Nov 17, 2022
By Michael James Hall
The new album from Neil Young, back together with Crazy Horse for their 14th studio recording, is a continuation of the stripped down style and ecological themes of 2021’s superlative Barn. While that was a clear-eyed, immediate and exciting collection, World Record is a hastier, even more disparate set of songs. Like its predecessor it doesn’t waste much time on pleasing arrangements, layered instrumentation, or careful craft. That’s not to say it’s slap-dash, more that it’s alive, wired, and sometimes inspired.
It’s a serious, unselfconscious record, as evidenced on opener “Love Earth,” which shares the soft shuffle of The Chords’ 1954 classic “Sh Boom, Sh Boom,” Young optimistically offering “We can bring the seasons back/Can you imagine that?” Barroom piano twinkles as we’re eased into a late night, woozy jam session, Young and his cohorts setting the world to rights. But there’s thunder ahead.
“The World (Is in Trouble Now),” all trembling guitar and brutally distorted organ, is a scrawl of screeches and scrapes, angles and corners, and is the ugliest track here. It embodies the spirit of the album—the energy of a first live take, the rawness of the practice room, Young spitting rapid fire lyrics, his band hollering a muffled chorus chant. “Because the Earth has held me so/I never will let go,” Young croons over the grind.
World Record feels like the results of a single songwriting and recording session, a sole concept drafted and redrafted, captured in each iteration on analog tape. How much mileage the album has will be entirely dependent on how much you value that approach. At times the playing really does seem to fall apart, as on “Overhead,” but, well, that’s Crazy Horse.
On “Break the Chain,” Young’s Les Paul “Old Black” is set to typical use with a wash of feedback hovering over Nils Lofgren’s slide guitar, Billy Talbot’s reliably no-frills bass in sync with Ralph Molina’s pounding, straight ahead beat. “When I’m outside and I take a deep breath/It’s like I’m dancing, I’m dancing with death,” Young cries, before imploring us to accept the titular invitation.
Conversely, in its quieter instances, such as the harmonious, if brief “The Long Day Before” and on the spectral whisper of closer “This Old Planet Reprise,” the band ease off perfectly, with the closing seconds of the album all the more powerful for their stark near-silence.
An obligatory 15-minute-plus epic “Chevrolet” rumbles ominously, dreaming of a world before pollution, “That’s the road we can’t go back on/That’s the bad turn we’ve already made,” Young intones, with his solos as emotive, stretched, contorted, and passionate as the subject matter demands.
This is in no way a pleasant album. It’s often harsh, sometimes shambolic, and it rams home its points repeatedly and relentlessly, though the fact that Young released his first ecologically themed album Greendale back in 2003 and is still having to bang that drum nearly 20 years later is a stark reminder of just how far we haven’t come.
It’s a call to protest and a call to action delivered through a series of rough and tumble recordings. It’s very easy to mock this kind of earnest plea, but, to Young at least, it’s what the situation demands. Even if World Record has neither the reach nor the presentation it might need to have a real impact, its heartfelt racket at least draws attention to itself and, consequently, to the action it begs us to take. (www.neilyoungarchives.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
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