Monday, August 16, 2010

Neil Young 38: Chrome Dreams II

His recent one-two live releases were accompanied by more teases about the long-promised Archives box to be released in the fall. Surprise: it didn’t happen. Instead we got a brand new Neil album, knee-slappingly titled Chrome Dreams II in an homage to a cancelled album from thirty years earlier.
The album is a mishmash of old and new songs newly recorded (and at least one that had been in the can for two decades)—kinda like Freedom presented a selection of songs with disparate backgrounds. “Beautiful Bluebird” was left over from the Old Ways period, and lulls people into thinking they’ve got another country album on their hands. (They’d be wrong.) “Boxcar” was from the Bluenotes era, then was recorded for an album allegedly called Times Square (which, neatly enough, evolved into Freedom) but wasn’t as heavy as the rest of those tracks. This version is based around the banjo, so it sounds more like “Southern Pacific”. Go figure. “Ordinary People” finally makes its official debut at a full 18 minutes, complete with horn section, though fans wondered why he rearranged the verses from the live versions they’d memorized. “Shining Light” has a doo-wop/R&B feel, though the pedal steel takes it somewhere else. “The Believer”, while acoustic, feels a little too similar to the previous track, and sounds like it could have been left over from Are You Passionate?
“Spirit Road” is closer to the Volume Dealers sound with a Crazy Horse crunch, which continues on “Dirty Old Man”, complete with sloppy drum fills and could be left over from the Ragged Glory period. “Ever After” has a broken-leg waltz that would fit well on American Stars ‘N Bars or Hawks & Doves. “No Hidden Path” takes up 14½ minutes, and echoes lyrics from the previous and next song while channeling one of the lengthy “Love” songs from Ragged Glory, only it doesn’t end in a wash of feedback. (It doesn’t help that Ralphie slows the beat down over the last three minutes.) And it all ends with “The Way”, which frighteningly enough includes a children’s choir from the get-go but fits the role of that tender piano closer we’ve come to expect.
Hardly a bold statement (despite what critics said and the presence of “Ordinary People”), Chrome Dreams II still offers something for everyone. And that, he said, was the point. It’s good but not great, competent but not essential, with big points for including those long-unreleased songs. (It was also available as a CD/DVD combo, the video content consisting mostly of close-up photomontages of rusty cars and the occasional tree, accompanied by the songs on the album in high resolution.)

Neil Young Chrome Dreams II (2007)—3

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