Despite the fact that Neil Young, who is 77, has been quite prolific over the course of his late career, even I was surprised that he was back with a new album this quickly. When I speak of Young being prolific I’m not even talking about his Archival output from his vaults – the unreleased LPs like Toast or Homegrown or his wonderful Archive box sets – I’m talking about new material. This new album, World Record, is his third album in four years. And, more importantly it’s the first time in his career that he has put out three albums in a row with his once-and-future backing band Crazy Horse. There was a time in the 70s when he was cobbling albums together from previous recording sessions and many of his albums would have a few cuts from Crazy Horse, but he’s never done three proper studio albums in a row with Crazy Horse. Personally, I like the guitar chemistry Neil has with Crazy Horse and I considered the news that he had reconvened “the Horse” for a third go-round as good news to my ears. Clearly there will be no “soul covers” album from Neil Young like Mr. Springsteen has chosen to do… sigh. But then Neil has Everybody’s Rockin’ to atone for…
Crazy Horse has gone through quite a few changes over the years. Neil recruited drummer Ralph Molina, bassist Billy Talbot and guitarist Danny Whitten from a band named the Rockets back in ’69 for his second solo LP after leaving Buffalo Springfield, Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. But then Neil joined CSNY for Deja Vu which helped solidify his status as a star. After all of that his relationship with Crazy Horse was sort of off again, on again. He’d recruit certain members of the band to play on certain albums. But then, in 1973 during the rehearsals for the tour in support of Harvest, guitarist Danny Whitten died of an overdose. He wouldn’t record a full album with Crazy Horse again until 1975’s Zuma. Although I’ve always considered Tonight’s The Night to be a Crazy Horse album…. Of course after Whitten passed Neil would play with Crazy Horse with guitar virtuoso Nils Lofgren taking Whitten’s place. By 1975 Lofgren was off on his solo career and Young hired Frank Sampedro to be the second guitarist in the band for Zuma. Sampedro was the perfect guitar foil for Young. Young recorded many of his great guitar epics with Sampedro egging him on, such as “Like A Hurricane,” “Cortez The Killer,” and take your pick from anything off of 2012’s Psychedelic Pill (Sampedro’s last album with Crazy Horse before he retired).
As I mentioned, this is Young’s third album of new stuff with Crazy Horse in a row. The first album he re-recruited Crazy Horse for was Colorado in 2019. This was when Nils stepped back into the band to take Sampedro’s place. I really liked Colorado. But I think we all realized that Crazy Horse was a changed entity by that time. Gone were the guitar epics that Sampedro helped fuel. There was a 13 minute epic on that album, “She Showed Me Love,” but it wasn’t as fierce as say, “Cortez The Killer” or “Ramada Inn.” Still, it was a great tune. They turned around and in 2021 they released Barn which I felt was an even better late period Young album. Frankly, I’ll admit that if you include World Record this may be Young’s best 3-album run since the 90s. Young’s main concern over the course of these three albums is the environment, climate change and the slow reaction mankind seems to be having to it. The man knows his way around a protest song.
As I said, when I heard Young had another album coming this soon, I was surprised. I’m told he had it written by July of this year, a mere seven months after Barn came out. According to Wikipedia, World Record‘s “lyrical content concerns Young “reminisc[ing] with gratitude about the gifts the Earth has given him” as well as the “state of Earth” and “its uncertain future,” as well as “Chevrolet,” a song about “Young’s relationship with cars.”” My only concern in hearing all of that was that this might be another record that Young spun up from the headlines and hadn’t taken time to write full songs for like say, Living With War. For the first time since he reconvened Crazy Horse I had some trepidation about this album. But then I heard Rick Rubin was going to co-produce the LP in his studio Shangri-La out in Malibu. I was hoping Rick would be able to curb Young’s recording ideology of “the first take is the best take,” and I started to look forward to this album more. Then I realized that Rubin is more of a “vibe guy” as a producer. Most likely he just sat cross-legged in the corner like a long haired, bearded Buddha and grooved to the musicians playing. The most he probably did from a technical stand point is hit the “record” button. Young does miss David Briggs, his longtime late producer.
I heard the first song, “Love Earth” and I chose not to write about it… I wasn’t sure about it. It was a laid back piano shuffle that brought to mind both Petty’s “The Man Who Loved Women” (recorded on ukulele no less) or Monty Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.” Those aren’t meant to be criticisms but the tune made me think of old-timey songs. It certainly doesn’t sound like “protest” music but music that celebrates the environment and asks you to do something about it. The song does have a nice harmonica solo. Now that I’ve spent last week after Thanksgiving listening to the album, “Love Earth” has bored it’s way into my brain. It is a damn catchy tune. I had heard that this wasn’t going to be a guitar driven album. I knew that they would be using a bunch of different instruments like tack piano, pump organ, harmonica, accordion, and such. I feared that this album might sound like a one man band falling down a flight of stairs. I was, thankfully, wrong. Although admittedly the instrumentation wasn’t what you’d usually think you’d get on a Neil Young and Crazy Horse album. But as I said, Crazy Horse is a different animal these days.
As mentioned, the album kicks off with the first single, “Love Earth.” I simply love that song but I’ll admit it’s a grower. That leads into a jaunty piano driven tune “Overhead.” It sort of reminds me of “Are You Ready For the Country?” I’d almost call this a country stomper of a tune. It’s an uptempo thing and might have really smoked had it been on guitar vs piano/harmonica as lead. That’s not a complaint, I’m just trying to frame the vibe of the tune. “Overhead” almost feels like a statement of purpose for the record especially on the falsetto bridge. “This Old Planet (Changing Days)” is another piano and possibly accordion driven tune. It’s a lament about climate change where Neil reminisces about beautiful days with clear blues skies and sparkling water. He’s not wrong… especially when he sings “You’re not alone on this old planet.” “The Long Day Before” is another organ/accordion driven track. It’s a pretty Neil Young ballad with a great harmonica solo. It’s one of my favorites. “Walking On The Road (To the Future)” is a great plea for people to take the best from the past but move forward into the future. It’s another track I really liked. In the chorus he follows up with his other theme beyond climate change, “No more war, only love.” Nothing wrong with those sentiments for this wannabe hippy blogger.
“The World’s In Trouble Now” is a more urgent tune. Its rocking sans guitar which is a weird thing to type. I guess there’s some guitar on the track. It could have been a real barrel house rocker but I dig the way they did it here. Neil isn’t beating you over the head he’s finessing you. I dug the lyric, “Because the earth has held me so, I will never let go.” “The Wonder Won’t Wait” is another similar track to “The World’s In Trouble Now.” It’s another track that sounds old-timey via the instrumentation but makes me wonder what it’d have sounded like with some electric guitar leading the charge. “Take some time to live before you die” is a great line and frankly, good advice. It’s another plea to act on climate change but with the laid back instrumentation it doesn’t feel like a crazy corner preacher yelling at you that the end is nigh.
For you Neil electric guitar fans out there – have no fear, we get some of that too. “I Walk With You” has an ominous guitar riff that opens it up. For a split second I was transported back to Psychedelic Pill but it’s not that incendiary. It’s more laid back than that. But man what a big riff drenched in squall. The bridge hammers it home, “The end of war, the price of life, the cost of care…””Break The Chain” is another feedback drenched guitar song. You can almost read emotion in Young’s guitar tone. It’s chugging rocker that was also one of my favorites.
The biggest, bad-ass track here is the 15-minute “Chevrolet,” an ode to cars. Which, when you think about the environmental themes on this record, it shouldn’t work at all here but it does. In the tune Young sees an old Chevrolet and wants to buy it, the car is “speaking to” him. But he asks himself, “How will it comfort me, burning all that fuel again?” It’s almost like a break up song… where he breaks up with driving down the highway in a gas guzzler. I really love this track. It’s worth the price of admission. The guitar interplay between Young and Nils is reminiscent of well, Young and Poncho Sampedro. If you do one thing after reading this review it’s crank up “Chevrolet.”
This is simply put, an outstanding Neil Young album. It’s shambolic. It might have benefited by more liberal use of guitars instead of the odd instrumentation but like the tune “Chevrolet” – it shouldn’t work but it does. For a man this deep in his career to still be putting out fantastic music with an urgent, important message it’s quite something to hear. I mean, you don’t hear Harry Styles pleading with people about climate change. And yeah, he’ll sell more albums than Neil but that doesn’t mean the music is better than Young’s.
Put this one on and use your headphones to wring out some of the nuance of the tracks. Pour a little something strong… maybe light something up if that’s your thing and groove on the power of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Be good to each other out there. And maybe recycle… it can’t hurt.