Saturday, November 3, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1196: Neil Young

I’m in the middle of a lovely weekend full of social activity and I’m feeling recharged with the energy we extroverts get from the company of others. Tonight there will be more of the same but right now there is a brief lull, so I’ll get in this music review while I can and maybe squeeze in a nap later. Even we extroverts need a little down time.

Disc 1196 is…Chrome Dreams II
Artist: Neil Young

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover? I think this is a hood ornament, but I don’t know for what kind of car. This one kind of reminds me of the NATO logo, which is kind of cool.

How I Came To Know It: Neil Young has made a lot of records over the years and although I have quite a few, I decided a few years ago to check out all the other ones that hadn’t crossed my path and see if they were shelf-worthy. “Chrome Dreams II” was one that caught my fancy.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 19 Neil Young albums and I rank “Chrome Dreams II” at number 9. Pretty solid, but there are a lot of great Neil Young albums.

Ratings: 4 stars

If an artist is lucky enough to last that long, there comes a time when they can pretty much do what they want creatively. By 2007 Neil Young was well past that point and “Chrome Dreams II” feels like an album from someone who has as much artistic freedom as they could wish for.

Sometimes this can lead to a bloated self-indulgent mess, and this is true even of some Neil Young albums (think “A Letter Home” reviewed back at Disc 850) but fortunately on “Chrome Dreams II” Neil demonstrates his exceptional range well, both as a songwriter and a guitar player.

As you may know, there is no “Chrome Dreams I”. It was supposed to be released back in 1977, but the studio instead went with the release “American Stars ‘n’ Bars” instead. That record didn’t inspire me (I reviewed back at Disc 855 and promptly sold it).

In titling this record “Chrome Dreams II,” it felt like Neil was making a statement that he was back in charge of his career, and would do whatever he damned well felt like doing.

The result is a record that evenly mixes the hard rocking style of albums like “Freedom” with the more pastoral folk music of “Harvest.” Despite this, the record never feels disjointed.

This is a record that celebrates the human condition; our ability to love nature, love art and ultimately love each other. It is often understated, but always beautiful. This record made me feel good; it was a warm blanket on dark bus rides and rainy walks for the last few days.

A number of songs work in horns or piano to positive effect, but the star here is Young’s work on guitar. Young has a signature tone to his playing, filled with a hippy-infused distortion. At a visceral emotional level, Young’s playing feels free and unfettered, but underneath it all there is a sneaky discipline that artfully works within the bounds of the melody, and climbs in and out of the beat without ever losing the groove. I’m sure there are other Neil Young albums where he plays as well as he does on “Chrome Dreams II” but none come immediately to mind.

There is the bluesy-ballsy riff on “Dirty Old Man” and the gentle strumming on “Beautiful Bluebird” and both are equally sublime. “Beautiful Bluebird” is a heartfelt pastoral song about nature, and “Dirty Old Man” is a tongue-in-cheek character study of a morally-questionable alcoholic guy making bad decisions. It is surprising they can fit together on the same record, yet somehow they do.

Free from any radio-friendly requirements, “Chrome Dreams II” has two mammoth songs, the 18 minute “Ordinary People” and the 14 minute “No Hidden Path.” Both are incredible tracks that never drag or lose their energy despite their length. “Ordinary People” is Young’s love song to all the regular forgotten people. Sometimes they get caught up in the machinations of the rich and powerful, but still manage to live their lives with a quiet dignity every day.

No Hidden Path” is an appeal for guidance from those we’ve lost, with a thread of optimism throughout that makes you feel like Young’s prayers will be answered. It also features some of the most killer guitar work I’ve ever heard.

While “Chrome Dreams II” managed to avoid the fate of “Chrome Dreams I” it still feels like it does not get the amount of credit it deserves. If you are looking for a Neil Yong album a little off the beaten path, this is a record worth your time.

Best tracks: Beautiful Bluebird, Ordinary People, The Believer, Dirty Old Man, No Hidden Path

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

Neil has a thing for Lincolns so the hood ornament is probably for one of those.