First Impressions: World Record by Neil Young & Crazy Horse

It’s ragged, raw and real, the way the best rock music is, conjuring the scrappy spirit of the Santa Monica Flyers one minute and the brutal grace of Crazy Horse the next. The former makes sense, as I’ve noted before, given that Nils Lofgren stepped in as guitar slinger for the Tonight’s the Night-era Flyers, which also included the Horse’s Billy Talbot on bass and Ralph Molina on drums. But the latter? While I enjoyed Neil’s last two Crazy Horse outings, which featured Lofgren subbing for the (happily) retired Frank “Poncho” Sampredo, the albums sounded—as I wrote in one of the reviews—like a less-woozy Santa Monica Flyers, not the Horse. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, just not the prototypical CH sound I expected. This time, with Lofgren still in board, the band still often sounds—to my ears—more akin to the Flyers (and even Stray Gators), but when they do crank it up—most notably on the 15-minute “Chevrolet”—the guitar chords cleanse the soul like the Crazy Horse of old.

Yet all is not okay with my world—or yours. Heatwaves, wildfires, rising oceans and other hazards fueled by greenhouse emissions are turning Earth into a global danger zone, not to mention old-fashioned war. “Love Earth,” the acoustic shuffle that opens World Record, lays down the marker for the songs that follow—yes, it’s an environmentally themed album, though other topics (mostly mortality and looking back) are raised, too.

“Overhead” weaves in the glory of love as well as the awareness that life comes with an end date. “I Walk With You (Earth Ringtone)” tackles the same themes: “I saw the change rolling by/Out the window of my life/I’m grateful to have/Lived for all these years.” The title of “The World (Is in Trouble Now)” speaks for itself.

The Covid Age anthem “Break the Chain” raises the volume, akin a bit to “Shut It Down” on Colorado, while “The Long Day Before” delves into how the hippie dream has been swapped for conspiracy theories. “Walkin’ on the Road (to the Future)” could be construed as a harmonica-heavy dose of hippie idealism, but that’s okay. It’s got charm and, like the other songs, is less a broadside than a prayer. “The Wonder Won’t Wait,” which is sung from the perspective of Earth, offers great advice to all: “Stand outside yourself.” It works on two levels—literally standing outside and experiencing what nature has left to offer, but also on a philosophical level: We, as a people, tend to see life only through the prism of our individual experiences. Standing outside ourselves, seeing things through the eyes of others, engenders empathy, which remains endangered in today’s world.

The epic “Chevrolet,” which clocks in at 15:15 on digital and CD (but runs shorter on LP), echoes the Crazy Horse of yore. Transcendent guitar solo follows transcendent guitar solo, while Neil weaves a song-long reminiscence about what he—and, by extension, we—have left in the exhaust of our lives. Good and bad memories abound, in other words, but there’s not much to do with either other than accept—and move on from—them: “On the road in my old Corvette/New mama said we have a baby on the way/Chevrolet/Soon enough we lost all contact/We were young and foolish/That’s behind us/Chevrolet.” To say it’s a tremendous song is an understatement. It’s nirvana. “The Old Planet (Reprise),” which is just Neil at his Wurlitzer, ends the album on an anticlimactic note, but—honestly—the same would be true for any song that followed “Chevrolet.”

With the exception of the wondrous new Maggie Pope single, “Northern Girl,” I’ve had World Record—which was co-produced with Rick Rubin—on repeat for much of the past two days. Some fans may have issues with the thematic one-note of the album, though—as I say above—other threads are evidenced in the lyrics. Others may object to the woodsy charms of acoustic songs found on a Crazy Horse album. But as I noted in my review of last year’s Barn, “It’s not the Crazy Horse of yore. It’s the Crazy Horse of now”—and the Crazy Horse of now still electrifies the soul. (This soul, at any rate.) So open your ears and heart, and give World Record a listen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s