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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Better to burn out: Neil Young's new record, "Chrome Dreams II

By Jon Bernstein

I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about “Chrome Dreams II,” a new album by Neil Young intended as a semi-sequel to a widely bootlegged yet unreleased 1977 album titled (naturally) “Chrome Dreams.” Young’s latest album is his third since the near fatal brain aneurism he suffered in 2005.His last two albums, “Prairie Wind,” a collection of optimistic and at times inspiring folksy country tunes, and “Living With War,” an abrasive attack on the President and the war, seemed to collectively lack a great deal of original artistic effort on the part of Young.

Rewind 30 or so years, and one might recall Neil Young’s “Comes a Time,” the title track of his 1978 album, where he sings “Comes a time, when you’re drifting. Comes a time, when you settle down.” Perhaps Neil has simply drifted somewhere into the latter stage, as so many once important musical acts inevitably do, content to ride his previous fame while making typical, self-satisfying, and ultimately unexciting music.

Young’s new album, “Chrome Dreams II,” proves that things aren’t that simple. By striking an ideal balance between artistic comfort and fresh innovation, Young shows that he can work well within his own artistic realm that has proven successful year after year, but in an interesting and provocative manner. His old time band mates Ben Keith, Rick Rosas, and Ralph Molina pitch in to help produce a classic Neil Young sound, yet “Chrome Dreams II” is anything but unoriginal.

There’s quite a bit of “drifting,” going on in his new work, which runs over an hour, and includes everything from Young country-folk tunes like “Beautiful Bluebird” to aggressive grungy numbers like “Dirty Old Man.”

Other album highlights include an epic 18-minute song called “Ordinary People,” as well as the album’s finale, “The Way,” which features Young singing with a children’s choir. Standing alone, none of the songs, with the exception of “Ordinary People,” seems to be a particularly notable addition to the endless list of classic Neil Young tunes, but the ten songs come together cohesively to form a worthwhile, stylistically diverse and interesting addition to Young’s ever-growing discography. Neil is certainly past the point of pure experimentation, and is working within a certain comfort zone, and many songs on his new album sound very typically Neil Young (mostly in a good way), but he’s certainly not afraid to push the limits, as evidenced, among other things, by the two 10+ minute tracks on the album, and in adherence to his famous line from the 1979 classic “My My, Hey Hey,” he definitely isn’t ready to fade away.

Through the years, Neil Young has become famous for his refusal to stick to a particular style or genre of music. Over his illustrious career he has delved extensively into genres as varied as country, rock, folk, and grunge. There seems to be a little bit of everything on “Chrome Dreams II,” which Young himself has compared to his 1970 breakthrough album “After the Goldrush,” an album that similarly explored different genres of music. One might think that this, coupled with the fact that the album contains work written from various time periods (only 7 of the 10 tracks are new recently written material), would make for a disjointed, perhaps incoherent collection of music. But somehow everything seems to come together in a work Young triumphantly describes as “about the human condition.”

The third track, “Ordinary People,” sets the scene for the rest of the album through an ambitious, populist depiction of “hardworkin’, high-rollin’, alcoholic,” and ultimately, “ordinary” people. “I got faith in the regular kind,” Young professes in the last verse of his marathon tale of the common man. This declaration of belief sets the stage for the next seven songs making up the core of the album. Aside from the out of place “Dirty Old Man,” the rest of the album deals directly with this generalized faith or confidence.
The song titles alone tell the story quite nicely: tracks like “Shining Light,” and “The Believer” assert the power of simple faith. Young spends the majority of the album dealing with his belief, and searching for some sort of ultimate sense of relief. “Show me the way, and I’ll follow you today,” Young pleads in the second to last track, “No Hidden Path,” and in the very next song and album finale, “The Way”, we’re left with a children’s choir singing almost mockingly that they indeed “know the way,” and that they’re kind enough to “show the way, to get you back home, to the peace where you belong.” We’re left in a sense of soothing ease, knowing that Young (with the help of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City) will give us a way to find comfort and harmony at home. After all, “there comes a time when you settle down”, but “Chrome Dreams II” shows that even when you’re settled, there’s always more drifting to be done.

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