Young isn't ready to settle in
On "Chrome Dreams II," Neil Young includes some heavy guitar songs, like the 18-minute "Ordinary People." (Jason DeCrow / AP Photo)
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.