahontas, Look Out for My Love and the devastating ballad Stringman, Chrome Dreams could have been Young’s strongest album of the 70s, but in a ripe example of the Baffling Inner Logic at work, he scrapped it in favour of his worst album of the 70s, the half-baked American Stars ‘n Bars. The only thing Chrome Dreams II seems to have in common with its predecessor is a multiplicity of styles: raging rock songs sit alongside gentle country.
It also features Shining Light, one of the 60s soul-influenced numbers Young occasionally releases in order to remind listeners that his voice sounds deeply weird when singing 60s soul-influenced numbers: it’s as if a session at Alabama’s legendary Muscle Shoals studio has been gatecrashed by a lovelorn Muppet.
Its opening three songs are plucked from his vast back catalogue of unreleased material. The heart doesn’t exactly leap at the prospect of Beautiful Bluebird, which failed to make the cut for 1985’s hopeless foray into Nashville schmaltz, Old Ways – it turns out to be slight but pretty – and he makes rather a pig’s ear of Boxcar, famed among bootleggers as the highlight of yet another unreleased album, 1988’s Times Square. The original arrangement consisted solely of Young’s electric guitar, clearly being played at enormous volume, but here there’s a straightforward country backing. It’s still a fine song, but much thrilling, spooked intensity has been lost in translation.
Both pale next to Ordinary People, which went unreleased for two decades. You have to be either supremely confident or hugely misguided to believe that any song warrants taking up 18 minutes of your listeners’ lives, but nothing here feels superfluous or wasted: it races by in an exhilarating blur of gripping, witty lyrical vignettes – barflies watching a Las Vegas title fight, homeless squatters occupying the derelict factory in which they used to work, a hustler “tryin’ to help the people get the drugs to the street” – blasting brass arrangements and guitar solos that sound like anger boiling over. Perversely, Ordinary People is so extraordinary that you wonder at the wisdom of its inclusion here. It’s fit to stand alongside anything Young has ever recorded, but it’s also 20 years old, which casts the recent material that follows in an unforgiving light.
Another extended work-out, No Hidden Path, is four minutes shorter, half as inventive and feels five times as long. The Believer and Spirit Road pass unmemorably. But just when the listener starts reflecting on Young’s waning abilities, two songs arrive that suggest the fire is far from out. Dirty Old Man offers impossibly grizzled punk: the guitars don’t sound distorted so much as decomposed, Young’s voice fights to be heard above the sludge, but there’s something gleeful about the delivery that suggests a sneaking affection for the song’s lecherous, alcoholic protagonist.
Finally there’s The Way. Gentle, piano-driven and meditative, it comes with both a gorgeous tune and a whopping caveat: the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Inviting a childrens’ choir to needlessly dunk a beautiful song in syrup is a cussed, bewildering move. A certain strain of Neil Young fan would expect nothing less.
· This article was amended on Wednesday October 17 2007. The legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios are not in Memphis, Tennessee, but in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This has been corrected.
From BBC Music
Way back in the mid-70s Neil Young planned to release an album by the name of Chrome Dreams. Then it vanished from the schedules, another victim to the whims of Young and his mercurial muse. It’s this very adherence to going whichever way the wind blows in his mind that makes him such a fascinating and frustrating artist. That, and the seasoned Neil-watcher’s knowledge that eventually he may release the material. Hence the (humorous) title of this album: Like the original, which veered between the dreamy fireside folk of “Will To Love” and the anguished love cry of “Like A Hurricane”, number two has something of just about every side of the man known as ‘Shakey’.
He’s returned to the co-production skills of Niko Bolas with whom, as the ‘Volume Dealers’ he made 1989’s Freedom, widely regarded as his first return to form after his 80s wilderness years. Indeed, Chrome…could be his first consistently great album since the late 90s. With trusty compadres Ben Keith on steel guitar and Crazy Horse’s Ralph Molina on drums, it turns out that several of the songs here have been maturing in the vaults until deemed ripe enough for the public.
Beautiful Bluebird; its mellow country intro reminding you of “Out On The Weekend” from the halcyon Harvest years, dates from the Old Ways sessions, while the centrepiece is the awesome “Ordinary People” which dates back to Freedom. A companion piece to “Crime In The City”, it returns Neil to the role of modern social commentator. But at over 18 minutes it also allows him to really wring the neck of his old Gibson Les Paul. As such it’s bound for a place in his ‘classic’ canon.
The journey from here on in is a little bumpier. Having so many sides to you can mean that unless you’re a fan of every note he’s recorded it can get testing. “Dirty Old Man” is a page from his Ragged Glory/Sleeps With Angels growing-old-disreputably era; “Shining Light” is one of his sugary, faux-naïve falsetto confections and closer “The Way” is impassioned, though its children’s chorus may be too sentimental for cynical English ears.
But that’s Neil, he’s never less than honest and true to his own personal vision. After Living With War’s protest cries, Chrome…is an album about pure humanity. A subject he’s always going to be comfortable with. From hayseed hero to angry axe god; Chrome Dreams II will warm your heart. It’s all still here.
From Entertainment Weekly
Neil Young has come up with some nutty album concepts over the years. (Remember when he sang most of 1982’s electronic Trans through a vocoder?) But releasing a sequel to an unreleased record is peculiar even for him. The title of his latest, Chrome Dreams II, refers to Chrome Dreams, a collection that came tantalizingly close to hitting stores in 1977 before Young mysteriously shelved it. Had it seen daylight, the original and widely bootlegged Dreams might have been one of his defining LPs, since it included early versions of eventual classics like ”Powderfinger” and ”Like a Hurricane.” Maybe branding this one a follow-up to something that officially doesn’t exist is the 61-year-old firebrand’s waggish way of telling faithful followers that even though he controversially charges as much as $260 for a ticket nowadays, he’s still the incorrigible kook they know and love. But there’s serious intent to the titular in-joke too: He’s signaling to fans that in the grooves, where it counts, he’s back in Classic Neil mode.
If you’re hoping Chrome Dreams II includes a ”Like a Hurricane II,” you may be disappointed: No one’s likely to place this among the top tier of Young’s 40-some solo albums. But it is his most enjoyable and well-rounded one in, like, an eternity. Lately, he’s given us collections of either Crazy Horse noisefests or rootsy napfests, and rarely the twain did meet. He mixes all that up on Dreams II, a nifty exercise in extreme dynamics — just like the original Dreams, which had short-and-sweet acoustic numbers almost bizarrely juxtaposed with cranky epic rockers. Here, the contented ”Boxcar” has Young playing the hobo and plucking the banjo for just shy of three minutes — followed by the 18:15 ”Ordinary People,” a populist narrative with 18 verses and nearly as many amped-up guitar solos. It’s an album inclusive enough for both ”Dirty Old Man,” a garage-rock sinner’s rant, and ”The Way,” a beautiful minor-key hymn that sounds like a recruiting anthem for the gloomiest cult you’d ever want to join.
Rock doesn’t have many — okay, any — other mavericks who can pull off the feedback-fury thing and the country-layabout thing, so it’s a treat to have Young bring both sides together so holistically on Dreams II. Holistic also describes the lyrics: Titles like ”Shining Light,” ”The Believer,” and ”No Hidden Path” all suggest a vaguely spiritual contentedness that is inspiring better material than the topical anger that fueled last year’s undercooked Living With War. Between the distortion and Dobros, and amid this album’s turbulent but ultimately peaceable extremes, it’s clear that — to borrow from The Big Lebowski and its bliss-loving hero — the dude abides.
From The Boston Globe
Neil Young pulls a fast one on “Chrome Dreams II.” In fact, the veteran rock ‘n’ roller manages a few neat tricks on this sprawling head-spinner released today.
To start with, the title implies that this is a sequel, but it is a follow-up in name only. The original “Chrome Dreams” was slated for release in 1977, but Young benched it for some reason and parceled out several of its songs to other albums, including “Like a Hurricane” on that year’s “American Stars ‘n Bars.”
None of the original songs is included here, but many are musically in keeping with that era of Young’s work. Of course, many are also true to several other eras of Young’s work, and that’s, no doubt, just the way the maverick troubadour likes it.
The friendly harmonica that opens “Beautiful Bluebird,” a sweet pastoral observation that finds Young rambling around in his pick-up truck, bird-watching and contemplating the afterlife, may lead some listeners to settle in for the delicate acoustic finery of albums like “Harvest,” “Harvest Moon,” and “Prairie Wind.” On its heels, the dusty shuffle and banjo licks of the ultra-brief but pleasing “Boxcar” reinforce this idea.
Don’t get too comfy.
Clocking in at more than 18 minutes and brimming with Young’s signature warped and winding electric guitar, “Ordinary People” turns the mood on its head. The 61-year-old still has the fire of 2006’s “Living With War” in his belly and in his fretwork and retains his unique ability to render a relentless chugging groove – this one ornamented by muted but robust horns – riveting.
The 10 tracks toggle between epic, slow-burn rockers (such as the searching “No Hidden Path”) and shorter, quieter bursts of earnest declarations (the countrified, churchy “Ever After”). And just to keep things interesting, he winds it all up with a children’s choir singing over a surging, Bachrachian piano about peace and the pleasures of home on the old-timey singalong “The Way.” (For montage videos of “The Way” and three other tracks, check out Young’s MySpace page.)
Lyrically, as has been the case for years, Young teeters between elegant simplicity and merely simplistic. While “Ordinary People” paints vivid portraits – of factory workers, the corrupt CEOs who betray them, fatuous celebrities, and the average folks who envy them – the almost hokey “Shining Light,” with its throwback male choir and vague allusions to the ultimate pathfinder, doesn’t make much of a dent.
Mortality crops up as an occasional theme on “Chrome Dreams II,” but Young clearly still wants to hang around and watch the graceful birds and the sometimes less-than-graceful people of this world. Long may his pick-up truck run and allow him to do just that.